Is Now

Sunday 11th June 2006
Year B, Trinity Sunday
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Holy Eucharist
Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

First of all, how many of you watched the match yesterday?

And how many of you didn't?

I'm not going to embarrass you by asking how many of you said you didn't but kept sneaking out to get the score!

It's funny how you can live for more than half a century without knowing what a Metatarsal is and, then, suddenly, it's the most important thing in the world; so it was with Beckham, now it is with Rooney.

Well, yesterday was the day we have all been waiting for. At last the build up is over and we have begun to experience the agony or the ecstasy - well, yesterday was neither, was it, really? - of real football matches.

Given all the build up, you won't be surprised that at a recent little gathering of Readers we were asked what kind of sermon we would preach for World Cup Sunday. Now I am deeply suspicious of preachers who introduce football into their sermons to get a bit of street cred, particularly if they don't know anything about it; so I was less than enthusiastic. You know the sort of thing: there are eleven people on the team (I suppose because Judas has been transferred); and Jesus is the captain; no he can't be because then there would be twelve on the team; so Jesus must be the manager; which is awkward because I thought the Holy Ghost was the manager. But if the Holy Ghost is the manager he is only managing the Apostles and not you and me; because we are in the crowd as supporters, or perhaps only spectators, of Jesus and the Apostles. But shouldn't we be players? And where does God the Father fit in; I suppose he's the owner, like Abramovich, only with absolutely unlimited money to buy players.

You can see what I mean, can't you; it all gets very messy and tedious.

The moral of this story is that if you are going to use metaphors or analogies you have to choose very carefully or they become more of a problem than they are worth; which is a particular caution on this day of all days, the Feast of the Holy Trinity.

Here is a metaphor from a Grade A theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar: God is a drama of the Creator, starring the Son as Redeemer and directed by the Holy Spirit as Sanctifier. We, as the Church, are supposed to engage in this drama by listening to what Jesus says and reacting to it, guided by the Holy Spirit. It's not bad, this von Balthasar Theodrama but it doesn't leave much of a role for the Creator who is, according to our theology, the object of all our prayer which we make through the Redeemer.

The source of our problem with the concept of the Holy Trinity is, I think, the word "Persons". In 4th and 5th Century Constantinople this word meant just about the opposite of what it means now; it meant an office which required certain attributes or qualities. Today, although we think that an office does require certain attributes, we separate the office from the person. Today, our idea of a person is based on liberal democracy, Freudian psychology, artistic self expression and an unprecedented degree of consumer power. We debate the way in which nature and nurture dictate how we are; we are suspicious of categories; and some of us might even say we are no longer defined by what we do, as workers, but by what we buy, as consumers.

Because of this rather confusing idea about a person it might be best to go back to the original and see what the framers of the Creed meant when they discussed the Trinity. What they had in mind was an eternal, dynamic relationship; out of time the Father was the Creator; out of time the Creator brought the Redeemer into being; and out of time the mutual love of Creator and Redeemer generated the sanctifier. These relationships, which we regularly describe at the end of Psalms and hymns, are eternal: "As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be; world without end" we say, totally inaccurately. There never was a beginning for the Creator and there will be an end to the world so I have problems with the usual doxology on two counts; but the phrase I want us to focus on consists of those two simple words: "Is now!"

As I have said before, if you want a pictorial idea of the Trinity, think about the three constituent colours, green red and blue which produce between them all the colours on our television screens. I am rather pleased with this analogy so I am rather sorry that I will soon have to forget it when television is transmitted via the internet instead of being decoded by cathode ray tubes. Anyway, for the time being, think of every colour being made of these three basic colours; and think of how the three colours are always present but vary in strength to produce differences. This gives us the idea that the Trinity is dynamic and not static; and it helps us to see why our focus alters at different times both in private prayer and in our liturgy.

Because we are human we probably find it easiest to relate to Jesus our Redeemer; but He makes it abundantly clear that He is our way to plead before our Father, Creator. It is very easy to slip into a frame of mind where we focus exclusively on Jesus and forget that He is part of this timeless dynamic of the Trinity. And when we do think of the Creator we have an image deeply set in the Judaic tradition and culture. Similarly, to help us picture the Sanctifying Holy Spirit, we tend to think of a person who is busy, getting on with putting wrongs to right in a muddled church. The Holy Spirit becomes a reflection of our own restlessness, of our need to be doing; whereas in the case of the Creator and the Sanctifier I want to suggest an entirely opposite approach: that we try to wring out as much old Testament image from the Creator as we can manage to form an idea of God which is universal rather than particular. Similarly, I want us to think of the Sanctifier as the calm of grace infused within us which means that, above all, we need to leave ourselves open to the Spirit who will come quietly rather than arrive in a blaze of sacred fire as the result of our hectoring.

After all that, the Redeemer should be easy; not a bit. The Creator outside time willed the Redeemer inside our time and He was born a human being and taught, and suffered, died and rose again for us; but is now. You can see how timeless entities can, paradoxically, be now because to be timeless suggests there has never been a time, including now, when things have not been so; but if Jesus lived in time; how is He now.

There are two ways of understanding this mystery which might help us. The first, I have already mentioned; that because the Trinity is a dynamic relationship of love it is impossible to extract one of the elements from the other two, just as your television would be pretty sick if it could not decode one of the three colours; but the other way of thinking about the Trinity which brings us closer to the idea of: "Is Now" is to think of the Holy Eucharist which we are about to receive. Father John, in the Eucharistic Prayer, will praise the Father Creator but he will also invoke the Sanctifier without whose divine intervention there is no Redeemer in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a Trinitarian celebration where, as in the incarnation, Jesus is the element in time, in our world now.

What, then, should I say on World Cup Sunday? Perhaps this; that in spite of individual brilliance, the team that wins will need consistency and that, in turn, will need dedicated team work. There, I did it! I actually got the two topics to relate; just!