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Trinity Sunday 2007

  • To:
  • Subject: Trinity Sunday 2007
  • From: Grant Morris Gallup <grant73@turbonett.com.ni>
  • Date: Fri, 01 Jun 2007 11:36:25 -0600


June 3, 2007

+Book of Common Prayer lectionary:
Isaiah 6:1-8 The first Trisagion
Psalm 29 Afferte Domino
or Canticle 2 Benedictus es, Domine
Revelation 4:1-11 A rainbow round the throne
John 16:(5-11) 12-15 The Spirit will guide you into all truth

+Revised Common Lectionary:
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Wisdom is a She, and She's very old
Psalm 8 Domine, Dominus noster
or Canticle 2 or 13 Benedictus es, Domine
Romans 5:1-5 Hope has been poured into our hearts
John 16:12-15 The Spirit will guide you into all truth

Pope Alexander II in the eleventh century discouraged the clergy from
holding an annual festival in honor of the Trinity, as he said it was
recognized in the Gloria Patri anyway, but its popularity grew from
the grassroots up, and in 1334 Pope John the XXII finally ordered its
acceptance by the whole Church; it is not observed in the Eastern
churches, who keep this day as the festival of Holy Martyrs. Thomas
Becket was made Archbishop of Canterbury in the octave of Pentecost
in 1162, and this association with Trinity Sunday boosted its
popularity in England. Anglicans for centuries thereafter followed
the Sarum use and numbered the Sundays after Trinity, until our last
Prayer Book revision brought us online with the oikoumene.

So we began with discouraging a Feast, then reluctantly accepting it,
and now having to explain it. The doctrine of the Trinity is popular
poetry which we have alas been taught as a formula; it is a rune
which we have made into a regulation, a riddle which we have posted
as a reason. But Pentecost has come and gone, and we are left with
the cold duck of the morning after our pentecostal "high" and have
awakened now to try to sort things out, like those who had too much
fun at the farewell party and now must try to remember who we are,
and where, whose party it was we went to, and who else was there. And
whether we have good friends left to us this morning. We have managed
to remember enough of what transpired to write it down as
Trinitarian. It's an explanation we are stuck with now that the Sun
is up, our feet are back on the floor, and the neighbors want to know
what happened to us. Muslims and Jews are baffled by our version, and
think it means three gods. The fault must lie in the way we explained
ourselves. The prophet Muhammad is right, after all, there is no God
but God. Shout it in song from the minaret, the synagogue and the

"It was in the year that King Uzziah died" that another prophet got
high in the Temple in Jerusalem, where there was lots of incense, as
there might be in an Episcopal church, and there was lots of
trembling, as there might be in a Pentecostal one, and beyond the
veil a glimpse of golden angels around the mercy seat, the
hilasterion, as there should be in an Orthodox one. There was
wonderful singing, as in a Lutheran church, and it seemed a creature
flew in, with six wings it seemed, from the altar guild, and touched
the prophet's lips with the burning charcoal, ready for the incense,
and his guilt and sin seemed purged away by this singeing and
scorching of his lips, branded now forever with the Spirit's
truthfulness. The Japanese acupuncturist I went to in Managua laid
bits of burning incense on my spine, and left little scorches on my
hips and thighs, bosom, shoulders, and feet, and afterwards I walked
more lightly, springing along as if feathered with the twain with
which the seraph flew.

A song came to the prophet that he remembered later and someone wrote
it down, and it is the oldest verse in our hymnals. How long had the
angels been practicing it before Isaiah heard them, and passed it on
to us? "Holy, Holy, Holy is Adonai of Angel Armies, the whole earth
is full of God's glory!" We remember the words, and make them into
creeds, but we have forgotten the celestial music, and the context of
that thrice-holy joy of composition and performance--putting them
together for a chorale in choir robes. Yet all of us remember singing
songs around a parlor piano, or around a campfire, and how the old
words of old gospel songs come alive with song, and with mixed
voices, but sometimes sound silly when limited to speech.

It was 740 B.C.E. that was the "year that King Uzziah
died"--suddenly, some historical fact, some information intrudes
itself into our ecstasy, and we are asked if we can give an
accounting of ourselves. What has our ecstasy to do with guilt, what
has our song of sanctity to do with the inescapable justice of

Fifteen years ago now the Methodists and others decided to retire
"Onward Christian Soldiers" from their repertory. It remains in the
prestigious Hymnal 1982 at #562, to Sir Arthur Sullivan's (of Gilbert
and Sullivan) tune "St. Gertrude." Sabine Baring-Gould was not
Shakespere or Dante, and Sullivan's tune perhaps fits better in one
of the comic operas he wrote with Sir W.S. Gilbert, like the Pirates
of Penzance. The image of the Church as an army militantly marching
off to war evokes less enthusiasm than in former imperial years. Its
metaphors did not seem aptly drawn from Viet Nam, at all, and less so
> from the cowardice of Desert Storm Trooping.

Isaiah's song is about a mighty God of Hosts -- not consecrated wafer
bread, but hosts of armies, as "the hosts of Attila the Hun." The
angel armies of Yahweh, in a metaphor, but throughout history human
governments have identified their own armed forces with those of the
Lord's. Constantine did it, the Kaiser did it, the King-Emperors of
Great Britain, the Tsars, Emperor Napoleon, Reichskanzler Hitler
("Gott mit uns") and our American presidents too. God and Country,
Applehood and Mother Pie. Our own president Nixon held protestant
mishmash religious services in the Casa Blanca, blissfully unaware
that history too knows some dirty tricks and would play one on him.

The point they all forgot is that Isaiah's vision of God and the song
he heard in his ecstasy are about God's power and strength to enforce
and see justice done in all the earth. The holiness of God is
inextricably linked in the SANCTUS to justice, and the incense and
coals of the censer are held to our faces and our lips and to our
telling of the truth. It is our truth-telling, our gospel-preaching
that the Spirit comes to ignite, so that the sweet smell of prayer
will rise to heaven, the odor of sanctity as the perfume of justice
in human society. "Go and preach that God's judgment is on the way",
was the rubric given to Isaiah, "Go and tell that your behavior as a
nation is bringing disaster upon you. Go and preach exile,
destruction, desolation. Go and preach pollution is destroying life
on the planet, radiation is in your milk bottle, cancer in your
hamburger, annihilation in your foreign policy, catastrophe in your
religion, revolution in your repression. Holy, Holy, Holy, is Adonai
of Angel Armies. The whole earth is to be filled with God's radiant
rule. An everlasting song of holiness is an unrelenting demand of
wrongs to be righted, justice to be done.

We often sing our songs without remembering where we learned them.
"Oh say can you see by the dawn's early light" we sing at evening
baseball games, but no one remembers that Francis Scott Key, organist
in an Episcopal church, wrote it the early morning after a bombing
raid. It is a vision of a desolate city, rocketed, blitzed and laid
to ruin, and the message is "then conquer we must when our cause it
is just". But it is our might that always makes us right, and not
everyone attributes justice to our cause. When we sing the SANCTUS
too at mass, we should know that it is like singing the national
anthem at a ball game. At first it was not sung at mass, but at the
mobilizing of the might of God for justice doing--it is a song for
places where justice is to be done: in courtooms, chanceries,
demonstrations at street-corners. The Misa Campesina, a Nicaraguan
popular setting by Carlos Mejia Godoy, sings the SANCTUS in that way:

     Por todos los caminos -   On all the
    veredas y
cañadas,        pathways and trails
Jesucristo         We see,
    la luz de tu verdad.      the
light of your truth

    Vos sos tre veces Santo,   You are three
times Holy
    vos sos tres veces Justo,  You are three times
    libéranos del
yugo         Deliver us from the
    danos la
libertad.         Give us liberty 

    Vos sos el Dios parejo     You are
the God who is like us
    no andás con carambadas,   You don't run
with hypocrites  
    vos sos hombre de ñeque    You are the
one with muscles,      
    el mero
Tayacán.           The
best of all Guides          

Juan the Seer's enchanted vision on Patmos is a re-vision of Isaiah's
revelation, who had been afraid in God's presence and said to himself
"Woe is me, I am lost" in the terror of his guilt and sinfulness and
the Temple itelf shook as if in an earthquake, for God's justice is
devastating. But John the Seer's "high" is a "good high", for he sees
heaven through an open door, and the voice of music trumpeting an
invitation to come on into the throne room and see the crown jewels,
and the rainbow, and the wondrous vestments and the golden crowns of
the ministers, and the candles and the crystal, and the wondrous
living creatures. Every bit like high mass in Byzantium, or Russian
Easter. They are singing another setting of the TRISAGION, an upbeat
one, for it is not a God of Armed Forces that they sing of, but the
God who was, and is, and is to come. And their song is of thanks and
honor and glory, and their hymns are of dignity, not shame, and of
praise, not punishment. This is not another God, but another Vision,
a re-Vision of God. The experience of God's people eternally revises
our vision of the Thrice Holy.  John the Seer says that the God he
saw, heard of, or heard angels sing about, is a Trinity: a God who
was ("God of our weary years" James Weldon Johnson sang centuries
later) the God of our past, but that is not the only God. Also, "Lift
every voice" bids us "sing a song full of the hope that the present
has brought us." To worship only the God of the past is to be stuck
as it were in the fundament, a traitor (one who betrays) not a
traditor (one who hands on). To worship the God only of the past is
to worship only one third of a God, a God who is dead or dying, in
old books and ceremonies and images. If God is ONLY old, then God is
feeble. and like me, a little lame . To be honored, as we honor the
old, is to listen and learn from them, take advice, but let them Rest
while the Rest of God takes over some of their work.

But John said he saw the God who was AND the God who IS. The God that
Flip Wilson knew in his "church of what's happening now." That's the
Ancient of Days who is also the God of the third of June, 2007.   As
well as the God of the year that King Uzziah died. The God of our
little oratory at our Managua Casa today, as well as the God of
Solomon and Herod's grand Temple, the largest public building in the
world in its time. The God of African Americans and Irish Americans
and all the hyphenated ethnicities of all the world. We find
ourselves all together the morning after our own visions and
re-visions in mosques or churches or temples or in Exile. God has
promised everybody a place on the planet--and even Palestinians have
a right to their homes, not to meretricious U.S.-Israeli promises.

John further declared that the song he heard was of the God who is to
come. If we are stuck with the God who was or if we are stuck with
the God who is, we are stuck with a two-dimensional god, and a
two-dimensional universe, and a Reader's Digest indigestion indeed.
We are stuck with a God who has nowhere to go. We are stuck in the
present--what a claustrophobic place for the Spirit! But John's
vision saw AN OPEN DOOR IN HEAVEN, and an open-ended universe, and no
closed system but an open future open to a re-visioning of human
hopes and religious faith, feeling, and formulation. We are not
trapped in the past or in the present by the God who was and the God
who is, for God is yet to come. "Lift every voice" goes on to its
third dimension: "Facing the rising sun, of our new day begun, let us
march on, till victory is won." God is three times holy, three times
just, because God beckons us through the open door into a future
where God lives hereafter, and bids us, "Come up hither, and I will
show you what must take place after this."

The poet prophet Alice Meynell once again speaks to us:

   ". . . But in the eternities
   doubtless we shall compare together, hear
   A million alien Gospels, in what guise
   He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.
   "O, be prepared my soul!
   To read the inconceivable, to scan
   The million forms of God those stars unroll
   When, in our turn, we show to them a

Jesus says, I am going there, to get it ready for you. I'm going INTO
THE FUTURE to prepare it for you. You seem sad about this now, but
the truth is, it's to your advantage that I go on ahead there, for it
is from there that I can send the Spirit of truth to lead you this
way, and to guide you into all the truth. The Spirit doesn't come to
you to teach anything on her own authority, but Wisdom listens to
what I've already told you, and will make plain what it is that's
been said everywhere in all revelations before this time.

You will see ALL THINGS NEW. T.S. Eliot wrote in his poem "Little
Gidding" that "the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where
we started and know the place for the first time." The journey is
necessary for the re-vision. The way we see things new is our
re-vising of the past. Our seeing the possibility of new hope for the
future. Separating from the past brings our own new understandings,
'though at the time we see them as disaster, as many saw the reforms
of Vatican II. "It is to your advantage" Jesus says, that the past
and the present go away. The Spirit will show you the things to come.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson went to Cuba in 1984 and got Fidel Castro
to go to a Methodist church in downtown Havana with him to
commemorate Saint Martin Luther King Jr. It was Fidel's first visit
to a church in twenty seven years. Frei Betto, a Brazilian Dominican
brother, a few years later published FIDEL AND RELIGION, an account
of his twenty-three hours of conversation with Fidel. It sold half a
million copies at once. Fidel says in it, "from a strictly political
point of view, I think one can be a Marxist without ceasing to be a
Christian. . . what is important is a question of sincere
revolutionaries disposed to abolish the exploitation of humankind by
humankind, and to struggle for the just distribution of social
riches." And before my eyes a door opened in heaven and a voice that
I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, "Come up here
and I will show you what must happen hereafter." Fidel had special
praise for liberation theology, now disdained by establishment
(bought and paid for "court") theologians. He said, "It is a
re-encounter by Christianity with its roots--its most beautiful, most
attractive, most glorious history." A tersanctus of praise. Can this
be what we mean by a God who is open to the future--or is our God
stuck in the capitalist selfish adolescence of the human race?
Feudalism was its childhood, but it has still not attained maturity
and wants to live in a Me-First world.

Openness is the meaning of the Triune God we celebrate today. Fidel's
famous slogan is "Within the Revolution all things are possible,
outside the Revolution nothing is possible." And we may say Amen to
that, and also be faithful to Apocalypse: "Within the Revelation all
things are possible, outside the Revelation nothing is possible." For
this is true of the Eternal and Ever Blessed Trinity, continually
revealing Godself--and within the Trinity of God all things are
possible, within the Trinity of God who comes out of our past, who
walks with us in the present, and who beckons us to the truly human
future. All things are possible and open to us now.