By: Amelia McDaniel, Lay Associate for Christian Formation
I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. This hymn known as St. Patrick’s Breastplate is one of my favorite hymns. It probably falls into my top 10 list. I remember singing it in church as a kid and struggling to match the words to the notes. That’s a generous statement which might lead you to think I read music. If you have stood anywhere near me while singing you know that is not the case. I just know that the notes go up and down and I try to match my voice accordingly. But I sing this one out no matter what.
It is so solid and strong and sure. The Trinity. The Three in One and One in Three. The solid foundation of our faith. There is something about declaring the name of the Trinity that seems fixed as well. Unmovable. And for certain, I through faith and experience I believe in the three persons of the Trinity and the unbreakable strength in that. But I’ve also learned that the Trinity is anything but static; it is always on the move. Moving me. Moving others.
In the course of church history the doctrine of the Trinity has sparked controversy and debate and heresy and schisms and all kinds of messes. To try to explain how three separate and distinct entities are one in the same can produce some consternation. But I am convinced that God is most interested in how I respond to the Trinity at work around me. Accepting the mystery of the Trinity can be easier than seeing the work the Trinity calls me too. The strong name of the Trinity demands that I stop naval gazing and to look out see what our Triune God is up to in the world. The Trinity in truth is simple, it’s just not easy.
On its face it is simple to see God the creator in everything. There is such beauty and awe to be found in this world. Just driving onto this campus each day is enough to hold that to be true. For me, it’s always been humpback whales that have spoken the clearest to me about God and creation. These gigantic mammals just amaze me. The humpback whales have been singing their praises in the depths long before we two legged creatures managed to form an alleluia. But I know that their existence is profoundly impacted by me and what we humans are doing to the waters they sing in. All of God’s creation is impacted by what I choose to consume from it and discard upon it. That’s not easy to work with and accept, because it requires an awareness of God’s creation that I am not always willing to exercise. Not easy at all.
As people who profess a profound love for Jesus, it is simple to see Christ in others. Except it’s often it is not. God hit me with that one early on. I was a teenager and leaving a fun and happy youth event at the Cathedral in downtown Nashville. I am sure that there was lots of talk and examples of Jesus and his love we shared. And pizza. I’m sure there was pizza. Somehow, I managed to end up walking back to my car all alone. Downtown Nashville was a place I should not have been alone, especially at night. As I was walking, I heard footsteps behind me. I glanced back and saw an unfamiliar African American man. There is nothing about my reaction that makes me proud about this story; because my first reaction was to be scared. I sped up trying to get to my car faster. His footsteps matched mine. By the time I got to the car I was so rattled that I was struggling with my keys. He stopped a good distance away from me and he said. “Young lady, I am not trying to scare you. You have no business being out here by yourself. I’m going to stand right here and make sure you get in your car and can start it.” Christ in mouth of friend and stranger as the hymn says. There that man was, a stand in for the Good Shepherd right there in front of me, tending to one of his sheep, safely guarding her. It is not easy to see the face of Jesus in others, especially those who somehow seem different from us. I know I miss the opportunity time and time again blinded by my busyness or my assumptions or my ignorance or my shame or my pride.
Seeing the Holy Spirit at work should be simple right? Seeing her move amongst us, inspiring us, calling us. It can be simple; it is just many times what she is asking us to do or see is not easy. I’m pretty sure that it was only the work of the Holy Spirit that helped me turn the key over in the ignition of the 26 foot truck moving van I had rented and packed my share of belongings and buckled my children into to set off for Richmond. Away from a place I loved but also a place that I knew I could not build a life for my children and for myself. So, off I went. I’m pretty sure it was the Holy Spirit that got us here safely because my singing and my driving both leave a lot to be desired. But I know the Holy Spirit doesn’t just work in me. She is at work in all of us. She is the voice that whispers in another mother’s ear, far away from here. A mother who has packed a large duffel bag with a few of her belongings that she will perch on her back so she can hold the hands of her children as the walks. She too listens to the Holy Spirit say go. Go away from a place she loves but cannot build a life for herself or her children and set off for someplace new. Seeing the Spirit at work in that mother, in others who I do not know or understand, that is not easy.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans has something to tell us about things that are simple, just not easy. Paul says that it is through grace, the gift that Jesus’ love has given us, where we can stand sure. Sure of the belovedness of all God’s creation. And we can rejoice as we struggle through this life, because it is in our struggles and sufferings that we learn of the enduring love of God and Jesus. And when we take that lesson in the Holy Spirit gets to do her work and she builds in us a character that reflects that love. And when we live in that kind of love there is always hope and more hope, even when what is simple is not easy.
When we sing of binding the strong name of the Trinity to ourselves today, we are called to remember that this Trinity is ever present, everywhere and far beyond all that we can imagine. The Trinity is at work in this world. It is not just for us folk in these pews, it is for all of God’s creation; it is for all who Jesus loves which is ALL of the people. And the Holy Spirit will move where she will, and we don’t get to tell her what to say or to whom she may speak. And when we bind ourselves to creation by both reveling and tending to it, when we bind ourselves to Christ truly finding him in friends and strangers, when we bind ourselves to the Holy Spirit by listening even when what is being said is hard then the fact that none of this is easy is well worth it. Grace. Glory. Struggle. Endurance. Character. Hope. LOVE.
And Like Paul we can rejoice in this simple but not easy life with the Trinity with Alleluias.
Alleluia to God who in infinite love has created all that we can see and all that is unseen.
Alleluia to Jesus who with unrelenting hope shows us exactly the kind of love we are made for
Alleluia to the Holy Spirit who in divine wisdom whispers in our ears and to our hearts that all of this love and all of this hope is indeed true
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.