In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus, today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. For we Americans it is also Memorial Day weekend. The two occasions would appear to be unrelated at first glance. As the name suggests, Trinity Sunday is meant to highlight for us the mystery of God’s Trinity, the Three God Persons in One, the co-eternality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So much of how we have discussed the Trinity over the years is wrapped up in arcane philosophy and theological precision, and for this reason sermons about the Trinity all too often have sounded like they were lifted from published dissertations or ecclesiastical encyclopedias. The exhortation does not survive the sterile, intellectualized probing, and we are left to wonder if Priests and Ministers deliver these Trinity Sermons for no other reason than to remind us that they have a framed divinity degree just beneath their favorite crucifix or cross. By contrast, Memorial Day conjures up visceral images of families huddled together before the flag adorned tombstones of their fallen loved ones. There are also more cheerful images: Beaches consumed by pelicans and people; baby carriages pushed down tree lined roads; the young and the young at heart lining up for a waffle cone or a hot dog. This first summer weekend may signify altogether different things for different people, but for no one is the occasion overly sterile or intellectualized. On the contrary, it is all very loud, warm, sensual, incarnational; the spirit of the three-day weekend taking hold of the moments so that they pass by as a blur until we are reminded sometime Monday evening that work dutifully awaits our attention the next morning. Memorial Day weekend may end bittersweet, but even then it is not some sort of academic abstraction in our minds. While our thoughts on the Trinity eventually may earn us a framed certificate which we can put up on our walls, our experience of Memorial Day weekend, depending upon what we have been eating out there on those beaches and parks, eventually may lead us to an upset stomach and a glass of Pepto-Bismol.
And yet consider the scene in today’s Gospel reading. Nicodemus, one of the ruling Pharisees, approaches Christ Jesus after nightfall. He is coming up to Our Lord under cover of darkness, hiding from his fellow Pharisees who already have rejected Christ Jesus, but also darkened by his own inability to grasp what Our Lord’s message truly means to him. Nicodemus knows that Our Lord is from God, for the miracles indeed speak for themselves, but what does that mean for his life here and now? How is it that Nicodemus may be born again, when he is old in age and, more to the point, so far removed from the innocence of his mother’s womb? In contemplating the divine Trinity, it is fitting that we are focusing on this very poignant story of a man not that different from ourselves who is grasping in the dark for guidance. For ultimately the Trinity is about relationship, love in action, love selflessly reaching out to nurture or to serve the other. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love between them. This is how Saint Augustine famously described the Trinity. We may describe this further by saying that the Father nurtures the Son, the Son serves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the eternal life between them that then God chooses to share with us. We are being invited into this divine relationship; but for us, clouded as we are in sin, this relationship with God is more akin to grabbing a life preserver before we succumb to the waves. Our response is our cry for help. Our worship is the guilt and the sorrow that we place beneath Our Lord’s feet at the base of His cross. For us, as it is with God, the love relationships that reveal God’s Eternal Trinity are anything but sterile or academic. Like Nicodemus, we are grasping in the dark for guidance; but because God is Trinity, intrinsically His love in action, forever in Himself reaching out to nurture or to serve, we may have confidence that God will reach out to us as we are grasping for Him. At times, for us this relationship will be hard, for we must be reborn in the Spirit in order to participate fully in this Eternal Trinity life. We must put away our old selves, our temptations, the peculiar pleasure we get when we indulge in our sins, for the old life of the flesh cannot be carried into the new life in the Spirit. Nevertheless, by grace this salvific relationship is possible; and because God is Trinity, we may have confidence that God will no more give up on us than He would give up on Himself. We may fall away from Him, and condemn ourselves to an everlasting Hell, but He will not fall away from us.
God’s Eternal Trinity may be defined academically, but it is lived viscerally. It is real everywhere, but most poignant in the crashing waves or in the battered foxholes of our lives. To be in relationship with God is to be saved by Him before we succumb to the assault of our enemies. To be in relationship with God is to be pulled, sometimes kicking and screaming, out from the darkness and into the light. And so it is fitting to celebrate Trinity Sunday during Memorial Day weekend, for who knows better than the battle-hardened warrior what it is like to grasp in the dark for guidance? Who is better versed in grabbing for a life preserver than the sailor tossed to sea when his ship has been torpedoed? Who senses more deeply God’s Trinitarian Life of eternal self-giving than the Marine who literally has no one else but God at his side when he has to return enemy fire? For heaven and earth may pass away, but God will remain, and because God is Trinity God will remain in a love relationship in Himself and also with anyone still out there lost in the darkness. No battle ever will be fierce enough to knock God away from the warrior reaching out to Him. No war ever will be dark enough to consume the light He provides anyone in any condition praying for Him.
God may appear to us as a burning bush, a beautiful angel, or even a battle scarred saint. Today we also celebrate the life and the martyrdom of Joan of Arc, and since her death soldiers from around the world have reached out for God’s life preserver at the darkest of times and have caught a glimpse of the strong warrior woman on horseback with her Sword of Saint Catherine held high. The vision may be fleeting, but it is enough for them to know that God is near and that His relationship to them will endure no matter the tempest of war. There is a song from the First World War that reflected the feeling of French soldiers who would call out to Joan of Arc when the German mortars seemed way too hard to bear. The song is entitled, “Joan of Arc, They are calling you,” and with a little imagination we shall see how the same lyrics apply to anyone of us grasping out from the darkness for the Trinity God who alone may guide us into Himself:
“Joan of Arc, Joan of Arc, Do your eyes from the skies see the foe? Don’t you see the drooping fleur-de-lis? Can’t you hear the tears of Normandy? Joan of Arc, Joan of Arc, Let your spirit guide us through. Come lead your France to victory. Joan of Arc, they are calling you.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.