As a child, I only got two religious holidays—Christmas and Easter—and even then, they were minimally observed. That is, the language and meaning of the historical event was there, but the communal ceremony and physical expression and creative experience was missing. Sometimes Evangelicalism seems to unconsciously embrace a subtle form of Gnosticism in its rejection of the physical. It’s all about the mind and the thought and the word and the text and the conjugation and the hermeneutic.
However, this all enriched me enormously—I have no complaints. I’ve come to a more liturgical and, I believe, incarnational spirituality because (not in spite of) the depth and treasures of an intellectual faith. I can today make the sign of the cross—something I once considered a superstitious and empty ritual—because I can bring to it history and tradition and prayer in myriad ways.
As an Anglican, Christmas and Easter of course remain central, like magnetic poles between which the other days find their energy. God-in-the-flesh and God-on-the-cross are the two overwhelmingly compelling stories of scripture and the Church. Truly, there’s nothing else like them. They are inexhaustible in their riches. But I relish the smaller celebrations as well: the Epiphany, Christ the King, Holy Cross Day, the Transfiguration, All Saints, the Holy Innocents, and the many others. They all serve as inner stained glass windows shedding splintered light on the meaning and power of faith.
I see God revealing the Christ to the world (and I pray that I might be a Christ epiphany to the little corners of my existence) and displaying his glory on the cross (and I pray that I, too, might see my suffering as a pouring out of love); I see the power of this profound symbol of the cross in the world (and I pray that I would walk in its shadow) and the shining truth of this Wonderful One when the disciples’ eyes are opened (and I pray that mine would be so opened); I imagine the great jamboree of worshipers around the Throne (and I pray that I might be given the grace to be there) and I remember the children slain in the search for the Holy Infant (and I pray for all children, here and everywhere). Every holy day is a day of revelation.
This precious time of year, however, gives us a vibrating and earth-shattering trilogy of holy days that we often neglect. From 9-26 May we leap from one great feast to another: from Ascension to Pentecost to Trinity Sunday. The Feast of the Ascension was recognized on 9 May, forty days after Easter Sunday; Pentecost was last Sunday, 19 May; and Trinity Sunday is coming up, 26 May. Unfortunately, we usually make a great commotion about Pentecost (appropriately so), but fail to see it as an embedded festival that finds its transitional energy from the one preceding it and the one following it. We need to do the addition: 1 + 1 + 1 = Three Holy Days of moving more deeply into loving union with God. “I in the Father, and you in me, and I in you…” (Jn. 14.20)
The Ascension-Pentecost-Trinity trilogy is a movement, by the great mercy of God, from our present to our future: from Christ’s enthronement and return to the Father’s embrace, to the pouring out of the Spirit who marks us as Christ’s own forever and infuses us with the life of Christ, to Trinity Sunday where the mystery of relationship within God is extended to us and our relationship gains a vision of “participation in the divine nature.”
Christ ascends and thereby shows us in his own body the future that we all should anticipate; we will, in our resurrected flesh and stain-free souls, one day ascend to the Fellowship of the Three-in-One. Pentecost is the avenue by which the work of Christ in making us fit for that Fellowship takes place; the Spirit is poured out into our hearts, filling us with the love of God and changing us from the inside out. The Trinity is that Holy Life of everlasting love and intimacy made possible for us by the life and work of Christ, made effective for us through the power of the Holy Spirit, and made ceaseless for us in reconciliation with the Father.
1 + 1 + 1 = 4. What? Yes, four. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and, by grace and adoption, all of us. What a celebration, now and forever! Amen!
Photo courtesy RickChung.com, Flickr C.C.