Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Throne of God with Elders and Four Evangelists
from the Bamberger Apocalypse, Germany c. 1000 AD

Trinity Sunday is in some ways the culmination of the Church’s year – not because it generally coincides with the start of summer (which it only does in the Northern hemisphere of course) – but because it draws together the different emphases of the liturgical seasons that lead up to it. In Advent attention is focused on the sovereign majesty of the God who made the world and will judge it . From Christmas to Easter attention is focused on the incarnation of that God in Jesus – his birth, ministry, sufferings, death and Resurrection. As the Easter season segues through Ascension into Pentecost, the Jesus of history becomes the eternal Christ as the Holy Spirit calls forth the Church to be his Body in the world.

The lessons appointed for Trinity Sunday in Year B of the Lectionary are especially easy to connect along these lines. They begin with Isaiah’s dramatic vision “in the year the king Uzziah died” and the seraphim’s hymn that has become so closely identified with Trinity Sunday  -- “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

In the Epistle to the Romans, St Paul points to the extraordinary way in which the Holy Spirit creates a mysterious unity between our innermost being and the being of Almighty God, "that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’.

Nicodemus and Jesus on a roof top Henry Ossawa Tanner
John’s Gospel, meantime, recounts an intriguing nighttime conversation. “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes”. “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit”, Jesus tells Nicodemus. This seems to make the work of the Holy Spirit a rather chancy thing. We might encounter it, or we might not. But anxiety on this score only serves to bring to the fore once again the centrality of Christ. We are not dependent for our spiritual salvation on the vagaries of religious experience. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


The Descent of the Spirit at Pentecost-- Hans Multscher (1400-67)

The Day of Pentecost was a harvest festival, one of the traditional festivals of the Jewish religious year. Luke tells us that this was the day on which the disciples found themselves so filled with a ‘Holy’ Spirit that, even though the Risen Christ no longer appeared to them, they were brought back into the full presence of God. Because of this, ‘Pentecost’ became an important Christian festival also, and the passage from Acts that recounts this event is always read on this Sunday.

But the Lectionary gives us a choice. We can read it in conjunction with a lesson from the Old Testament, thereby looking back to the long salvation history of which it is the fulfillment. Or, it can be read in conjunction with Paul’s theological reflections on what ‘the Spirit’ means and does.

Both contexts underline something central, that the coming of the Holy Spirit -- in the Apostles’ lives, in the lives of those they converted, and in our own lives -- is not a once in a lifetime spiritual experience complete in itself, but the often faltering beginning of a process of spiritual development. No emotional experience, however powerful, can eliminate the continual need to deepen our understanding of God’s Incarnation and our salvation through the Cross.

This explains why, in the Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples “it is to your advantage that I go away. . . I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own”. Pentecost marks the birth of the Church. It is an occasion of celebration because  the Church is ‘the Body of Christ’, a community enlivened by the Holy Spirit, and – despite all its manifest failings – enabled thereby to go on guiding us in the Truth about God.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Icon of the Ascensio

Psalm 47 
1 Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy. 
2 For the LORD, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
 3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet. 
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah 
5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet. 
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. 
7 For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm. 
8 God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne. 9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.

The lessons for Ascension Day