Trinity 6: Prayer in a Europe of many languages

This week’s lectionary reflection is written by Dr Clare Amos, Diocesan Director of Lay Discipleship and administrator of this blog.

One of the ‘traditions’ at the World Council of Churches, where I worked for seven years, is that whenever the Lord’s Prayer is said, whether in the offices in Geneva or in a meeting in another part of the world, people are asked to say the prayer in their own language. It is a tradition that I have grown to appreciate very much. It requires sensitivity on the part of the leader of worship – once having started off the prayer they need to drop their voices. It also often requires sensitivity on the part of the congregation, because it many contexts it would be very easy for English speakers to dominate, and to drown out the rest of the worshippers. But done well – as it generally is in World Council of Churches circles – it is a powerful and moving affirmation of the quest for unity in diversity, the spirit which undergirds the ecumenical movement.

I believe that this practice also happens at a number of the chaplaincies in our Diocese in Europe, in which, even if English is the ‘common tongue’ of worship, there are many members of our congregations whose mother language is different. It does potentially say something important about the relationship of our churches and chaplaincies as both ‘guests and hosts’ in the contexts in which we minister. When we took the group of our diocesan 2018-2019 ministry experience scheme interns to the Holy Land last November one site that they all seemed especially to enjoy visiting was the Church of the Pater Noster, the church on the Mount of Olives where the Lord’s Prayer is displayed in well over a hundred different languages. One of our group who himself came originally from Cornwall was very impressed to discover a plaque with the Prayer written in Cornish!

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Some of the versions of the Lord’s Prayer on display at the Church of the Pater Noster in Jerusalem.

The Lord’s Prayer – in the shorter version that it is found in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 11.2-4) is the core of the lectionary Gospel for this coming Sunday. The Gospel then continues (verses 5-13) to tease out the meaning of prayer from this initial starting point, and it is significant that it ends – as it has also effectively begun – with a reference to God as our heavenly Father.

For one thing that is fundamental about the Lord’s Prayer is its starting point. It does not begin with confession of our sins, or indeed with prayers of intercession and need for ourselves or others. Rather it starts with the affirmation that God is our Father – and offers praise to God’s name. So it is a prayer grounded in thanksgiving for and assurance of our existing relationship with God, rather than a prayer that seeks to create such a relationship. That is a vital principle for Christian prayer. The classic book that has most influenced my own understanding of prayer – J Neville Ward, The Use of Praying, makes the point eloquently that prayer needs to begin with thanksgiving and praise – and the other dimensions of prayer flow out of that. That is also the modern Anglican understanding of the Eucharist (a word which itself means ‘thanksgiving’). The ‘Gloria’ is now set as the first element of the service (not the last – which is where Cranmer placed it). We are all – in our unity and our diversity – beloved children of God and that needs to be the primary principle undergirding our relationship with God – and with each other.

It is often and truly said that the Gospel of Luke gives a particular importance to prayer and its essential role in the life and ministry of Jesus. So the point – here – when Jesus teaches his disciples to emulate him in prayer seems to be of particular importance. It is noteworthy that it comes immediately after two important passages (which have provided the lectionary Gospel readings for the previous two weeks). The first of these is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.29-37) and the second is Jesus’ supper at Bethany with Martha and Mary when Jesus’ commended Mary for her listening to him (Luke 10.38-42). It is possible to see these two passages as expressing the dual focus of Jesus’ ministry – both the need for practical compassion and action for others, and the need for quiet listening to the word of God. Can we suggest that placing the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer at this point is therefore intended to reinforce the wisdom that prayer and action belong together – and action, whether on behalf of ourselves or others needs to be rooted in prayer and our family relationship to God?

It is also interesting to explore both how the different petitions of the Lord’s Prayer seem to be exemplified in the later teaching of Jesus in this Gospel (especially chapters 15-17), and then are hinted at during the passion of Jesus as portrayed by Luke. Remembering TS Eliot’s line about ‘where prayer has been valid’, we can say that in the Gospel of Luke lives out and validates his own prayer through his life and his sacrificial death.

Trinity 5: The Two Sisters

Revd Helen Marshall, Chaplain of St Ursula, Bern, Switzerland, explores this week’s lectionary Gospel, Luke 10.38-42.

Mary or Martha: which sister do you most identify with?

Whenever I have used this passage in a group discussion almost everyone identifies with Martha; indeed, some people feel very indignant on her behalf. We may instinctively associate ourselves with Martha because we are busy people. We, like her, often have so many things to do. We can be worried and distracted, pulled in several different directions at the same time. This may be particularly true for many of us within the Diocese in Europe. Many people in our Chaplaincies have highly demanding and stressful jobs, and they are involved in running activities in our churches too. There can also be additional pressures for those living away from their home country.

Busyness itself can often be seen as a ‘virtue’ in our wider culture, both inside and outside the church. Certainly whenever a group of clergy get together, it’s never more than a few minutes before someone says how busy they are. Then there often a follows an unconscious competition as to who is the most busy and stressed. We all do it – me included. It is as if the busyness itself proves we are doing something worthwhile.

Jesus’ dialogue with Martha should make us pause.

Martha is distracted by her many tasks and she is also resentful that she is left to do all the work in the kitchen alone, while Mary sits down at Jesus’ feet to spend time in his presence and listen to his teaching. Martha calls on Jesus to take her side. Can’t he see that it’s not fair? But Jesus’ reply to Martha is a gentle rebuke ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken away from her.’ I always like to think this is also an invitation; Martha too can leave her many tasks and sit at Jesus feet with Mary.

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Christ in the house of Martha and Mary: Johannes Vermeer

Jesus implies that what is needed at this particular moment is that Martha spends time with him, rather than making him a gourmet meal. Rather than busying herself doing something ‘for’ him, she is invited to sit down and receive ‘from’ him like Mary. I don’t think that Jesus is saying that Martha should never work in the kitchen or be busy serving others. After all, Jesus himself was a man of action, he was constantly giving himself to serve others. But he was also a man of prayer. He certainly didn’t spend time being busy for the sake of being busy; all he did and said came out of his loving dependence on his Father. His ‘doing’ came out of his ‘being’, his deep rootedness in God.

We cannot be like Martha all the time. We need to build ‘Mary’ moments into our lives; times when we can sit still at Jesus’ feet, listening and meditating on Scripture and simply being in his presence in silence. This is where we receive the life giving energy, the resources of grace we need for all we do.

In our Chaplaincy in Bern, we have recently started a regular lectio divina group. (Lectio divina – sacred reading – is an ancient Benedictine practice of meditating on Scripture.) A short passage of Scripture is read slowly several times, and we ponder it in silence, noticing a word or phrase which particularly strikes us. At the end, we have the opportunity to share briefly together what we have received. It is a rich and nourishing time.

It is good for us to reflect on the balance of our lives. Is all our busy activity strictly necessary? Are we so busy doing things ‘for’ God, that we never make time to receive ‘from’ him? Even in the midst of stressful and demanding jobs, it may be possible to create some little spaces in our lives to offer to God, simply to be with him. We may then find that these times are oases of grace which provide life and nourishment and a new focus in what we do. They are the ‘one thing necessary.’

The aim in the end is to integrate the Mary and Martha within us; to keep the simple attentiveness of Mary even when we are doing practical tasks, or serving others. To live as Jesus lived, to allow all we are and do to come out of what we have first received in grace from God.

 

Trinity 4: The Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan

Rev Canon Patrick Curran challenges us with a reading of the story of the Compassionate Samaritan (Luke 10.25-37) from the perspective of contemporary Europe.

My consideration of the gospel reading set for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, begins by pointing out that nowhere in the Gospel is the Samaritan called good, rather the Samaritan is moved with pity. He shows mercy. He shows compassion. The reception of this parable into the German speaking world mirrors the central theme of the parable. In German the Samaritan is called der Barmherzige Samariter – the compassionate or the merciful Samaritan. When you break down the word Barmherzigkeit into its components it means mercy from the heart (to have a merciful heart).

Jesus tells the parable to answer the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’, whereas the prelude to the parable begins with the lawyer standing up and asking, ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’ These two questions are related to each other, but I am fascinated by how quickly we set aside the question about eternal life, as we proceed to expound the parable.

What I am interested in exploring is the ebb and flow of this gospel reading keeping in mind the initial question and answer. Note that the lawyer asks the question. He is encouraged by Jesus to provide an answer to his own question based on the Torah that they both know. The episode begins with a question about doing. What must I do to inherit eternal life? It moves onto a question about who is my neighbour. Who should be the recipient of my doing? Jesus responds by telling the Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan and concludes with a question ‘Which of these was neighbour to the man who fell into the hand of robbers?’ To which the lawyer replies, ‘The one who showed mercy.’ Actually he showed abundant and extravagant mercy beyond the call of the letter of the Law. And Jesus concludes, ‘Go and do likewise.’ To love your neighbour is to show mercy to your neighbour through concrete actions. Compassionate is something we are called to be and to live daily.

What needs to be affirmed in this exchange is that the Law is upheld. It is not set aside. Both Jesus and the lawyer draw on it. Having a common foundation in the Law they can also have a meaningful exchange, even if the lawyer is testing him. And why should the lawyer not test him? The Law is a gift. The Law is a blessing. It was given to further human flourishing lived in relationship with God and in community. The Law is not too difficult. You can do it. You can love your neighbour as yourself. Can you do it perfectly? No, of course not! Compassion has a vertical and a horizontal dimension. What must I do to inherit eternal life? Who is my neighbour?

The Law is not being contested, rather it is a question about hermeneutics (Luke 10.26). How do you read and interpret the Law? Jesus actually asks, ‘How do you read?’ How do you read what is written in the Law? How do you interpret the law? Does it turn us towards our neighbour in a way that enables us to be present to them setting fear aside or does it turn us away so that we can keep our distance and avoid risking anything (see the priest and the Levite, possibly worried about ritual impurity according to the demands of the Law)?

The lawyer’s question would seem to go in the direction of drawing boundaries and of drawing the circle smaller. It has been said that whenever you draw a line between those who are in and those who are out, you will find God on the other side…

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This contemporary Orthodox icon of the Parable offers a challenging interpretation of the story.

Ten days ago Carola Rackete, the German captain of Sea Watch 3, rescued refugees at sea in the Mediterranean finally docking in Italy to the displeasure of the Prime Minster Matteo Salvini. We may have mixed feelings about her actions, because ultimately her actions and the actions of many others (the small gestures) do not address the underlying and ongoing crisis. We can recognise however that Captain Carola Rackete has shown mercy at some personal cost, as the EU and the nation states that make up the EU (the ones that hold ultimate power in the EU) seek to develop or neglect to develop policies reflecting the vision and the challenge of a flourishing world.

Migration will continue. Some of it we can hope to regulate. Some will never be regulated. This much realism ought to exist. Can we remain compassionate towards our neighbour? In this situation Christians must be asking themselves against the background of today’s gospel reading of the Compassionate Samaritan, what must I be doing to show mercy and compassion towards my neighbour, which is a question about eternal life, in the streets of Vienna, in the Mediterranean Sea and wherever people are made in the image of God. ‘Go and do likewise.’

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85.10, KJV)

Patrick Curran is the Chaplain of Christ Church, Vienna. He is an ordinand of the Diocese in Europe (1980). Prior to coming to Vienna he served as Chaplain of St Boniface, Bonn and All Saints, Cologne. He was the Archdeacon of the East from 2003-2016.

Trinity 3: Lord of the Harvest

 Jeremy Heuslein, Outreach Worker at Holy Trinity Brussels who is completing his PhD in Philosophy at the University of Leuven reflects on this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Luke 10.1-11, 16-20.

My initial reaction to this reading is usually something along the lines of a sarcastic, ‘Well, thanks for that, Jesus.’ This is probably because it is hard not to read this as analogous to ministry, especially in the Diocese of Europe. Two by two? If only. More workers? Yes, please. As sheep among wolves? Definitely feels that way sometimes, and those are the members of our congregations. Let alone hostile people that often seem to find our chaplaincies.

And yet, I can also find this passage to be immensely encouraging. Jesus delegates the ministry of the Kingdom of God. He doesn’t keep it for himself; he doesn’t mark it off as a sacrosanct activity only exercised by a holy few. He sends out 72 of his followers. The twelve would have been included in that, but 60 others as well. These aren’t the disciples that we know and love or hate. These would have been the average people following Jesus, growing in their discipleship and knowledge of the Kingdom of God.

They were sent out to do the work of the Kingdom of God: proclaim peace, heal the sick, speak on the Kingdom and call it into existence wherever they went, and also accept the hospitality offered to them. They imitate the life and ministry of Jesus, and in doing so, Jesus knows that they will not be accepted everywhere. Jesus comforts them with the truth that they are rejected not in themselves, but that a rejection of them is a rejection of Jesus. The disciples, in this work and ministry, are aligned with the coming of the Kingdom of God, which they are to proclaim is ‘near’ or ‘at hand.’ It is not yet arrived, but it is on its way. There is something deeply disruptive about this.

As we are called to be workers in the fields that God has sent us, we are called to this ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom, of being like lambs among wolves, dependent on God and the miraculous provision of those He brings us across. We are to proclaim peace, healing, and the coming of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is still at hand, promised and on its way but not yet here in full. Every disciple, every follower of Jesus, is called into this work. And at times, it is lonely. At times, it is hard. At times, you do have to shake the dust from your sandals and leave. There can be grace in leaving. And we may see the miracles; we may see powers overturned. But Jesus reminds us that our true rejoicing is with our connection, our belonging to him. As we are held by the hands of the Good Shepherd, nothing can truly harm us for nothing can separate us from the love of God through Jesus Christ.Ernte_in_der_Provénce.jpeg-medium

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890. Harvest in Provence, from ‘Art in the Christian Tradition’, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

So, let us pray to the Lord of the Harvest. Let us pray for fellow-workers to be sent out, for those who would welcome us and the peace that will be offered to them, for those that will not welcome the Kingdom that its slow-moving grace would work in their lives, for ourselves that we may be sustained on the journey by the provisions God brings, for the coming of the fullness of the Kingdom when every power, principality, and person will kneel and the Lamb’s Kingdom of life will reign. Amen, come Lord Jesus.

Trinity 2: the challenge of mission and discipleship

Rebecca Boardman, a Programmes Manager in the Global Relations team of the Anglican Mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) explores this week’s lectionary Gospel reading, Luke 9.51-62 . For a number of years USPG has had a supportive working relationship with the Diocese in Europe and Rebecca is responsible for fostering and developing this link.

Working for USPG and encountering Christians around the world I am consistently challenged and inspired by the sacrificial ministry of so many who have their eyes focused on God’s mission for our world.

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Photo credit: Leah Gordon/USPG. The image comes from the 2019 USPG Study Course ‘The Prophetic Voice of the Church’ which looks at the mission and ministry of the Churches of North and South India.* 

In this week’s passage in Luke’s gospel Jesus speaks directly about the cost of discipleship and what it means to participate in God’s mission. These conversations occurred as ‘Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem’ … ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven’ (9.51). In travelling to Jerusalem Jesus was aware that he was facing suffering, crucifixion and death but with boldness, courage and unwavering determination he continued forward to fulfil God’s plans.

It is upon this journey that Jesus meets three individuals and challenges them on the reality of the cost of true discipleship, seeing whether they hold the same unwavering determination to participate fully in the mission that God has us.

I believe that the set of statements in verses 57-62 provide us with the space to reflect on those things that keep us from following Jesus fully. I wonder what these are in our own experiences?

Each of the three people that Jesus encountered expressed a willingness to follow him, however they also had their own conditions or assumptions about what this would mean. In many ways these requests (such as burying their father or saying goodbye to their family) sound reasonable or indeed are integral to respect culture, or were they only a means of procrastination and hesitance? Jesus contrasts all these things focusing his sight resolutely on God.

The first person that Jesus encounters says that he will follow Jesus wherever he goes, quick to join Jesus’ journey. I wonder what this individual had in mind at that offer? What were his preconceived ideas? Jesus asserts that ‘the Son of Man has no place to lay their head’, that the journey will not be comfortable. When things are exciting we can jump in in haste without careful consideration. Even with good intentions if we are not vigilant and discerning we can follow our own agendas rather than have our eyes focused on God often with disastrous consequences. Discernment takes time. It takes us to be in relationship with others and hear God’s voice together.

The second person speaks about following Jesus after he has buried his father. Death and the subsequent inheritance can provide stability. Knowing that we can provide for ourselves is a form of human safety net which means that we do not have to rely fully on God. This can mean we procrastinate making the decision to fully jump in. My experience is that the vulnerability of uncertainty is one of the most challenging things about being human. Yet I have found that it is exactly within this vulnerability that there is a space for encounter with the Spirit of God and to be deeply transformed. It is in this place where we can be surprised by the joy, provision and community in Christ and join more fully in the mission of God.

The third asks to ‘go back and say goodbye to my family’, there is a hesitance in joining with Jesus focusing on the past instead. Jesus compares this attitude to ploughing a field whilst looking backwards and in doing so the plough goes off course. Today, this would be like driving a car but staring into the backseat! We cannot set our eyes on the future that God has for our world when we are looking backwards.

I reflect on this as we consider the mission that God has for us – both as individuals and as Church. How often are we so keen or excited that we rush in following our own agenda rather than listening, praying and seeking what God is already doing in that place? How often does our fear of being vulnerable and losing stability prevent us from fully experiencing God’s mission? And how often are we so stuck in the past and how things have been done before that we do not hear the new, pioneering and creative ways that God is acting in his world today?

*The resources of the Lent course  can be accessed here: https://www.uspg.org.uk/resources/lent2019/?n=lent

 

Trinity 1: Being fed on our journey

Ben O’Neill, a student of Peterhouse, Cambridge, who has been serving as Ministry Experience Scheme intern of Christ Church Vienna since August 2018 as part of a year abroad, draws on the Old Testament lectionary reading, 1 Kings 19.1-4, [5-7], 8-15a.

‘Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, o still small voice of calm, o still small voice of calm.’ These words from the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ describe something of a moment of tranquillity in the midst of stressful life. Our 1 Kings reading on which they are based is an encounter of calm in such circumstances. Elijah is on a difficult journey as he flees from Jezebel who is after his life. The previous chapter has been very exciting for Elijah, but he is now feeling a great sense of despair. Elijah has had, in the previous chapter, a stand-off on Mount Carmel. The prophets of the cult of the pagan god Baal join him on the top of the mountain. Elijah and the pagan prophets build altars for sacrifice. Both ‘teams’ pray for fire to be sent from above to perform the sacrifice, and it is Yahweh who sends down fire from heaven. Elijah, having ordered for the pagan priests and prophets to be put to death, is goes on the run from Queen Jezebel.

This whole section of 1 Kings is framed as this journey, his journey from Mount Carmel to Mount Horeb. It’s a journey that Elijah cannot make in his own strength, but rather it must be made in the strength of God. God reaches out to him in two separate encounters to give him that strength, reaching into that frailty, in that time of need, so that he can continue on his journey: ‘Arise and eat, because otherwise the journey will be too difficult for you.’

In the first encounter, God feeds Elijah; in the second encounter, God speaks to Elijah. God feeds and speaks to us. These two ways of encountering God: through food and nourishment, and through his word, are expressed in the perfect balance between Word and Sacrament that has shaped Anglican liturgy since its inception. We gather Sunday by Sunday in our respective church buildings across the diocese, in these sacred spaces, in order to encounter God in these two ways – by food and by his holy word – to be nurtured and sustained on our own journeys both as individuals and as a community. We gather to be fed.

God reaches out to us in the most holy sacrament of Holy Communion to nurture us, to feed us, to strengthen us so that we can be given the grace to persevere and continue on our journey with him. As it has been referred to in both hymns and liturgy, it is the food of pilgrims.

God also speaks to us, as he spoke to Elijah. This isn’t the first encounter with God that has happened on Mount Horeb. It was also the mountain on which Moses encountered the burning bush, the mountain on which Moses received the Ten Commandments. The angel tells Elijah to ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ I wonder if we try too hard to find God in exciting, grand places… Elijah looks for God in the earthquake, the thunder, the strong wind, the fire, all features of Moses’ vision of God on the same mountain, in the giving of the Ten Commandments and the burning bush… But it is in the silence, the moment of calm, that Elijah discovers the presence of God. We too, with Elijah, may want to experience our faith in miraculous, unexpected ways. But sometimes, we need the reminder to look for God in the ordinary, in our everyday relationships, in creation, in the world around us, prompted of course by the Eucharist, in which God gives himself fully to us in the most mundane elements of bread and wine.

So, when we gather on a Sunday, let us ask ourselves: for what have we come here today? To be healed and fed? To hear God’s Word? To experience his healing presence, to sustain us? God feeds us with bread and wine, his body and blood. God speaks to us through his Word faithfully treasured and passed on down the centuries. And so, let us recognise our dependence on God, that we can’t make the journey of life in our own strength – and open our hearts and minds to listen and to be fed. And let us, having been fed ourselves, go out into the world to invite others to make this life-giving journey with us.

Trinity Sunday: The Generous Love of God

This week’s reflection draws on the lectionary Gospel for Trinity Sunday John 16.12-15, to reflect on what the Christian understanding of God as Trinity might mean for us today. It is written by Dr Clare Amos, Diocesan Director of Lay Discipleship and administrator of this blog.

In 2011 I moved to Geneva to work at the World Council of Churches. I quickly discovered that though Geneva is in many ways now a very secular city, the figure of John Calvin still looms large in the cultural landscape. There is even a brand of local beer named after him!

Over the years I have lived there I have come to appreciate Calvin’s work – especially in biblical exegesis. His description of the Book of Psalms as ‘an anatomy of all parts of the soul’ is unforgettable. However I have also become aware of what is perhaps the major blot on Calvin’s name – his support in 1553 of the execution by burning of Michael Servetus, primarily because Servetus did not hold to Orthodox trinitarian theology. Whether fairly or not Servetus has been considered the ‘father’ of unitarian forms of Christianity – and of free-thinking more widely. There is a statue of Servetus in Annemasse (a French town just across the border from Swiss Geneva). It had originally been intended to place it in Geneva (at the place of Servetus’ execution) but when it was sculpted in 1908 religious opposition in Geneva meant that it had to be located in nearby Annemasse[1].

Centenaire statue Michel Servet

Perhaps it may seem strange to begin a reflection for Trinity Sunday by referring to Servetus, such a notable anti-Trinitarian. Like a number of others, Servetus’ opposition was largely due to the fact that it is difficult (though not totally impossible) to draw a fully-fledged understanding of the classical understanding of the Trinity from the pages of the New Testament. There are of course threads that are there, such as Matthew 28.19-20, and the Farewell Discourses of the Gospel of John (chapters 13-17), which have appeared in our lectionary over the last few weeks, that can be drawn on – and were developed by the Christians of the 3rd and 4th centuries. And there are also those telling sentences which begin this week’s Gospel reading. ‘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’ (John 16.12-15). These verses have been drawn on to validate the major developments in Christian theology and ethical practice which have taken place over the last 2000 years. It is partly due to them that, for example, Christians eventually campaigned for the end of slavery. And they also, I believe, can be used to legitimate the development of Christian understanding of God as Trinity – which is certainly a central thread of my own faith.[2]

Why is that that the majority of Christians eventually came to feel that it was important to speak of God as Trinity? There are a wealth of answers that we could give to this question. I want to focus very briefly on three words. They are ‘mystery’, ‘diversity’ and ‘love’.

To name God as Trinity is to acknowledge the ‘mystery’ that is at the heart of Christian faith. There’s a wonderful modern hymn by the New Zealand Anglican hymnwriter Marnie Barrell which begins with the line, ‘Maker of mystery, dreamer of what will be’[3] If we could know, and understand, everything about God then God would be less than the gracious ‘I am who I am’ who begins the story of our salvation (Exodus 3.1-15). It is a vital reminder that we cannot tame God, or have a monopoly on him.

To name God as Trinity is to affirm the importance of diversity. We need to celebrate our differences rather than fear them. ‘Goodness, to be goodness, needs contrast and tension, not perfect uniformity.’(Richard Rohr). This can apply in the life of the church, in which increasingly it is realised that unity does not necessarily mean uniformity. It is also an important message to hold before our wider societies at the present time, certainly in many parts of Europe, with the steady growth of nationalistic movements in many countries.

To name God as Trinity is to express that the intrinsic nature of God is love. It is a reminder that Love is essentially relational. Love cannot exist in isolation. Although the word ‘love’ does not actually appear in the few verses of this week’s Gospel, it is repeated over and over again in the surrounding verses and chapters of the Gospel of John. The love that marks out the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is beautifully depicted in the icon of Andre Roublev, which links the divine community to the three angels who visited Abraham (Genesis 18.1-15) and which is often referred to as the Icon of the Trinity. The icon also makes clear that there is an empty seat at this divine table – to which, you, and you and I are being invited.

roublev trinity

A number of years ago my husband Alan Amos wrote a short prayer/poem reflecting on this icon:

Three in one, in closest harmony

Circled by love, in tender symmetry

Offering up the Lamb who is to be

Life for the world.

Angels are they, yet hold in meaning more

Than angels visiting at Sarah’s door:

God’s life itself, ready for us to pour

Grace on this world.

Help us then this circle now to join,

Our lives in newborn harmony entwine

In action mirroring the life divine

Revealed in our world.

What took me to Geneva in 2011 was my work for and commitment to interreligious dialogue, a field in which I have been working professionally since 2000. A few years earlier, along with a group of Anglican friends and colleagues I had helped to write a report on an Anglican theology of interfaith relations: Generous Love: the Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue[4]. This report took the Christian assertion of the trinitarian nature of God as a foundation for Anglican interreligious engagement. It was, I believe, an inspired starting point. This brief reflection began with a tale of religiously inspired violence – the brutal execution of Michael Servetus in Geneva over five centuries ago. We are all too aware of more recent examples of religiously inspired violence – by people of many different faiths and religions, which regrettably has at times included those who call themselves Christians. Yet if we take seriously the nature of God as Trinity, a God of mystery, of diversity and love, we cannot be combative in our attitudes and actions to those who are religiously ‘Other’. Our encounters must lead us deeper into the very heart of God and strengthen our resolve for inter faith engagement.

 

 

[1] More recently a copy of the Annemasse statue has been placed in Geneva at the place where Servetus was burned to death.

[2] Indeed the recently adopted diocesan Rule of Life states as its purpose, ‘To enable us to share in glorifying God the Holy Trinity.

[3] http://www.oremus.org/hymnal/barrell/mb08.html

[4] https://nifcon.anglicancommunion.org/media/18910/generous_love_a4_with_foreward.pdf