The music of God

Matthew 28:16-20
Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-31
2 Corinthians 13:11-13

If you’ve come wanting a learned lecture on doctrine, you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve come expecting a history lesson, you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve come expecting scientific explanations or logic deductions, or things empirically provable, you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve come expecting not to understand a word or see the point, I hope you’ll be disappointed. Trinity Sunday – the butt of more jokes than I can muster. Yet what I do hope to share with you is a mystery that cannot be explained, and yet which leads us to glimpse the very heart of God, and encounter the living God for ourselves; the God who is God is there, with us, alongside us, above us, beneath us, surrounding us, within us.

‘Great music’ said the pianist Artur Schnabel ‘is music that is better than it can ever be played’. Many musicians tell me that’s how they feel in their attempts. Yet, all music has an element of mystery, it’s more than the notes themselves, beyond even the most perfect performance of them imaginable. Worship, too, is something that is performed. The words we say and sing this morning – the hymns, the readings, the prayers, perhaps even this sermon – they are like a musical score: only in the performance, in the doing, do they come alive. And we realise that however good the words, however honest our intentions, our worship always falls short of what it proclaims, always points beyond itself.

On Trinity Sunday, of all days, we realise the impossibility of ever doing God justice by talking about him. We ask too much of language when we expect it to carry this profoundest mystery of all:
“Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision,
Will not stay in place.” says T.S. Eliot.

For how can we speak about the God who is both high and deep, beyond us, yet within, encompassing all that has been, and is, and is yet to come?

“To whom then will you compare God?” asks the prophet. I can barely comprehend the mystery of another human being, my own self even, let alone the mystery of God.

“For one like me God will never be plain and out there,
but dark rather and inexplicable” writes the Welsh priest-poet R.S. Thomas.

Perhaps what I should be saying today is that there is nothing I can say. Perhaps we can only be silent. Perhaps Trinity Sunday should make contemplatives out of us: people who are not afraid of the demands of silence, who are as ready to be as to do, who are at home not only with earthquake, wind, and fire, but also with the still small voice.

Religion, if it is anything, is about the practice of the presence of God, about discovering and discerning the signs of that presence in life. It is about exploration and awareness, about finding meanings and making connections, about celebrating what is yet to be in the face of what already is. To do that, we need to learn how to be quiet, become more present and attentive to life, to see what is there, and love what we find. Pascal said that all our troubles derive from one basic fault: our inability to sit still in a room. That is what the contemplatives and mystics down the centuries have always understood. They teach us that when the words run out we become open to God in a new way, because God is nearer to us than our own souls. In 2018 church is so often busy, and business is thought to be a measure of success, but actually success, whatever that really is, is learning to be pools of awareness where ordinary men and women can reconnect with the gift that is in them to know the mystery of God.

If you know anything about the Quakers you probably know that they worship largely in silence, and yet no Christians have been more active in politics and social concern than they. Prayer is not passivity. Trinity Sunday means more than what we can’t say. This ‘more’ is about what we can do, indeed must do, if we are to live as Christians. In the Trinity, we see a pattern of relationship that speaks of how we are to be towards others and towards the world. The threeness of Trinity means community, a society of persons moving constantly out towards one another in self-giving, living, and being, in that perfect oneness we call by the name of ‘love’.

‘Love’, as the New Testament understands it, is not so much a matter of the passions as the will. ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’. To be a Christian is to acquire the habit of living and loving in this commanded, costly way that Jesus acts out historically, and that Trinity embodies eternally. So, Trinity Sunday calls me to the life of active love: love for my neighbour and community, love for my nation and for the world. There is no other way of being a Christian, no other path shown us by Jesus than this if we are to embody God’s Trinitarian life in the world. So contemplation and action belong together, as indivisible as loving God and loving my neighbour. As we immerse ourselves in the quest for justice, peace, and the integrity of creation, the more we need to be rooted in scripture, sacrament, and silence, for the healing of the world is God’s mission, God’s quest.

In this morning’s gospel reading, the risen Jesus says farewell to his disciples with the words: “all authority in heaven and on earth is given to me”. It is the climax of the gospel, the culmination of all that Matthew’s story has been leading up to. “I am with you always, to the end of the age”. It ends as it began – with the angel’s promise to Joseph that the child would be called Immanuel, God-with-us. The story has travelled far since then. But the promise is the same: that God, who is beyond all words and images, the creator of the world and the holy one of Israel, is in our midst, present to us forever as grace and truth. This is God the mighty and eternal who calls worlds into being and loves us into life. This is God the compassionate and merciful, who bears on his heart for all time the sorrow and pain of the world. This is the God enthroned in majesty who answers the longings of the ages and shows us his glory. This is God who is Trinity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to whom, as is most justly due, be all might, majesty, dominion and power now and to the end of time.

So, I end with some words of reflection by Malcom Guite:
In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us, and within.