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Trinity Sunday June 11, 2017 - The Rev. Samuel Torvend
Sermon for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, June 11, 2017
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
She was short in height and frail in health. At a young age, perhaps 11, she was given into the care of Benedictine nuns who taught her to read in order to sing the psalms at daily prayer and proclaim the biblical text at daily Mass. It was unusual to become a literate person and even more so as a woman. The majority of the population lived in poverty and a woman’s life was thought to have little value unless she gave birth to children and prepared meals with next to nothing from a meager pantry. She lived in a time when medieval England experienced what contemporary scientists call the Little Ice Age, a time in which temperatures cooled, crops failed, and cattle died. But if poverty and declining food stores were not enough, the Bubonic Plague entered the land, killing close to 40% of the population. To her fellow citizens, most of them Christian, the destruction of a sustainable life by crop failure and epidemic were perceived as nothing less than frightening signs of God’s punishment for disobedience to the law of Scripture and church. Perhaps you grasp the common but terribly un-Christian formula at work here: Break the rules of God and you will suffer the consequences.
In her thirtieth year, this young woman, named Julian of Norwich, became deathly ill. A priest was called to administer the last rites. But as he raised the crucifix before her eyes, Julian saw the crucified Christ materialize in physical form and begin to speak to her. What he said stood in stark contrast to what she heard from those who thought their many woes were a sign of Fate’s cruelty or God’s displeasure.  To Julian, Christ said, “Do you want to understand the Lord in this anxious time? Then understand me well,” he continued. “Love is my meaning. Who showed it to you? Why Love did. And what did I show to you? Why Love and nothing else. And why did I show it to you? So that you might hold yourself firmly in this Love.” To this revelation, Julian – now restored to health – responded: “I thus saw most certainly this truth: that before God gave birth to us and all things, the Holy Trinity loved us, and this love has never slackened and never shall. In this love, the Holy Three creates all things good and beneficial, and in this love our life has … its beginning.” Then quoting from today’s gospel reading, she concludes: “All this we see in God who is with us always until the end of the age.”
The American historian Barbara Tuchman has suggested that the calamitous 14th century, Julian’s century, is a mirror – a mirror – of our own time. And perhaps there is truth in her claim. Indeed, you and I are witnessing the dismantling of many efforts to protect God’s good earth. We hear that the funding needed to track and diminish the power of epidemics will be decreased. You and I read that access for the many to healthcare and healing will drop out of sight while the few reap enormous profits. Regulation of food production and safety is being relaxed. While expansion of armaments grows, assistance for poor, hungry children throughout our land plummets. A vocal group of citizens confront us with their suspicion if not hatred of Jews and Muslims, Latinos and homosexuals, and anyone who does not conform to a prescribed and narrow profile of who is “acceptable,” of who is “valued” in our society.
The quickening of change and the growth of conflict in our time can lead me, and perhaps some of you, to gasp, to grow anxious. The temptation is present to withdraw into a cocoon, to wonder if Fate is, indeed, a cruel master, producing a sense of powerlessness, a sense of being overwhelmed little different than those who faced a threatening plague.
What message, then, speaks across the distance of time, from this medieval laywoman, from her mystical experience of the Trinity, into our anxious time? Be not distracted, she says: be not distracted from the ground of your being who is Christ your loving mother. Be not distracted from the One who brought you to life and will greet you when death brings you to a second birth in God your loving father. Be not distracted from the nurturing Spirit who gives you wisdom and discernment and will make you strong as you work with love – with love – for a just and peaceful way of life. Of course, our Christian care for this wounded earth, our advocacy for those who struggle with poverty and homelessness, our insistence on generous access to healthcare and healing, and our resistance to bigotry and hate speech are not, are not distractions. But you and I fall into an ancient and attractive heresy if we begin to imagine that our just and peaceful work is ours and ours alone. “Open your eyes,” shouts Julian, “open your eyes and recognize this almighty truth: You and I are enclosed in the Trinity who gave us birth, who feeds us, who animates our souls. You and I are enclosed in the power from which flows all power for goodness in this world.”
The question left unasked is this: Where is your power, my power for goodness rooted? Is it grounded with daily prayer in the Presence of the Holy Three? Is your power for goodness guided by meditation on our holy book, the Scriptures? Is it nourished by the one Julian calls our Mother – nourished here at the altar where our Mother Christ exposes the suffering of the world with his wounds and, at the same time becomes, for us, the very source of its healing?
||: Prayer, meditation, and sacrament; charity, justice, and peace: which is more important to you? :|| But then I might as well ask, which is more important: breathing in or breathing out? For you must know that we cannot have one without the other.