Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 11, 2016
Salvation is about relationship. We cannot be saved alone.
It starts at the very beginning when God says, “Let us make humanity in our own image.” The Hebrew writer gloriously uses the plural: God speaking to God. And gradually the mysterious mutuality of God in Trinity is revealed from the opening verses of Genesis, to the Oak of Mamre, to the Incarnation, the Baptism, the Transfiguration and on through the epistles of Paul and John, in the Divine Liturgy itself, and in our lives. For the mutual love of the Trinity is the energy that moves all things, creating and inspiring without ceasing. “The Father and I are always working,” Jesus tells us. There is an energetic flow that connects all things and that flow is the Trinity.
Notice that Christ never points to himself as a solitary savior. He always points to his Father from whom he receives everything through the Holy Spirit which rested on him at his baptism and remained with him throughout his life. Jesus always points to relationship, to a divine perichoresis, a feast, a dance, if you will, between him, his Father and the Spirit.
We find it odd that Jesus says, “It is better that I go away so that the Spirit will come.” We find it puzzling that Jesus says to Mary in the garden, “Do not hold me for I have not yet ascended to my Father.” Always he points beyond himself to the Trinity. “Do not hold me. Let me go.” It is because God is Trinity that he can say these wondrous things. The divine fellowship to which we are called is a family meal.
Clinging to Christ as a solitary savior cuts us off from the flow of Trinitarian life which lives and moves and breathes like the wind, free and unbounded. We are meant to join in this flow as he tells us in John 3 where the Spirit is referred to as wind mysteriously blowing where it wills and to this he adds, “so is everyone who is born of the spirit.” We are created to be as free as God. To flow in this mysterious freedom is what it means to be human.
How could Jesus pass through walls and doors unseen after his resurrection? How could saints appear to be two places at once? How could Philip be suddenly transported from the presence of the Ethiopian eunuch after his baptism? How could Enoch disappear never to be seen on earth again? “The wind blows where it wills and we do not know where it comes from or where it is going.”
And all of a sudden quantum science tells us that particles can appear in two places at once! How strange is that? Perhaps we should rephrase this knowing what we know and say, how normal is that? Again, “the wind blows where it wills.”
Rublev’s astonishing icon of the Hospitality of Abraham, also known as The Holy Trinity, is a work of sheer spiritual genius. In it we see the energetic flow of mutuality between the three angels, each pointing to the other, each communing with the other around a simple rectangular table. The icon is harmonious and symphonic
The fourth side of the table is open. We are invited to sit with them. The empty place is ours. Notice Abraham and Sarah stand in the background unable to accept this invitation. It is for them terrifying and unthinkable. It is also for us and yet we are all invited and how many reasons, how many attachments, how many fears stand in our way?
We are like those in the parable who find all manner of excuses not to go to the Feast. We do not want intimacy with God. We are like the lost soul in CS Lewis ‘ book THE GREAT DIVORCE who cries out in hell,” I don’t want help. I want to be left alone.” And God grants this prayer. He always answers prayer. He lets us try all we want and lets us suffer all we want in our delusion of separation. This delusion is the very definition of hell which is a place in our minds where we are allowed to try and survive in the lie. As Anthony DeMello says over and over again, our only problem is that we believe and cling to things that are not true.
I will instead seek sustenance, we say, outside the heavenly banquet and by myself. Who needs mutuality? Who needs God? Who needs others? Who needs relationship? Who needs love? I have my cows, my property, my possessions, my independence, I have everything. But it is an illusion. At any moment all that could be taken away for nothing is permanent and what is left after it is all taken away is truth.
We are already connected with God for he dwells in Trinity within us, and with humanity for all women and men are one, and with creation with which we share all the same constituent particles. In this deluded world where we are told that there are no facts, interconnectivity is a fact. Outside of relationship we do not exist. We do not and cannot exist in isolation.
God is a relationship. God is a family. The distinctions between the Three do not in any way threaten the Unity they share. And humanity is a relationship. Humanity is a family. The distinctions between persons does not divide, they enrich.
We are invited to the Feast. In fact, we are already there.
Finally, let me quote Carl Jung once more. “If our religion is based on salvation, our chief emotions will be fear and trembling. If our religion is based on wonder, our chief emotion will be gratitude.” The truth is that salvation is not a problem. Christ has accomplished it for all humanity and for all time. “It is finished,” he said as he died on the Cross. What is left is awareness. If we are aware that we have been so marvelously made and so wonderfully saved, then only gratitude is left. Relationship is the way to gratitude.
“How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.”
We are invited this day to move from fear to wonder, from trembling to thanksgiving, from isolation to love, from salvation to deification.
~St. Mary Orthodox Church, Central Square, Cambridge, MA, https://www.stmaryorthodoxchurch.org/orthodoxy/sermons/2016/the-invitation.