Matthew 28:16-20 (Good News Translation) Jesus Appears to His Disciples
16 The eleven disciples went to the hill in Galilee where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, even though some of them doubted. 18 Jesus drew near and said to them, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, 20 and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age.”
Almighty God, you are beautiful beyond description, too marvellous for words, too wonderful for comprehension, like nothing ever seen or heard, and yet, you call us into your being to be part of your fathomless love; open our hearts and our minds to know you a little more and see you a little more clearly and send us out to tell others of your love.
Recently I have been really enjoying my dog walks, when you go out along Catty lane you can’t help but take in the different colours stretching out in front of you. The trees are all fully in leaf, the grass is growing, there are wild flowers in the hedgerows. It is beautiful. If I had to pick a favourite time of year it is about now when Spring has really taken hold and there is new growth all around us. So if you look at the creation around us, and you were to pick a colour to represent growth you wouldn’t go far wrong with green. Which is why next week the Church colours will change to green, a time when we can think about how the early Church grew and grow in our own faith. And we start this by looking at a God through the Trinity that is, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, trying to unpack what we believe about God by trying to fathom out who and what we believe God to be and where we fit in all this.
Now I was warned during Reader Training about some Vicars who always give Trinity to their Readers to preach on, presumably because the assumption is that Trinity is difficult to understand or that all the analogies and models have been used before. But that’s not fair or true, I really enjoy the challenge of trying to understand Trinity because it is difficult. It is that challenge to try and understand the impossible, knowing that you can’t, but in trying you might just get a deeper glimpse and understanding of how great and marvellous our God is and grow in our love and wonder of God.
So let’s wonder.
If we worship one God, where did this notion of a three personal God come from? You won’t find Jesus or the disciples teaching about the Trinity, as we have come to understand it, in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity was something the Early Church came up with after about 400 years of heated discussions over parts of the bible that didn’t seem to fit. We worship one God, yet throughout the Bible there are glimpses that this one God is something more than we understand as being one person. In Genesis 1:26 God says ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.’ That must have been a bit of a challenge for a monotheistic faith like Judaism, who is the ‘us’ and the ‘our’ in that statement? It makes me wonder did some scribe once think that must have been a mistake and want to change it to a singular pronoun? But they didn’t they left the mystery for others to ponder.
Then over the last few weeks through John’s gospel we have been listening to Jesus teaching his disciples about the Father and the Son and the Spirit, and now Paul sums up the whole of his second letter to the Corinthians with this statement about the grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. How can God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit be distinctly different and yet one. If you think you can understand it then Augustine would challenge you and say “it isn’t God”. If you don’t understand it, then you are in company with the disciples in our Gospel reading.
If you look back to Matthew 28 from verse 16, The disciples have been instructed by Jesus to meet him on a mountain. Now in Biblical terms if you are going up a mountain, you are going to meet God. Think of Moses, he meets God in the Burning bush on a mountain, he goes up a mountain to receive the 10 Commandments from God, in 2 Kings 19 we hear about Elijah at Horeb, He is told to stand on the mountain because the Lord is about to pass by, Peter, James and John went up a mountain with Jesus and witnessed the transfiguration and heard God speak. When Jesus says to go and meet him on the mountain the disciples go with a level of expectation. Which is met when they see Jesus, they worship him, they acknowledging that he is God; but some doubted. What did they doubt? They have just worshiped Jesus as God, yet they are good monotheistic Jews, how can Jesus be God if there is just one YHWH. Of course they feel unsure, but still they worshiped him. We don’t have to understand to recognise and acknowledge who Jesus is. Anselm of Canterbury wrote
‘I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand’
Our understanding should lead to worship, as did the disciples in this situation, but sometimes only worship can help us understand who God is. Clearly Jesus understands because he doesn’t reprimand them. Here he is about to go back to heaven and the disciples are still unsure of who and what he is, and that’s okay. Instead he reassures them that he will be with them even to the end of the age, even though he is about to leave them for the last time. They just aren’t going to get it all, but they have made a start through worship.
It is okay for us to have doubts and confusions, because if God is to be God, then God needs to be something more than we can imagine. C.S. Lewis explains it like this. Many people say that they want to believe in God but not a personal God. You can see their point, they want to make the mystery behind all other things more than just a person, but if we describe God as impersonal then God is diminished to being less than personal, what Christians agree in the Trinity offers a greater idea, what it might be to imagine a being which is beyond personality, someone who is super-personal. Take for example our understanding of space; we understand creation as being 3 dimensional, but imagine for a moment what it would be like if there was just one dimension, you would only be able to draw a straight line. But if we add to that a second dimension then you can draw a figure, say a square. You join 4 straight lines together. Then if we add a third dimension you can build a solid shape by combining 6 squares and forming a cube. As we move from one dimension to three things become more real and more complicated, we don’t leave behind the things found at the simple level, they are still there but they are combined in new ways you couldn’t imagine if you only knew the simpler way.
The Christian account of God works on the same principle. On the simple level, one person makes one being, two persons make two separate beings, just as in space two dimensional space two squares make two separate figures. But on a more complex divine level personalities combine in ways we cannot understand so that three persons make one being. Of course we can’t understand a being like that, just like a piece of paper couldn’t imagine a cube, but sometimes we can get a glimpse or a notion of something super personal. Sometimes there are echoes of it, like when we find ourselves working harmoniously together, when an idea sometimes gets passed around a team and the group intelligence takes that and idea and forms it into a working model. But to work like this demands that we work in relation to each other. If we look at Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity we see the three persons of the Trinity sitting around a table, each one looking at the other, each with their head tilted in deference to the others. We are made in the image of God, we are made to work in harmony with each other. Genesis 1:27 says, ‘In the image of God , God created them’ We are not designed to go solo, we are designed to be part of a team. Sometime this may be a team made up of other people, but essentially it relationship with God. We may wonder where is the point in trying to understand the impossible.
[Image result for icon of the trinity rublev] Lewis suggests that there isn’t one. Instead what matters is that we are drawn into that super being, that is God, that we become an active part of that three personal relational being. Richard Rohr suggests that if as it says in Genesis we are created by God then in effect we share God’s DNA. Maybe not precisely, but what he means is that there is something of God inside us which longs to find itself again in God. When we look at Jesus we can see that Jesus was fully aware of God in him which was doing the knowing the serving and the loving, whereas we often are afraid to trust that part of us which is drawing us back to God it is hard to believe that God loves us unconditionally so we try and earn that love by actions or baptism or having right morals. But if you remember that is the opposite to the cycle of grace. We don’t gain our acceptance by God through our achievement. We are automatically and unconditionally adored by God, because we are created by God. Like a Mother or a Father loves their child, how could God fail to love that which God has created?
[Image result for christ of st john of the cross] If we look at the next picture
It is difficult not to feel a charge of emotion, as you look down on the head of Christ you can feel the love of the Father, When you look at the figure of Christ you can see the love which holds him to the cross without any need of nails, But when you look to see where Christ is looking he is looking down into the scene at the bottom of the picture, the love of Christ pouring down onto the earth, making the bridge between us and the Father, empowering us with the Spirit to go out and make disciples, to take this message of unconditional love to the world.
I doubt very much that when Dali painted this picture he had any knowledge of the cycle of Grace that we have been looking at since the Parish Weekend, but it is here in the picture; the unconditional love of the Father seen in the darkness from the beginning of time; Christ who sustains us, who will be with us through his Spirit until the end of the age. Christ who gives us his authority to go and make disciples, to baptise and to teach. Christ who draws us into the Trinity so, empowered by his Spirit, we will can go out in obedience to the Father’s will to make disciples, to baptise and to teach.
This idea of Trinity is something we could never have guessed ourselves, it is something which has grown out of years of observations wonder and worship of God. We may not, we cannot ever really understand it, but we are part of it
So in this time of change between Spring and Summer let’s allow our roots to go down deep, drawing on the unconditional love of the Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Fellowship of the holy spirit as we grow in understanding through our worship of that which is beyond our comprehension.
Holy God to whom all praise is due, I stand in awe of you.
1 Where are the ‘mountains’ in your life, where can you go and know you will recognise God?
Is this something you do on your own or with others? Do we need both?
2 What do you find difficult in your knowledge and understanding of God, where do you doubt?
How do Paul’s comments in Romans 11:33-36 help.
3 Maybe look at a copy of Rublev’s Icon, Do you prefer to work with others or on your own?
What are the problems with team work and what are the benefits?
4 How do you worship? It’s easy to bring concerns to God or be thankful, but simply worshiping God can be hard.Do you find pictures helpful, or music, or simply words?
Maybe you could share some favourite pictures or songs or psalms, or spend some time looking for Psalms that worship God rather than make requests, thanks or confessions, spend to some time together worshiping God either through pictures, songs or in prayer and allow yourselves to be drawn deeper into the love of God.
(You might find ‘you are beautiful beyond description’ (Mission Praise 788) helpful.)