As we drove to church this morning I happily looked forward to two of my favorite hymns, the robust hymn by St. Patrick, “I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity…” and “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty.” For today is Trinity Sunday in our glorious Church Year.
Summer has come to the Bay Area, but the nights are still cool, the hills green from our late rains. The brilliant blue arching over us seemed to rain sunlight upon the earth, through a glistening shimmering air, brightening the foliage and the flowers. I held my red-and-white roses cut from my garden for the Children’s Chapel, kept moist with dampened paper towels. I thought how beautiful the world could be, smelling the roses and drinking in the sky, gulping the joy of creation. And soon we would sing to the Creator himself.
The Holy Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – is a difficult concept for most of us to fully grasp. Thus we call it a mystery. I have heard it explained in many ways – the love between the three persons of God, the uniqueness of the three persons yet all being of one substance, the eternal reality of these three persons of God. But today as I gazed upon the white-tented tabernacle on the altar, it struck me forcibly that this second person, Jesus Christ, was the God of our created world. He, the Son, became and is one of us, taking on our flesh, and in the Eucharistic elements is again one of us, our flesh, to become one with us, in our flesh, in a consuming co-union. For the Eucharist is indeed the Eternal Supper given to us by Christ in the Last Supper and the days following, days which formed the new Christian Passover, the means of our own journey, the new exodus, to Heaven.
All of the Church Year pointed to this moment of realization.
I’ve been reading Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, in which Brant Pitre effectively makes the case that we must consider the Last Supper, that Maundy Thursday before Good Friday and Easter, from the Jewish perspective. For Christ was Jewish, and only by considering the Jewish context can we understand what he intended when he said, “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” Did he intend these words as merely metaphor? Dr. Pitre’s conclusion, after looking at the Passover rituals, the role of heavenly manna in the Exodus, and the Jewish relationship with blood itself, is that Jesus did indeed intend that this new supper, done in “re-membrance,” to be an actual re-offering of his body and blood, a gift to us of his Real Presence.
And this Real Presence, I thought, was not merely spiritual, the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. It was the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.
We sang “I bind unto myself today…” and the thurifer processed up the red-carpeted aisle swinging incense into the still air of the nave and the sanctuary. Following the clouds of smoke came the torchbearers with their flaming candles, the crucifix raised high by the crucifer. The clergy followed, stepping solemnly to the High Altar to offer the Mass, to consecrate the bread and wine to become Christ’s Real Presence, so that his flesh would become ours.
We sang “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty/Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee/Holy, Holy, Holy! merciful and mighty/God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.” The tune is one of triumph and joy, a true song of worship, and as I sang, other times of singing this beloved hymn sweetly telescoped into my present moment.
As we left the church and stepped into this crystal clear day of mid-June, I recalled it was Father’s Day, a lovely overlay of festivals, a chance of the calendar. I gave thanks for my father, may he rest in peace, for he taught me about our God of love, and for my son, now a father, who teaches his children about our God of love. I gave thanks for the many fathers-in-God, the clergy, who have challenged me with the remarkable mysteries of the Holy Trinity, the three-in-one God, and the amazing power of the Holy Spirit to give life and strength in our passage through time. And most of all I gave thanks to God the Father for himself, for sending us his son Jesus the Christ, to be the new Passover sacrifice so that death would pass over us, and to be with us again and again on Sunday mornings (and many many other times) in Mass in our local parishes.
Holy, holy, holy… I bind unto myself today…