Sermon by Fr Joshua Bell SSC, 30th May 2021
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39,40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20
I wonder if any of you are fans of superhero films? It might be the classic Superman played by Christopher Reeve – or the more recent slew of blockbuster films – like Captain America, Spiderman and the rest of the Avengers team?
There are a whole host of them – some are aliens who look like us; others are ordinary humans, made strong and, well, super-heroic by experimental medicines, technology or other strange devices of story-telling. And of course, every superhero film needs its supervillain – someone as powerful as the hero but on the other side, so to speak.
These figures are a lot like us, really – only magnified. They’re subject to the same virtues and vices that we are: duty, but also selfishness; a sense of justice, but also a strong streak of pride and self-importance.
They are, in many way, the modern day incarnations of the old pagan deities – the gods of the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and others – powerful figures but ultimately no more morally sound than we are. Violence iscommon among them: in Egypt, Set killed Osiris, and his resurrection by Isis symbolised the annual cycle of death and rebirth along the nile. In Babylon, the world was formed out of a war among the gods.
But not so for Jews and Christians. Our God is not one flawed, powerful figure among many. As Moses tells the people in the first reading, “The Lord is God indeed, in heaven above as on earth beneath, he and no other.”
The relationship between God and his creation isn’t one of subjugation, as the other creation myths used to tell. In the Babylonian story, the gods created humankind by killing one of the gods, in order to create a race of servants – to be “hewers of wood and bearers of water.”
No. God made humanity by himself, and through violence but through his own will – not through anger but through love.
God created humanity not to serve him as slaves but to be his sons and daughters. St. Paul says, “The spirit you received is not the spirit of slaves, it is the spirit of sons.”
This bond of love is what unites the three persons of the Trinity, too. They are not three warring deities, but three persons of the one Godhead. At his baptism, Jesus sees the Holy Spirit landing on him like a dove, and hears the word of the Father: “This is my Son, the beloved. My favour rests on him.”
Violence does separate the godhead, though: on Calvary, our Lord Jesus calls out to his Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But even here, the violence of the crucifixion, that separates one part of the Trinity from another, is still an outpouring of love.
At my first Mass, two years ago, we sang that wonderful hymn, “Here is Love.” It describes the outpour of God’s love even in that dark hour:
On the mount of crucifixion,
fountains opened deep and wide;
through the floodgates of God’s mercy
flowed a vast and gracious tide.
Grace and love, like mighty rivers,
poured incessant from above,
and Heav’n’s peace and perfect justice
kissed a guilty world in love.
Over the years many people have tried to explain how God can be three, but also one. They’ve come up with all sorts of analogies from the world around us – suggesting that the Trinity is like how the Sun gives out both light and heat; or that the Trinity is like how the same person can be a father, and a brother, and a son.
All of these fall short in their own way – because the true intricacies of the Trinity’s unity are simply beyond our understanding. We can no more grasp the mechanics of the Trinity than a person who lived in a 2D world could grasp the concept of a third dimension, if you told them that as well as up/down and forwards/backwards there was such a thing as “left” and “right”.
But what we can grasp is what God has revealed to us: he has revealed his Son, in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord. He revealed the love of the Father to us. Last week we celebrated the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Church – an act of love by Jesus who did not wish to leave us comfortless after he ascended to Heaven. This is why our Gospel tells us Jeuss’s words: I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”