Holy, holy, holy…
In the drawer of my prayer desk at home there are two BCP prayer books from my childhood, from ‘back in the day’ when we received prayer books on our confirmation and always brought our personal prayer books to church with us…. In the front of my white covered confirmation prayer book, in my childish hand, are listed a number of hymns which were my favourites and at the top of the list is written; 65 Holy, Holy, Holy….
At the beginning of the 1800’s in England, the Church of England authorities officially disapproved of the singing of hymns in churches, other than metrical psalms, although there was a lot of informal singing of hymns in parishes. Bishop Reginald Heber admired the hymns of John Newton (Amazing Grace being one of his) and William Cowper, and Heber was one of the first High Church Anglicans to write his own hymns – ‘Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty, early in the morning our songs shall rise to thee’ - probably being his most well-known.
John Bacchus Dykes, another clergyman who encouraged the rare practice of singing hymns had difficulty finding suitable tunes so he wrote his own being a very accomplished musician and organist. In 1860 he submitted six tunes to the music editor of a new venture for the Anglican church; a volume called Hymns Ancient & Modern. His tune NICAEA was set to these words of Bishop Heber and thus was born probably the most popular hymn to celebrate Trinity Sunday….
I have always loved it although, when you sing the words, it seems an unlikely hymn for a child to understand but the words of that much-loved hymn depict such a vibrant and passionate community of worship and love - bowing down, and throwing crowns and such! - a community that is full of movement, music, dancing and singing involving the whole being in worship, body and soul….
For a lot of people the highlight of last week was the Royal wedding but, beautiful as that was, for me, a closet astronomer, ‘stargazing live’ on the ABC was the highlight of my week! Seeing in to space at galaxies, distant suns and our own sun, super novas, and nebuli, I get close to understanding the way I felt as a child when I sang this hymn and the way Isaiah felt, getting an awesome glimpse of the vibrant movement and dance of the heavenly community…
The words “Holy, Holy, Holy” are only found in two places in the Bible; Isaiah 6:3 which we read today and the Apostle John’s praise and worship of God found in Revelation 4:8. Heavenly creatures in both cases are uttering these words in worship of God and both scriptures, one from the OT and one from the NT, depict the community of Heaven with striking imagery: seraphs and strange creatures flying through the sky singing and the pivots of the thresholds shaking at the noise that they are making, the hem of the Lord’s robe filling the temple, and the whole building being filled with smoke like incense…. No wonder Isaiah exclaimed, ‘woe is me! I am lost…’
But this glimpse of the community of Heaven points us towards our communion with God. Isaiah’s vision of the worship of heaven ends not with his destruction for his uncleanness, but with action from God that cleanses him and brings him in to that community and invites Isaiah to share, to participate, in God’s life and mission; ‘then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and it is like you can hear all of the shaking and noise and singing suddenly stop at the sound of Isaiah’s little voice – Here I am… send me!
(R Brown) Trinity, someone suggested, is how God is: love, relationship, community - glorious, creative, beautiful, life-giving, everything that is not being isolated and static…
The Apostle John says that God is love, not that God loves though he certainly does, but that God is love therefore there has always been relationship and community within God…from the beginning…
(R. Brown) Through abiding in Christ, something that we have been reflecting on in our readings the last few weeks, humanity shares in the life of God, being drawn into the life that the Son shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit …. The Greek word ‘perichoresis’ is often used by theologians to describe the relationship of Trinity – a mutual indwelling, a dance between the three as they respond to one another in love and then draw us in, to participate in that dance. I hear that invitation whenever we say the “we do not presume” prayer:
We partake of the body and blood of Christ that ‘we may ever more dwell in him and he in us’…. Our humanity in Christ and Christ’s divinity in us – the mutual indwelling, the perichoresis, the dance of the Trinity to which we are drawn and called in Christ to become a part of… we could meditate on that for the rest of our lives…
Paul reminds the Romans in our reading today that we are not slaves, excluded from the intimate life of the household, but heirs – if we are led by the Spirit, we are children of God, we belong to the family of the Trinity.
Trinity Sunday is the beginning of the ‘growing’ season. One of the songs we sing with the children at the Atrium in Macclesfield is about the colours of the church year; purple for preparation, white is for celebration, green is for the growing time and red is for Pentecost…. Purple and red and green and white reminds us of the light!
For six months of the year from the beginning of Advent, through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent and Easter, Ascension and Pentecost we are moving continually and dramatically, reflecting this drama in the purple of preparation (Advent and Lent), the white of celebration (Christmas and Easter) and the red of Pentecost. For the second half of the church year we go through what is sometimes unkindly called the ordinary Sundays or as one has said; the interminable Sundays after Trinity. Of course, this growing time reflects the northern hemisphere where it is spring and summer and the harvest seasons…but it can still be a growing season for us and the beginning of this season is Trinity Sunday.
There should be action and excitement as we journey towards Advent, this year guided by the gospels of Mark and John, it is a time where we focus on the life of Jesus and our discipleship. We worship a trinitarian God who invites us, in Christ, in to the life of the Trinity… the joyful miracle of our relationship with God, indeed within God…
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!
(let us pray)
God for us, we call you Father,
God alongside us, we call you Christ Jesus,
God within us, we call you Holy Spirit.
You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things,
Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness.
We can only see who you are in what is. We ask for such perfect seeing – as it was in the beginning, is now, and every shall be. So be it. Amen… (R.Rohr)