Sermon preached when visiting St Nicholas’ Bishopwearmouth, Trinity Sunday 2017.
In our reading from Isaiah, we heard that even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. And I wonder, what is the means by which the Lord does this, as we wait—as we choose to be receptive to our God?
Today is Trinity Sunday, and this morning I’d like us to spend a little while with some very familiar words, often referred to as ‘the Grace’. I don’t know what your practice is here at St Nicholas’, but at the Minster, where I am based, we say these words together often, as the conclusion of many of our meetings: ‘The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.’ And it seems to me that these three great truths—these three beautiful insights—are the answer to the question I posed: how does God renew us? So let us consider each phrase in turn.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is, quite simply, his walking alongside us: it is the freely-offered gift of his presence. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30). It’s the image of an experienced ox training an inexperienced ox to plough; of being accompanied in life, even if at times we resist our circumstances, to the point of wearing ourselves out. We all have burdens, whether of duty or care or anxiety or pain or the arc of a lifespan. Some are lifelong, others are from time-to-time. Some we find easier to embrace than others. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is that we do not carry them alone.
We take a moment to become aware of his presence with us, to thank him, to receive his grace…
What, then, of the love of God? The love of God. The primary experience of God we are invited into is love. When your thoughts and feelings turn to God, is that what you find? Or do you suspect that God’s thoughts and feelings towards you are something other than love? Disapproval, perhaps? Or disappointment? Or even anger? No, writes Paul to the church at Corinth: God’s disposition towards you is love. Will you allow that truth to re-form you, to inform and transform you?
We take a moment to become aware of God’s love for us, to let go of the lies we have settled for, to unfurl in its warmth…
And finally, the communion—or fellowship—of the Holy Spirit. ‘Communion’ is a word of deep intimacy, a word that speaks of recognition, of truly recognising one another. The communion of the Holy Spirit refers to God’s Spirit recognising our spirit, to God recognising us—each one of us, and us as a community—as persons of immeasurable worth; and to the enabling of us to recognise God in the same way. Here’s the thing: we hardly recognise each other, we barely recognise ourselves; we settle for caricatures, and for being absent to one another rather than present to one another. Our neighbours are mediated to us through newspaper headlines. Our children are growing up so fast right under our noses, and we miss it, our gaze held captive by little digital screens. But the God who brought all creation into being sees and delights in you. More: the Bible describes us, human beings, as being the coming-together of dust and divine breath—heaven committing to earth, God animating us. This is partnership at its most intimate, most trusting, most creatively powerful.
We take a moment to become aware of our breath, and of the Holy Spirit, present within us and around us, stirring the air currents…
Grace, love, communion: three words to describe the Trinity at work in our lives. May this be our prayer for one another, and may we be drawn ever onward and upward into this boundless mystery. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore. Amen.