Feast of the Most Holy Trinity – A
Created in the Image of God
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped 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.” Matthew 28:16-2
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. So, God created humankind in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Black, brown and white He created them.
My sisters and brothers, our human story begins with this awesome and incredible revelation. That it is awesome is obvious. For it is indeed awesome to be created in the image of unfathomable mystery. That it is incredible, yes, hard to believe, is also all too obvious. When you look at the chaos in which we regularly find ourselves, both personally and communally, our being created in the image of God can seem more like wishful thinking than reality.
So, it is one thing to learn and give voice to this declaration about our creation and it is quite another thing to understand what it actually means. And yet another to live, in our everyday lives, ever more deeply into the truth of our being so wonderfully made.
What does it mean for us to live as those fashioned in the Divine likeness? What is actually involved in bringing forth in our lives the reflection of God, in whose image we were made?
It seems to me, at the very least, it means to be and become holy, as God is holy. Becoming holy is the good work that God began in each of us from the moment he called us into being. Isn’t this God’s purpose for us? Isn’t this the goal of each and every genuinely and authentically purpose-driven life?
If we are holy, we image the God acclaimed by the angels and archangels whose words we echo during each celebration of the Eucharist. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are filled with your glory.” Yes, you and I are created to be filled with and to reflect the glory that is the Holiness of God. We were not created to strut the greatness of our egos.
On Trinity Sunday we celebrate the holy mystery of the God in whose likeness we were made. In the fullness of time, that mystery came to be revealed as quite extraordinary. We have come to know that holy image in its fullness, in the Word made flesh and in the gift of the Spirit who abides with us.
The image of God is the holy image of a loving relationship of persons. This peculiar apprehension of the divine mystery is the unique gift of Christian faith to the aggregate religious tradition of humanity in its striving for understanding and connection with God.
Yes, the holiness of God is expressed in the relational intimacy among three distinct persons deeply committed to living in a profound oneness with each other. And the holiness we seek to reflect in our lives is thoroughly bound up with our capacity to realize relationships of loving intimacy in Godlike communion with each other.
Both the antithesis and the possibilities of that holiness were on full display this week in the public square.
On Monday a sadly vacant human being walked from his bunker in the White House, in the company of some very privileged white folk, and with a Bible raised high and with St. John’s Episcopal Church as a backdrop, committed, in the words of the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, an egregious act of blasphemy.
He used our sacred text and our sacred symbols to call for a violent response to a peaceful and lawful protest. To make his point, he had the protesters gassed and shot with rubber bullets as he made his way to the church.
But even the least theologically informed among us understand that relating to each other with intimidation, threats, and violence is the very antithesis of everything that Jesus preached. For Jesus preached and lived utter vulnerability and rejected any and all forms of domination.
Gracefully, the countersign to this blasphemy, is a growing ocean of protesters who are saying enough is enough. Amplifying that countersign are those courageous law enforcement officers who took the knee and embraced with understanding and compassion the plight of those who have long suffered the deadly impact of racial injustice perpetrated by members of their company and protected by the system and by the Blue Wall. The countersign is further reinforced by some past leaders of the Party of Lincoln who are finally acknowledging the legitimacy of the cry for justice and the demand for a long overdue dismantling of the structures of oppression.
There are indeed many ways of relating to each other. We can be indifferent to the other to the point of not even acknowledging their existence. We can be untouched and unmoved even by another’s suffering and pain. We can actively violate, abuse and exploit the other. Our relationships can be transactional, that is, predicated on what’s in it for me, from using another to get what I need to quid pro quo arrangements.
The mystery of a triune God, three persons living in loving communion, in whose image we are made, challenges us to engage in relationships predicated on a genuine mutuality of compassion, care, respect and love with the transformational possibilities that such relationships carry. It is only love that can give us a future.
This crisis that is racking the nation is about one thing only. It is about racial hatred expressed in systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial bias. It is about the murder of yet another black man and the structures that remain in place to ensure white supremacy so as to continue a 400 years tradition of slavery.
And no, Friday’s report of a reduction in unemployment numbers, was not a great day for George Floyd nor for the black community. George Floyd was murdered and to use his memory to advance one’s political agenda is despicable. And Friday, in fact, saw an increase in the unemployment figures for Black people. White economic privilege was once again on display.
We have been created in the image of a loving communion of persons. Yes, the word Trinity does not merely say something about God’s mystery it also says something about our mystery. It is time that we seriously own the Trinitarian image in which we were made, into which we were born and into which we were reborn through water and the Spirit at our baptism. Living in loving community is absolutely essential to who we are.
To be created in the image of God is to have been created in the image of that mysterious life-giving and life-sustaining relationship that expresses itself in self-giving love – you know, cruciform love. Love that places the well-being of the other even before my own.
Before there was a cross on Calvary, there was always a cross within the mystery of God. That self-giving-unto-death relationship is the womb from which we spring. That cruciform relationship is the home for which we long and to which we journey.
If we have been made in the image of God then at the deepest level of our humanity we are only genuinely ourselves, we are only who we have been created to be, we are only fully in possession of our mystery when we are expressing ourselves in loving cruciform relationships in community.
At the rally, on Wednesday evening, a black brother invited this response from his white brothers and sisters. He asked us to be a shield when we see a black person being aggressed upon.
What are the deeply loving relationships in which we are expressing our lives? How deeply loving are those relationships? If we love, do we only love so much or so far? Where do we draw the line when it comes to loving others? Do we see ourselves as expanding, widening and pushing the boundaries of vulnerability and intimacy? Do we only love our own? Are our efforts to love intimately limited to marital, familial and friendship relationships? Do we ever allow ourselves the expansiveness of the divine imagination when it comes to love? Is it possible that we have yet to engage any deeply loving relationships and have remained frozen in the deadly narcissism of self-love? That place where we, in fact, would shatter the divine image in which we were made.
Interestingly, the rugged individual, who stands over and against all others, the winner before whom all else are deemed losers, the self-made man who really needs no one and needs only his own grit and hubris to realize his potential, the one whom western culture holds up as an icon of what it means to have arrived – that one, is an empty lie.
The John Wayne icon is a pathetic representation of what it means to be truly and deeply human. And yet we are daily reminded of the appeal to many of such an icon. We simply were not created to give center stage to unbridled individualism, self-interest and ego strutting. Center stage in God’s economy belongs always to loving self-giving relationships.
Human excellence, moral and any other, conceived as a private, personal, individualized achievement is not enough. Our faith teaches, and Christians are called, to imagine and work for a society in which the bonds of solidarity, with those both like us as well as those different from us, take as their standard the endless, ineffable self-giving, cruciform love that is the very essence of our triune God.
This Trinity Sunday we are reminded again of the limitless possibilities of God – one God who cannot be contained but must co-exist as a community of persons. We are also reminded of the limitless possibilities of those created in God’s image – those who also need not be constrained in our efforts to live more fully into the mystery of being a community of self-giving persons.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
June 7, 2020