Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County, on Trinity Sunday, 2017.
I have said previously and will say again in the future that the Collects of the Anglican tradition, including those in our 1979 Prayer Book, are a goldmine. They are a goldmine for both theology and prayer, and even moreso are a goldmine for the proper balance between theology and prayer that found in the language. It is because the Collects are so important that they are to be prayed not just on Sunday at Mass, but prayed, along with other Collects, every day of the week that begins on Sunday, particularly in the daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.
It is not every Sunday that the Collect perfectly matches with the Readings. But on this a solemn day, the Feast of the Most Blessed Trinity, a Feast celebrated throughout the western Church within the Catholic tradition, of which the Episcopal Church is a part, the Collect of the Day is composed in relationship to the Readings. Let us hear again the Collect and then consider how it helps us understand the readings provided us by the Lectionary of the Church.
Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Our God is a God who has created all things, seen and unseen. Indeed, He created the heavens and the earth. Our God created the cosmos with a word: “Let there be light.” Has there ever been a more powerful word than this? “‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The creative power of this word is incomprehensible. Indeed this is a big bang. That which is beyond time and space creates time and space. Can we already see the glory of God, and can we stand in awe of the power of God’s divine Majesty?
Our God is “ultimate reality.” Everything we say about God will always be inadequate, because the words we have come from the conditions of time and space and are typically bound by those conditions, and God reaches beyond the conditions of time and space. I say “typically” because certain words seem to reach beyond these conditions into the glory of God, and these are the words given to us by God himself. “And God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light” comes in the first sentences of the first book of the Bible. These and countless other examples are given to us by God and have been seen by faithful Christians over the two-thousand year history of the Church to reach beyond the human condition into glory and holiness. Such words—and for the mature in the faith, it is almost every sentence in the Bible—are rightly called “sacramental,” because like the seven Sacraments, holy words are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace. A grace that reveals to us something about God.
The term for this is mediation. Holy words—such as “Let there be light,” on the first day of creation, which we reckon “Sunday,” or at the end of our Genesis passage comes another, “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation,” this being the seventh day or sabbath, which in our reckoning is Saturday—mediate God’s revelation. Holy words mediate God’s presence. Holy words help us to realize what Saint Paul teaches: that Jesus Christ is in each and every one of us, our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit being the very love shared between Father and Son. God rested on the seventh day and all that He had made was very good. Can we see the glory and power of God, who has made, and is making, all things very good, that He has made us, and is making us, very good?
This is why our Collect gives us the words, “Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship.” We need to be continually fed and inspired by the mighty works of God, what He has already accomplished, and what He promises to do. God knows this gives us Hope. The words of God cultivate the habit of being hopeful. Indeed God instituted and gave to His Church the Sacraments so that His members would live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world. God knows the journey in this life is a battle, so He gave us Himself through the Sacraments to make real the words recorded by Saint Matthew: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Because He is with us, He gives us the grace to be steadfast in faith and worship of Him.
Like the holy words, the Sacraments mediate God’s grace and salvation. And in perhaps the holiest word of all—“Peace be with you”—we have a word that we ourselves use during Mass right before receiving the Body of Christ. We exchange the Peace with those around us, and that word shows us Christ in those around us. You, the Body of Christ, find unity with the person, another member of the Body of Christ, by means of the Body of Christ consecrated on the Altar.
And so what grace we have! God is in us and makes His temple in our hearts: He is immanent. God is present also through means such as bread, wine, water, oil, and through people: He is mediated. And God is also radically outside the world, outside nature altogether; majestic, omnipotent, all glorious: He is transcendent. To always order our prayer life to the dimensions of God immanent, God mediated, and God transcendent is the purpose of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. To ignore or downplay any of those dimensions leads to spiritual disease. To accept in humility, on the other hand, that our God is radically in us, radically beyond time, and mediated through created things, keeps us our prayer life healthy, and our souls ready to receive grace. Glory be the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
Icon by the hand of Monica Thornton.