Scripture Readings: Deut. 4:32-34, 39-40; Rom. 8:14-17; Mt. 28:26-20
Today’s Gospel, in which Christ orders his disciples to meet him on the mountain, certainly qualifies as a “summit meeting.” There is another summit meeting in the news: the one between Kim Jong Un of North Korea and President Trump. That one has been called on and off. President Trump was quoted as saying Everyone plays games. A scary thought where nuclear war is the issue.
Maybe this playing games is more common in daily interrelations. They can get shrouded in defensiveness and mistrust, in suspicion and insincerity. Trust, but verify. We tend to reveal only as much as is necessary, and are ready to pull back when matters get sensitive or risky. We play games. Sensed fear seems to justify our withdrawal or aggression. You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but a Spirit of adoption. To fall back into fear is to remain a slave to that fear. Jean Vanier suggests that the greatest fear is that of humiliation. The greatest fear, greater than the fear of death, is that of being humilated. Dread that the other will see our weakness, incapacities, impotence and then judge us as beneath consideration…. To feel that we count as nothing in the eyes of others throws up some of our deepest anguish. Anguish is deeper and more difuse, it is existential. We dread being completely lost, no longer knowing who we are. Humilation has the power to evoke this feeling: we experience ourselves as utterly worthless but dare not acknowledge it, because we live in a world that demands “normality” and achievement.
Real communication can expose the very marrow of our self. We have been exposed to humilation, to wounds which penetrate to the womb of our self-esteem. But we also have known experiences which have given life we had not expected, when the presence of another who supports and encourages us thus allows us to express what had been inchoate and inarticulate. The understanding of another allows us to see ourselves in a more complete and honest way. It is like the voice of someone calling to Lazarus, Come Forth. Unbind him. We had barely sensed that we were bound up in fear and slavery to the choice to be unknown. An understanding listener is a midwife to the truth that wants to be born in our lives. Both are changed and transformed. We discover that we are a fullness that needs to be in relation to others. This is when life comes alive.
We have Conversation Groups in our community where the brothers come together to listen to the Spirit speaking through one another…. to develop and practice skills of good communication that will promote mutual understanding and trust. The heart of a community must lie in the understanding and trust that free each person to live out of the gift he is and has been given. Erik Erkson has said, concerning trust, that we are what we hope we have and give.
There is nothing magical or mechanical about this process. It is slow, uneven, and usually painful. It calls for the growth and development of a new sensitivity which is the fruit of love, joy, patience, kindness, generoisty, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). It is simpler and more expeditious to keep the gift covered over and let it become warped and deteriorate.
By this time, some must be asking, what’s your point, David? What has this to do with the Solemnity of the Trinity? It seems to me that the human quest for honesty, understanding, belonging, freedom from intimidation and manipulation (what we can call salvation) is inspired and sustained by our participation and immersion in the life of the Trinity. The Blessed Trinity has immersed itself in our world as the energy and impetus that is drawing all people and all creation into its circle (dance) of life. We prayed in our collect: God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of Truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery. God has immersed himself into our world, whether we allow ourselves to acknowledge this or not. The Word of Truth suffered unspeakable humiliation and frees us from all fear which would keep us from suffering with him so that we might be glorified with him. Behold, I am with you always. Our human life is our access to the mystery of God. All power on heaven and earth has been given to me. You must know and fix in your heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on earth below. Any effort to keep the demands of heaven from being enfleshed on earth is playing games of a most destructive sort. We have been baptized into Christ, the second person of the Trinity. The dynamic of communion among the persons of the Trinity has become the groundwork of all dynamics of communication on earth. We know the persons of the Trinity within the very context and fabric of our human life. We know the Trinity in our very efforts to realize the fullness of life we have been given in the relations we recognize and build with one another.
What does God get out of sharing his life with us? Just the sheer joy of having his gift accepted and multiplied in a life which can no longer contain itself. God is a fullness who needs to include us in his communion of life. Go and make disciples of all nations. Go and make disciples even of those you live with and meet, communicating the truth of Christ’s love for them. Share the life which must be shared to be what it is. What do we get out of it? The joy of God and the joy of living with his Spirit. Profess the true faith in your life, in the transformation worked in you by the Spirit, in the humble truth which makes you a transparent witness to a love flowing from God.
Scripture Readings: Ex 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18
The Lord, Yahweh, revealed his name to Moses. I have trouble remembering people’s names and I feel terrible when that happens. Heck, one time I even forgot how to spell my own name! I always use my middle name, Stephen. But on one occasion I had to sign a government document with my first name, which is Philip. I couldn’t remember if my birth certificate spelled Philip with one L or two. When you’re signing your name in front of a government official you don’t look up and ask, “Is Philip spelled with one L or two?“
But Yahweh is easy to remember; other names for God in the Bible are not so easy: El Shaddai, God Almighty; El Elyon, God Most High; ego eimi, I am; ho On, the one who Is; Qadosh, The Holy One. The Lord, Yahweh, is really part of a long descriptive name for God. Some people have descriptive nicknames. Like one of the workers who installed our copper roof whose nickname is “Stretch” because he’s so tall. My father’s side of the family comes from Belgium. When my older brother and I went to a summer camp for boys in northern Wisconsin, the staff called my brother “Belge,” short for the Belgian. The kids misunderstood and began calling him “Belch“. And they nicknamed me “Burp“.
So also, Yahweh is part of a long descriptive name for God. The Lord said to Moses on Mt. Sinai, “I will make all my goodness to pass before you and proclaim my name.” Then the Lord passed by proclaiming: “Yahweh, the Lord, I AM, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex.34:5-7). That’s God’s full descriptive name. When Moses interceded for the rebellious Israelites in the book of Numbers, he appealed to God’s name saying: “I pray, be what you are called, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression…” (Num. 14:18).
The prophet Jonah said: “I know that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repent of evil” (Jonah 4:2).
The prophet Micah found reason to be hopeful in God’s name: “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity, and passing over transgression? Who does not retain anger forever but delights in steadfast love and will again have compassion” (Micah 7:18).
Through the prophet Jeremiah, God reminded the people of his name when he said: “Return, faithless Israel, I will not look on you in anger for I am merciful, I will not be angry forever” (Jer. 3:12).
The prophet Joel called Israel to repentance in God’s name: “Return to Yahweh, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil” (Joel 2:13).
When Ezra asked the Lord to consecrate his people after the Exile, he called God by his descriptive name: “You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Neh. 9:17).
The Psalmist needing strength and consolation prays: “O Lord you are good and forgiving, full of love to all who call… God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, O Lord, abounding in love and truth, turn and take pity on me” (Ps. 86:5, 15).
Another Psalmist rejoicing in forgiveness proclaims God’s descriptive name: “Yahweh is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy. His wrath will come to an end, he will not be angry forever. He does not treat us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our faults” (Ps. 103:8).
And a third Psalmist glorifies God by repeating that beautiful name: “Yahweh is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures” (Ps. 145:8).
This revelation of God’s name is at the heart of the entire Hebrew Scriptures. But then a wonderful thing happened. Yahweh became flesh and walked among us as Jesus, our Savior, embracing us with love and compassion, kindness and mercy. Jesus taught us a new name for God that is at the heart of the entire Christian Scriptures. Yahweh is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three Persons in one divine nature, who want us to be sharers in their nature, so that we also can be called by God’s name, “kind and compassionate, gracious and merciful, abounding in divine love and truth forever.” To share the life of the Trinity is our common vocation. It is why God made us. It is our reason for being!
[Scripture Readings: Prv 8:22-31; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15]
Brothers and Sisters, in the houses where most of us live, there is typically some kind of long-term storage space in the basement. And a visit to that dark space downstairs can be emotionally disorienting and a bit jarring. Most of us live in the present moment as if we had attained to eternal life, but we haven’t, and that stuff piled up in the basement reminds us of the fact. The old discolored clothing, the guitar with four strings, the high school year book—in all these objects we see an expression of ourselves, a self that is growing old and dying. Our artificial sense of timelessness is rudely interrupted; we come down steep and we land hard in the basement; in the embrace of this time-bound world that is passing away. Standing there in the basement you can get a glimpse of what it was like when God became flesh. Jesus was in the form of God. At a certain moment, when the night was midway through its course, God’s Son ventured down into the basement, into creation: that place where you and I are born and live our lives. Now, we believe, as St. John says that in the beginning everything that was created came to be through the Son—God’s Divine Word. That means, coming down into creation, in every person Jesus meets, he sees his own face. Like those objects stored in the basement, Jesus, entering our world sees, in every person, and in every object he encounters an expression of himself. In everything he looks at Jesus is looking back at himself—with this important difference: that the face Jesus sees in the mirror of creation is aging, the light in his eyes is fading, his skin is showing signs of drying out, sagging, and wrinkling, something he never saw happen when he was in the form of God.
But the truth of our faith is even more wonderful and mysterious than this because looking at any created thing, Jesus sees not only his own face, but another looking back at him: the face of his Father, the Creator. This is the mystery we celebrate today on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity: the mystery of the Son’s relationship with his Father; how the Father lives in the Son and the Son in the Father, sharing a love that is the Holy Spirit, three divine persons who are One God. How do we make any sense of this mystery? Imagine going down into that storage space in the basement and finding there not your own personal belongings, but your father’s: all the stuff piled up there are your father’s personal effects collected over the years: there’s a pair of those old-fashioned wing-tip shoes; a fedora of the type men thought were cool in the fifties. There are crumpled black and white photos, and your Father’s high school year book from 1947. All these objects are expressions of your father, and looking at them, you see your father looking back at you. Now, you are not your father. But you are your father’s son. People say you are the image of your father. And so, looking at your father’s things, and seeing him in them, looking back at you, you can’t escape the impression that you are also looking at your own face, looking back at you in your father’s face.
Finally, as you linger meditatively in this basement space, a beam of sunlight entering through a small window is causing a streak of light to pass very slowly across the wall. Watching the light make its way across the wall, you are aware of the passage of time, and realize that it was in time that you came forth from your father, in time that you separated from him to pursue your own destiny in the world, in time that brought you to this moment in the basement, to this return to your father. The love your father has for you and the love you have always had for your father unfolds in time, and in that swath of light moving across the wall, your father is made present to you and you are brought back to love and remembrance of him, as if that light were the Holy Spirit shared between the Divine Father and Son, whose love is manifest in history, always in motion though, at moments, seeming to hover like a dove. Brothers and sisters, as we proceed to the Eucharist, let us give thanks and rejoice together that the Father lives in the Son and the Son in the Father whose sharing of love is the Holy Spirit, and let us be strengthened in the knowledge that, by our baptism, this sharing of love between three Divine Persons is the very life of our souls and the assurance of our destiny of eternal blessedness in God.
[Scripture Readings: Ex 34:4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18]
It was Thursday evening on a beautiful day in September, 1997, when twenty-nine year old Dan Bockenstedt hopped on his racing bike and pedaled along South Grandview Avenue in Dubuque. This handsome young man with an infectious smile and mischievous sense of humor purchased his first Raleigh Grand Prix racing bike with his own money at age 13. A few years later his skills earned him personalized training at the Junior Olympic Training Center. Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s Dan competed in the toughest races in North America as a Category 1 Racer, winning regional and national championships. When he rode along South Grandview Avenue for a refreshing evening exercise, suddenly a car pulled out in front of Daniel and struck him head on. For two unbearable, agonizing days his parents, Mary and Walter, his brother, Paul, and his sister, Ann, watched by his bedside at the hospital. Dan’s injuries were too severe for healing and he died on Saturday, September 13. They were crushed by the loss of their lovable son, their dear, outstanding brother. Biker friends of Dan offered words of kindness and touching recollections of time spent with their teammate. Two road races were named in tribute to him, and he was the first person to be entered into the Iowa Bikers Hall O’ Fame.
But his family needed more than tributes to cope with their grief. They wanted something that would connect Dan to New Melleray which he loved and visited often, a memorial promising hope of reunion and the joy of life together once more. His mother asked Abbot Brendan for help, and he suggested the famous icon of the Holy Trinity painted by Andrei Rublev six hundred years ago. Photographs capture events in our past. They remind us of our history, things we did, people with whom we shared our lives. Icons do much more. They not only capture events in the past, especially events in the life of Christ, but they also look into the present and the future. They are like windows showing us the hidden presence of divinity in our lives, and they open up what is to comeour sharing with the saints in the kingdom of heaven, even the mystery of our union with God and reunion with those we love. Mary and Walter Bockenstedt agreed to commission the great American iconographer, Peter Pearson, to paint a representation of Rublev’s Trinity in honor of Daniel. Two years later it was completed and put in a prominent place in our Guesthouse where it is today.
This unique icon looks deeply into the history of our faith, all the way back to a scene in the life of the patriarch Abraham when he served a meal to three mysterious heavenly visitors who passed his way. They appear as angels with wings touching each other. But we know they are the beginning of God’s self-revelation as three Persons in one divine nature. This beautiful icon illumines the mystery of the Trinity present in our lives, who invite us to share in their eternal life. It is a window into the source and summit of all our happiness.
Unlike other icons and paintings in which God the Father is presented as an elderly, patriarchal figure watching over his much younger Son in the company of the Holy Spirit under the form of a dove, set in triangular positions, the great artist, Rublev, portrays the three Divine Persons as entirely equal, indistinguishable in age and facial features, all sharing the same youthfulness and beauty, never aging, always young and desirable, exactly what we hope for. They are seated around a table in a quiet, gentle, contemplative presence, fully in love with each other. There is a circular movement in the icon from the Father on the left looking at the Others, with the Son in the middle and the Holy Spirit at the far right. They return this loving gaze with heads slightly bowed toward the Father, revealing the mystery of divine humility among equals. Behind the Holy Spirit, the inclination of his head is accentuated by the curve of a mountain leaning in the same direction. It is Mount Sinai where God appeared to Moses, and it is Mount Sion where God pitched his tent among us, his Temple, and it is Mount Calvary where Jesus gave his life for us. Even creation is drawn into this exchange of love and reverence. The mountain points back to the tree of life behind the Son. It is also leaning toward the Father. It is the tree on which Jesus died, and it is the true vine on which we are grafted, restoring us to friendship with God, bringing us back into the unity of divine romance. As our gaze flows back to the Father from the bowed mountain and the verdant vine become a tree, we see behind the first Divine Figure a castle. It is the Church, the heavenly Jerusalem, the safe place prepared for us from the foundation of the world. Its doors and windows are open inviting us to the Kingdom that never ends.
Then our gaze falls naturally back to the face of the Father and we are swept up again in this circular movement to the Son and the Holy Spirit, a movement St. John Damascene called Perichoresis, a Greek word meaning “to dance around each other.” It is the infinite activity of three Divine Persons sharing complete intimacy who interpenetrate one another in total oneness. As our gaze sweeps around the circle we come to a wide opening at the front and center of the icon, an open place at the table that invites us to be seated with the Trinity in their own unending romance of happiness. On this table, like an altar, there is a chalice containing the good and tender young calf prepared by Abraham for his heavenly visitors. We immediately recognize this meal as the Eucharist, and the slain calf as the Lamb sacrificed on Calvary. It is Jesus, who died for us, who shared our pain and suffering so that we may be where he is and what he is, partakers in the divine nature, in a place where there is no more mourning or crying or pain, where these three loving Persons wipe away every tear from our eyes, where death will be no more. God becomes the Host, and we are invited to this banquet of joy that will never end, this circle of divine love. We are graced with their own life, united in heart and soul not only with divinity, but reunited with each another. No matter how many come to sit in this open place, there is always room for more. We enter into this divine dance, this heavenly opera, with hearts unburdened, lightened and radiant with glory, enjoying and spreading the happiness we receive.
The icon of Rublev’s Trinity is not only about our future. It also tells us about God’s presence in our lives here and now. Each of the three heavenly Visitors holds a staff, showing that they are on this journey with us. Moses asked the Lord, “Do come along in our company.” And they have. They are a hidden Presence accompanying us through all our hardships and tribulations. When Dan Bockenstedt pedaled along South Grandview Avenue at summer’s end he didn’t know he was about to share in the dreadful mystery of suffering and death that another Beloved Son, close to the same age, endured for us two thousand years ago. By his passion, Jesus revealed that God suffers with us. In all the tragedies of lifewhen struck down by fatal accidents, when drowning in the waters of overwhelming cyclones, when buried in crushing earthquakes, when suffering infection by ravaging diseasesthree divine Persons suffer these crucifixions with us because we have become one body with Jesus. But death cannot hold Jesus or his members. He dies with us, and we rise with him.
So, like Jesus, Dan Bockenstead even shared his own body and blood with others: his heart and lungs, his liver and kidneys, his bone tissue and the corneas of his eyes, were given to help many people. He does not need those parts anymore. For he has won the race. He has crossed the finish line and is enjoying all the wonders of creation and the even greater wonders of the uncreated, infinite existence and love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are dancing, running, jumping and racing together in happiness forever. This is what we celebrate in our Eucharist today.
[Scripture Readings: Ex 34:4-9; 2Cor. 13:11-13; Jn. 3:16-18]
There was a woman of the glens of Ireland who had an only son; he was a proper lad, very fine to look upon. His eyes were bright blue-like the morning sky at sunrise, and when he spoke his voice was like music. Girls watched him smile, and found there was no more heart left in them. His equal was not to be found among the isles. All this he was to his mother and much more. He was her dawn, noonday, and evening tide. But then a war came and he fell. She died, too, not her body, but her heart. There was no end to her grieving. At last an angel of God was sent to comfort her, and offered ways to heal such a wound. First he offered the gift of forgetfulness-but she would have none of that. She never wanted to forget the loveliness of his face. Next he offered the gift of another child-that would be wonderful, but her heart would still bleed for the son she lost. Finally, the angel offered her the extraordinary gift of having her son back. “Yes, she cried, I want him back.” The angel agreed. The heavens opened and she saw her son in an ecstasy of happiness, his face was radiant like the sun itself, shining so intensely she could not see what he was seeing-the vision of God the Father, infinite goodness pouring into God the Son, and reflected back with infinite love in God the Holy Spirit. The body of her boy was arched like a bow pointing upward in the sky, his heart like an arrow soaring into the midst of God’s own infinite happiness. The arms of God’s love were wrapped around him, cradling her boy in a tenderness she had never dreamed of. Then she saw the angel approaching her son to bring the lad back to her. “Wait!” she cried, “Let him be. It is I who must come to him, not he to me.” “But,” the angel said, “your heart is still bleeding.” “Let it bleed,” she replied, “it only bleeds for me. He is where I want him to be, his happiness is mine. I will feel his absence, and I want to miss him. But I do not want to take his happiness from him. Someday I will be with him in God’s embrace. I can wait.” That day the woman went outside for the first time since the boy was buried. As she passed along the country road and greeted her neighbors, they said to one another, “Did you see her eyes? They are bright blue, like the morning sky at sunrise, and her voice, it is like music in the air.”
We are citizens of heaven. Earth is not our homeland. We have received the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, to become like that Irish lad swept up in an ecstasy of happiness, the same happiness that is enjoyed by the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. Many of our loved ones already enjoy the prize of life with Christ in heavenly places. That is where our treasure is. We will come to them, maybe not today or tomorrow. But some day. If it seems slow in coming, wait! It will surely come, it will not delay.
We are citizens of heaven. Let us suffer the loss of all things on earth rather than lose our participation in divine life, in the very life of the Trinity. A couple months ago a terrible tragedy swept through the halls of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. One after another students were killed or wounded. One of the two boys pointed his weapon at a group of students and said in a threatening voice: “Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” There was silence. Then a girl raised her head, looked at him and calmly said, “Yes, I believe.” He shouted, “For WHAT?” and killed her. That moment of silence is especially moving. It means she had time to reflect and then speak from her heart when she gave witness to her faith in the face of death. Her name is Cassie Bernall, a 17 year old junior with long blond hair. Two years ago Cassie abandoned her dabbling in the occult and dedicated her life to Christ. Her brother found a poem she had written a few days before she fell. It read: “Now I have given up everything else. I have found it to be the only way. To really know Christ, and to experience the mighty power that brought Him back to life again, and to find out what it means to suffer and to die with him. So, whatever it takes I will be one who lives in the fresh newness of life of those who are alive from the dead.” She was ready. Today she lives with the Father who loves her, with the Son whose death she imitated, and with the Spirit who has lifted her up into the same happiness that the Holy Trinity enjoys. Cassie gave her life. What will you give to follow the call of Christ?
Our citizenship is in heaven. To see the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is beyond our natural powers. It is even beyond the power of angels. Moses, on the mountain top, desired to see the face of God. The Lord revealed a little bit of himself to Moses, and from then on the face of Moses was so radiant he covered it with a veil so his people would not hesitate to come near him. We are called not only to see God, but to be like God, to share God’s own nature and powers. For heaven is much more than a place, it is the Father giving us his life, recreating us as divine children of God, it is the Son redeeming us so we may be co-heirs with him of all that the Father has, and it is the Spirit embracing us in a union far more intimate than that of marriage.
Our citizenship is in heaven. In the Gospel, St. John writes, “God sent his Son into the world to save us.” From Advent to Christmas, from Lent to Easter, from the Ascension to Pentecost, all the mysteries of Christ have this one purpose: to bring us to the Father, to grace us with citizenship in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. In today’s celebration let us be thankful to God for such a destiny. Give up everything else, it is the only way.