‘Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
These are the last words of Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew. They’re the words left ringing in our ears. They’re a great consolation. We are never alone! Christ has risen from the dead. Therefore, he’s not someone left behind in the past. He’s not someone we can talk about only in the past tense, like our great-grandparents or Julius Caesar. He is. He’s no longer confined by space or time. He is free. And therefore he is present to every time. He is present to us in our good times and hard times. He is there. He is as close as his Name – the holy name of Jesus, our password into his presence.
The Mass is the weekly, daily reminder of this. He is with us gathered together in his name. He speaks to us in the readings. He is with us uniquely, supremely, in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. And when we leave the church, even to go back to an empty flat, he will still be with us, our companion on the way. We remember the antiphon from the Church’s Night Prayer: ‘Save us, Lord, while we are awake, protect us while we sleep.’
‘Know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’
May we be with him!
But today is the feast of the Holy Trinity, and the Good News of today is that if he is with us, then his Father is with us, and the Holy Spirit is with us: ‘the God who is and who was and who is to come’ (Alleluia Verse). There’s no time these Three do not fill.
We have been baptised into the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. To be ‘baptised’ means to be immersed, plunged, drowned even. But into the ocean of divine love. We have become fish in this Trinitarian sea. The mystics glimpse this in prayer. We are buoyed up, surrounded, protected. There is one God, says St Paul, above all things, through all things, and in all things. When we remember the Father, we sense that God is above and around us. When we think of the Son, Christ, God made man, our brother, we know God is beside us. When we turn to the Spirit, we feel him within us. There is no corner of our human ‘space’ unoccupied by the Three.
St Paul ends one of his letters, ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’ (2 Cor 13:14). There’s that same sense of inclusion, of being enfolded. Think how the Mass begins with the sign of the Cross and the invocation of the Three, and ends with calling down their blessing.
The Trinity is truly three Persons (as we say): Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each is completely distinct from the Other. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Father. The Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. There is no confusion between them. The Trinity is not a divine porridge. At the same time, the Three are One, one in Nature or Substance (as we say). There is no separation. They are intimately related to Each Other. Each is unthinkable without the Other. Each is ‘in’ the Other. Each is one with the Other. This is God’s secret. This is God’s world. This is God’s life. It’s hard to conceptualise. But the Holy Spirit can allow us to glimpse it, touch it, enter into it.
The experience of human love, the experience of family life at its best, is a real door here. But prayer is too, and the great simplicities of faith which structure our prayer.
God is our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sanctifier.
We are children of the Father, siblings of Christ, temples of the Holy Spirit.
In prayer, we are probably most often conscious of Jesus. But Jesus is the Son of the Father. He is turned entirely to the Father. And so we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ We pray the ‘Our Father’. At other times, we feel the need of the Holy Spirit. I know a flamboyant Italian lady who, when the family is engulfed in a row, raises her eyes to heaven, flings out her arms, and cries, ‘Veni, Santo Spirito!’
We pray to the Father through the Son – this is the classical shape of Christian prayer. It’s how the Liturgy prays. And it’s ‘in’ the Holy Spirit that we do that, ‘moved by the Spirit.’ Then again, there’s the great doxology: ‘Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours, for ever and ever. Amen.’
These are all ways the Trinity becomes real to us. Not a mathematical problem, but a pattern of life and prayer.
In the reading from Deuteronomy, we sense the pride and joy of Israel, the gratitude for the knowledge of the one true God imparted to them.
We believe in one God. We’re not polytheists. We don’t have to placate one god in Union St, another in the Bon Accord Centre, another in an aeroplane. We are monotheists. But neither do we believe in a God who’s solitary, a unit, a monad, closed and aloof. Such a God becomes a burden. No, we believe in a God who even in himself, from all eternity, ‘from one end of heaven to the other’, is an exchange of love, a pattern of relationships, a communion – and one that has been opened to us. How beautiful is St Irenaeus’ image of the Son and the Spirit as the ‘two hands’ of the Father: hands by which he draws us, his poor wayward, scattered children, back to his heart, into his embrace. ‘Happy the people the Lord has chosen as his own.’ The Trinity is not a problem, but our pride and joy.
Two last thoughts.
‘The spirit you received is not the spirit slaves bringing fear into your lives again; it is the spirit of sons’, of children sure of their parents’ goodness. For some, fear, anxiety, lack of confidence, timidity, shyness are constant companions. These things have their place and their role; they are part of our equipment for coping with our environment. But they can so easily chill or paralyse or strangle us. Maybe it will need a lifetime for them to lose their grip. But surely, our knowledge of the triune God, of his surrounding presence, can help us here. We are ringed with something other than constant dread. Think of the beautiful prayer for the dying:
‘Go forth, Christian soul from this world in the name of God the almighty Father who created you, in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, who suffered for you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, who was poured out upon you. Go forth, faithful Christian!’ There’s the victory over fear!
And then there is praise. Why is this feast kept now, a week after Pentecost? At Christmas and Easter, it is the mission of the Son that fills the screen. At Pentecost, it is the sending of the Holy Spirit. So, each year, we’re reminded of God’s self-disclosure, ‘your wondrous mystery’ as the Collect calls it. And today, in a sense, we stand back. We try to register what has truly been happening in this whole sequence of events. And we are – forgive the word – ‘wowed’. We can absorb the full impact of God’s coming to us. And the response can only be to bless and worship and praise. ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.’