We are slightly updating this weekly email to include not only the reading and reflection (with some questions for personal reflection) but also some news and prompts for your prayers during the week. If there is anything else you would like added to these emails please let Benjamin know.
The reflection was used as part of our Morning Prayer on Pentecost which you can view on our Facebook page of on this YouTube video.
Through this strange season we are also trying to capture our impressions of where God is calling us as the Church at this time. To help with this we would be delighted if you could answer some short questions using this link:
"Where are travelling as a Church during Covid-19?"
From July till the end of October the Bishop has invited me to act as an Assistant Archdeacon covering the west of the Archdeaconry of Lindisfarne. I will be working with the Archdeacon of Northumberland Mark Wroe and two other Assistant Archdeacons to cover the vacancy caused by the appointment of our current Archdeacon Peter Robinson as Dean of Derby. I am very grateful to the Church Wardens for the additional support they will give me in the day to day running of the Parishes as I take up this temporary post and do not expect that there will be any change to how our Parish life will feel from day to day through this period. Please pray for me, and the other members of this new team, as we work with Bishop Christine to support the life of the Diocese at this challenging time, and for Peter Robinson as he prepares to leave the Diocese to serve at Derby Cathedral.
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Although today, Trinity Sunday, formally falls outside Easter season, our reading today from Matthew’s Gospel is a fitting finale to our exploration of the resurrection appearances.
This short reading, known as “The Great Commission”, completes Matthew’s Gospel. We could have heard it as part of our sequence of readings through Easter season. However, the Church reserves this reading for Trinity Sunday. The cynic might say that this is because it is one of the few occasions in scripture where the doctrine of the Trinity – of God revealed as Father Son and Holy Spirit – is articulated. There are though better reasons why we encounter this reading today.
For some the Trinity is like the tax code; mystifying, impenetrable, and a thing that no one person fully understands. Years of attempts to make sense of how we can get our heads around three into one – and the myriad of images used to try to make sense of this – have not helped. The problem with these attempts is that they try to make sense of God as a thing we look at and understand, an object of our understanding. One of the key insights of theology is that God is not an object of our understanding. God is the source of our being. To seek to know more about God is, in part, the search to know more about who we truly are. To reflect on the Trinity is not to try to understand what it is. To reflect on the Trinity is to understand who the God we call Trinity is calling us to be.
That is why using this reading, the Great Commission, is so fitting on Trinity Sunday. In the Great Commission Jesus commands, his disciples (and that includes you and me and not just those eleven men on that mountain) to “Go…and make disciples of all nations”. Speaking with the authority he has been given by God the Father, Jesus sends us out into the world, strengthened by the Spirit of God, to proclaim the love and truth of God to the whole world.
Jesus’ commission invokes the Trinity not as some sort of brand name or kite-mark for the quality of this work that will be done. Jesus invokes the Trinity in this command to “go-out” because this is what God as Trinity does. There is a medieval Carol I love describes the visit of Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation like this:
Gabriel of high degree,
He came down from the Trinity
From Nazareth to Galilee
This central act of divine communication comes, because God the Trinity said to Gabriel and then to Mary: “go-out”
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, shows us the truth of who Jesus is for us through this image of a God, who, as Trinity continually seeks to “go-out”. Quoting an ancient Christian hymn, Paul describes how Jesus:
though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And in our Creeds we understand the Spirit who “proceeds from the Father and Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified”.
To reflect on the Trinity is not to reflect on God as a thing we look at and try to make sense of. To reflect on the Trinity is reflect on this eternal and restless nature of our God who constantly, in God’s own self, goes out into the world. To reflect on the Trinity is to reflect on the God who calls us to follow and “go-out” ourselves.
This insight sits strangely with our times. We are living in an unsettling period as our lock-down is being eased we find ourselves reflecting in very personal terms on what it means to “go-out”. All of us have to think deeply, perhaps not in deep theological terms, but in quiet and personal ways what it means to “go-out”. You may have been shielding and home and are fearful of what it will mean for you to “go-out” when that comes. You might be living with energetic children straining at the lead to “go-out” into a world that, for concerned parents still seems dangerous and uncertain.
As a Church we need to think about what it will mean for us to “go-out” from this place we have found ourselves. We have traditionally done through the structures of our Parish system. I am, as I often say, the Vicar of the Parish and not the minister of a church or congregation. But this is not something we can continue to take for granted. We are looking at a world where there will be less Vicars to do aspects of this going-out. As we look to a future sharpened through our experience of Covid-19 we need to think as a Church, as we are thinking in our own lives, what is means for us to “go-out” as Jesus calls us to do.
Well perhaps I can offer one way in which we can think about doing this. A few years ago we engaged in the Leading your Church into Growth programme. In that we were encouraged to think about the four different ways in which we, as the church, might “go-out” to serve the world around us.
- The first is to pray which we can do formally, as we do each day on Morning and Evening prayer for different parts of our community. Or you could do this informally, praying for the things you encounter and see as you are out and about.
- The second is we can be present to our communities. This is something that Vicars wandering about have been traditionally good at. As we look to the future, we might ask how can we all do this ministry of presence to our communities? It might be presence at community events or advocacy for community needs and projects.
- The third is invitation, the simple opportunity we all have to invite friends to know more about faith and the church. This might be to come to Church when our buildings are open, or it could be in the sharing on social media and by email the resources we are providing for at the moment.
- The final way is through story. At the heart of Jesus’ Great Commission is the the call to “go-out” and tell people about our faith. This does not mean bashing people over the head but telling people the story of your faith and why you are a Christian. Perhaps a scary thing to do, but something all of us could do if we tried.
All of us can engage with these simple ways of going-out into our community. Some we will be comfortable with, others will be more of a stretch. But as we reflect more and more on what it will mean for us to “go-out” into our communities we need to know that this is never something we do alone, because we do this in the name and power of our God who, as Trinity, has gone out before.
Questions for Reflection through the week
- How could I/we “go-out” more in prayer?
- How could I/we “go-out” more in presence to our community?
- How could I/we “go-out” more through invitation to people we know?
- How could I/we “go-out” more in sharing our faith stories?
Collect for Trinity Sunday
faithful and unchanging:
enlarge our minds with the knowledge of your truth,
and draw us more deeply into the mystery of your love,
that we may truly worship you,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Please keep in your prayers: Lesley, Archie, Dorothy, Sheila, Margaret, Carolyn, Judith, Mandy & Laura & Matthew.