Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the First Sunday after Trinity (Proper 6), 2020.
The Feast of Trinity Sunday being a celebration of the Sacrament of Baptism, and even moreso a recognition of the gift of baptismal life given through it, it likewise follows that the Sundays after Trinity invite us into the mystery of living baptismally, the practical aspects of partaking of the divine nature as baptized men, women, and children. As Michael Ramsey has said, “The life of a Christian is a continual response to the fact of his Baptism.” Our scripture today presents us with two fundamental aspects of baptismal life, as we begin this season of Trinitytide.
The first comes from Paul the Apostle, who teaches us that God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. And he teaches that this is a saving action in us, saving us as we grow in our love for Jesus through receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit and becoming more and more deeply conscious of the presence and action of Our Lord in all the phases of human life and of our own life. In other words, Paul locates our salvation in the Cross, which for him is the icon of the process of sanctification in our lives, that is, of becoming more and more open and conscious of God’s presence.
The second come from Our Lord Himself, who is recorded by Saint Matthew has teaching us that we are to carry around in our bodies the infectious peace of Christ to be shared with all in whatever house we enter, and any relationship we have, from the briefest acquaintance to the most intimate friendship. “Go in peace, to love and serve the Lord,” is our dismissal at Mass and directly echoes our Lord’s command to spread peace to the world—that we are agents of Christ’s peace.
Thinking about these basic teachings of the Church might lead us to ask the very kind of questions the Church asked Saint Peter on Pentecost: How? How does this work? and how does Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf lead us to be able to carry around the heavenly peace of Christ wherever we are in likewise offering to the world on behalf of Christ, Who acts through us? Or put most simply: what is the relationship between the Cross and our everyday Christian life?
Let us again take on the approach of Elijah, who was told by God to a cave. And in the cave, Elijah watched as a great and strong wind broke in pieces the rocky mountains, then after the wind an earthquake, then after the earthquake, a fire. And Elijah realized that God’s voice was not in the great wind, was not in the earthquake, was not in the fire. His voice was only heard as Elijah went to the edge of the cave and heard a still small voice. And it was a voice that asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
It is a question pertinent to our situation. The events of the last several months have brought us to just that kind of fundamental inquiry, has brought us to the very basic roots of what it means to act like Christians. Our faith is being tried in the fire; our patience is being tested amid the endless storm; all of which lays bare our habits of devotion. We are the Body of Christ, Saint Paul unhesitatingly teaches us, yet we the Body of Christ have scarcely with one another shared fellowship, and the habit of fellowship—the habit of being together—is the primary means by which the baptismal doctrine of the Church becomes real. When we are sharing fellowship, the doctrine that we are members one of another can be seen and lived and we can hear the still, small voice of God together week in and week out; but without such fellowship, our isolation places a huge impediment in living out the teaching of Paul that we are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
That one bread we partake of is Christ. He is our daily Bread. It is Him, and Him alone, that we are to feed on if our habits of faith, hope, and charity are to be ardent and resilient. And, as I said last week, the most reliable way to feed on the Word of God is through prayer with the Psalms. As Alcuin taught the Church one thousand, two hundred years ago, as well as today, through prayer in the Psalms may be found the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ the Eternal Word of God. In the Psalms can we find guidance as to our question of the relationship of the Cross to our Christian living?
In Psalm 100 we find the strong and direct teaching on that. “Know this,” the Psalmist proclaims, “The Lord Himself is God.” Christ is our Lord, and His manner of revealing His divinity to us centers on the sacrifice of the Cross. The Psalmist continues: “He Himself has made us, and we are His,” and here is direct baptismal teaching, because through the Sacrament we are made part of His Body, and begin the process of being made and transformed into Him; we are His, as baptism is really a form of marriage to God. “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” We might ask, what is His pasture? Is it the world around us. How can it be with all the sin and evil abounding in the world? Instead, where is the Lord’s pasture but heaven? Our food is the heavenly Bread, which we feed on as His sheep. Baptism seals us indelibly with the pledge to be able to participate in all the heavenly realities—is a seal that promises us that we are Christ’s sheep feeding in His pasture.
Brothers and sister, what a gift! His presence is a heavenly presence, His gates entered with joy because His gates are the gates of ever-lasting freedom and joy. “God’s faithfulness endures from age to age,” because God Himself is eternal, the maker of all things visible and invisible, and beyond the conditions of time and space. When we are baptized we begin the process of being remade into the image and likeness of Jesus, thereby transformed even at the start into His Body, beyond time and space. He Himself makes us—He makes all the members of His Body work and live as His Body.
And so, to answer our question, how does Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf lead us to be able to carry around His heavenly peace? Because having destroyed death by His death, Jesus has removed not physical death from us, but the need for any fear of physical death. By His death He has destroyed death. Which is to say, through baptism we are alive in Christ Who is ever-alive. We are living in Christ Who is ever-living. Our joy in Christ is precisely due to this fact. Christ died that we might enter into His ever-lasting life through faith in Him that we hold fast. This knowledge brings peace. And having this peace, what can we do but share it with all we know and all we meet. How can we be but joyful in the Lord, and invite joyfulness in all the lands? How can we but serve the Lord with gladness and come before His presence with a song, participating as we are in the divine nature and always in the hands of our loving Good Shepherd?