Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on Trinity Sunday, 2020.
The celebration of the Church on Trinity Sunday is a celebration of the Word made flesh, and dwelling among us. Word is made flesh through the Cross and is made flesh in the Sacraments, that we might participate actively in the wholeness of God, which is the baptismal life. The baptismal life—life day by day—is a trinitarian life of adventure on the sea, on the waters in our ship of prayer, where amid the unpredictable waters of life, God finds us even as we call upon His Name.
Calling upon His Name is certainly something I have been doing over these last twelve weeks. And I will readily admit it has been a kind of plea for help. Our social lockdown has been a period the best we can say about is that it has been profoundly boring—day by day with little to do, although some of us were fortunate enough to be gainfully busy with our jobs, and some of us profoundly worried because of being in a high risk medical situation. And then, as if that mess was not plenty, onto to something like the world on fire, not so much because of peaceful protests and marches (which are a very American thing to do of course) but through destructive looting and violence that has set many cities around the world on fire, destroyed businesses large and small (ironically and tragically many being African-American businesses) to compound uncertainties we already faced because of pandemic.
Day by day, as the news got not getting decidedly better, but decidedly worse, I have wondered daily where is God in all this? Perhaps you have asked this question yourselves. Now, the Word of God is God Himself given to us for daily bread, and let it be known in no uncertain terms that the Word of God has been kept, treasured, and fed upon daily in our Parish without fail, either in All Souls’ Chapel, or in my home with my family in daily prayer, and I know in other homes in our parish. And yet, amid high anxiety and often horror of the happenings of the world, perhaps we have asked still: “Where is God in all this?”
We the Church have been like Elijah, who was told by God to “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And we are then told in the story in the First Book of the Kings, chapter 19, “behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” And then we are told that “when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Eli′jah?’”
It is an amazing, and amazingly odd, question for God to ask Elijah. What are you doing here? But let us ask ourselves: What are we doing here, brothers and sisters? The Apostle Paul prods us in the same way: “Examine yourselves,” he says, “to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?” The realization that this is the case—that indeed Jesus Christ is in you, is in me, is in all the baptized ontologically, that is to say permanently, is a realization that comes to us as a still, small voice once the more spectacular fireworks of life fall away from present attention when confronted by the Word of God. And how are we confronted by the Word of God? Quiet prayer in our homes with Bible and Prayer Book is a very Anglican way to be confronted—and comforted—by the Word of God. In those moments, we are Elijah on the holy mountain, the world around in chaos, but swept up in God’s presence through it all.
And it is especially Anglican, which is to say patristic, to be confronted and comforted by the Word of God through the Psalms. I sent out at the beginning of the lockdown a passage about praying with the Psalm by Alcuin, something he wrote well over 1,000 years ago. If it has lasted this long to speak to us and teach us, it must have permanent value in it. Amongst his teaching on the Psalms are these: “In the Psalms may be found, if approached with an intent mind and a spiritual understanding, the Incarnation of the Lord the Word, His Passion, Resurrection and Ascension.” In the Psalms we find these, he teaches! He continues: “With an intent mind you may also discover a secret prayer that you could in no way devise for yourself. In the Psalms,” he continued, “you will find an intimate way of confessing your sins, and a sincere mode of pray for the divine mercy of the Lord.” The Psalms teach us how God speaks most tenderly to His children. And lastly, Alcuin wrote, “You may also perceive through them the hidden work of divine grace in everything that happens to you.”
Brothers and sisters, all of this is teaching we need to be mature Christians, and so our spiritual lives must be rooted in the Psalms, for they are the most reliable way to learn how to discern God’s presence in our lives. From the beginning, the early Church turned to the Psalms to make sense of the Cross and the Mission Jesus had given them upon His Ascension. When we pray the Psalms (both liturgically in Office and Mass, as well as personally, as many do such as when they are confused or grieving), we express our desire to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit promised to us by Saint Peter on Pentecost. And in receiving the Holy Spirit through the Psalms broken open, through all of Scripture broken open—by what? broken open by Christ Crucified and Him alone—we receive Christ because giving witness to Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.
And in receiving Christ through the Holy Spirit, we likewise receive the Father, the primordial creator of all things seen and unseen, visible and invisible—because in so receiving Christ through the Holy Spirit, Jesus taught the Twelve in the Upper Room that Jesus is in the Father, and we in Jesus, and Jesus in us. Grappling with the arresting and profound fact is the test spoken of by Saint Paul, and it is what it means to truly embrace the baptismal life, a life plunged into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That know and order our lives by the fact that He is with us—through thick and thin, through the wind, and the rocks and the earthquake and the fire—that He is with us, always available to be heard through His still, small voice.
Brothers and sisters, a mind that has heard the still, small voice of the Blessed Trinity is like a person who finds a fully equipped ship at sea, and having gone aboard, it brings him from the sea of this world to the isle of the age to come.