Fr David's Sermon
15th June 2003
Out in the garden at the weekend we often hear the shouts and chanting from Watford's football ground. Sometimes the crowd breaks into song, even the occasional hymn. These days it is rare for people to sing together. The great days of community singing are past. In many schools political correctness has put pay to hymn singing. Only in church do we regularly sing hymns together. In the popular mind that is still what most people would expect us to do even if they don't often come themselves. Although we don't make as much noise as a football crowd it is worth remembering that the churches still draw a bigger crowd than football. More people go to church than got to football matches, although some of you do both.
So familiar are we with hymn singing that it is easy to forget that hymn singing only really took off in the Church of England in the mid-C19th having been made popular in the C18th by the Wesley brothers. Before then the Prayer Book Services were either said or chanted giving rise to the perception that Anglican church services were long and boring, high and dry. Hymns were introduced both to enliven worship and as vehicles of teaching.
You may by now be wondering where all this is leading. The answer is into a reflection on the Holy Trinity, always a challenge for preacher and congregation alike. As I was thinking about what to say, Bishop Heber's Trinity Hymn came to mind. Heber was one of those concerned to introduce hymn singing into Anglican worship and his hymn 'Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!' is his best known and still regularly sung. He is also remembered for his missionary work especially as Bishop of Calcutta. Hymn singing is a great tool of mission.
So how do we approach the mystery of the Holy Trinity? Heber's answer is in song; 'Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.' Christians are not those who merely think about God, they are those who worship God. God is holy, Lord, almighty, merciful, mighty, blessed Trinity. Heber's words were inspired by Isaiah's great vision of God in which he received his commission as a prophet. From early times the Church Fathers saw a Trinitarian reference in the three fold 'holy'.
To respond to God in songs of worship is to be drawn into his presence in adoration. It is to be taken into the life of God who is Trinity and eternal,
'which wert and art, and evermore shall be' When we worship we do not do so alone but rather in the company of the saints and angels. The worship of heaven is an exchange between the persons of the Trinity and us, a kind of musical dance.
Such worship does not lead us into the full knowledge of God, not this side of eternity. God remains hidden in darkness, his glory obscured by our sinfulness. He is 'perfect in power, in love, and purity'. We in contrast are imperfect. Isaiah's response to his vision of the Holy God was one of his own unworthiness. 'Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.' Something needs to happen if we are to stand in the presence of God and to see him as he is. For Isaiah there was the seraphic cleansing of his lips with a burning coal that blotted out his sin and took away his guilt. It was God's work that enabled him to respond in service. 'Here I am; send me!' In St John's Gospel Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of this converting process in terms of being born again. St Paul writing to the Romans spoke of our adoption as the Children God when we deserved the status of slaves. This experience of redemption is essentially Trinitarian. The Father sends the Son to die for us on the cross. In the Spirit we know the grace of our restored relationship with him
Once more the Christian response is one of worship. Heber ends his hymn with all creation praising the triune God. 'All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth, and sky, and sea.' God the Holy Trinity has created us to worship him and to live with him in a restored relationship.
Heber's hymn does little to help us understand the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in an intellectual way. His teaching is essentially dogmatic. It presents us with a picture of the truth about God to which we are invited to respond, in worship, adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and praise. It is in the Christian life of worship and service that we come to discover the Trinitarian nature of God and by his grace are drawn fully into it.
To end a prayer of Thomas Ken.
To God the Father who first loved us, and made us accepted in the beloved Son;
To God the Son who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own Blood;
To God the Holy Spirit, who sheds abroad the love of God
Be all love and all glory for time and eternity.
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Last updated 15/06/2003 07:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd