In a sermon on Trinity Sunday given in the middle of the 19th century, the Anglican priest, poet, and professor, John Keble, said the following:
“Suppose that by your own fault you were a friendless wanderer and outcast [homeless person on streets], turned out of your home, and not knowing where to lay your head: and suppose that in your wanderings you should come suddenly to a place, from which you heard strains of the sweetest and most heavenly music, set to words full of comfort; so that you could not but feel assured in your heart, ‘Here is the cure of all my miseries: if I can once be admitted here, and allowed to remain, I know I shall be always in peace and joy:’ should you not anxiously look after the entrance into that happy place? Should you not rejoice if you found the door open, and press towards it as eagerly as you dared? And would it not be a blessing, more almost than you could believe, if you heard yourself called by name and invited to come, with an assurance that the music and all the joys of this place were expressly intended for you?
Well, this is just our case: your case, my brethren, my case, the case of us all, in respect of that great Angelical hymn. We are outcasts from Paradise, wanderers about the world, unable of ourselves to find any true rest and consolation: and behold, a door is opened into heaven, and we are invited to look in and see things which shall be hereafter, and to hear the song of the saints and Angels, and join in it: we know also in the bottom of our hearts, that thus and thus only can we ever be happy. What will you do? Will you turn away from the gracious voice, the voice of the Gospel, the voice like a trumpet talking with you, the voice which would welcome you to the holy and joyful place? Or will you not rather listen to it with all your ears to all the mean harsh sounds of this earth, and get as near heaven’s gate as you can? And when you hear the gracious sound inviting you from within, “Come unto Me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” will you churlishly turn back?”
At the center of this invitation; at the center of this joyful music and celebration; at the center of this life-giving, health-giving, peace-giving place is the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
But first, another lesson in how not to read John’s Revelation. When I was in Hot Springs I saw a guy on streets of Hot Springs with a dummy. But this dummy had a sign so we could all see it from the road. The sign said that God spoke to him and told him to use a dummy to preach the end of world. The guy gets points for getting people’s attention, but I don’t think the attention he drew to himself had its intended end!
One way to read Revelation is to see much of it as a picture of the Church, the New Jerusalem. In many passages, John’s revelation reveals to us a picture of worship in heaven, which is the model for worship on earth.
In Revelation 4:1, a door is opened into heaven. John was in the Spirit, as he was in chapter 1, verse 10. It’s interesting to note that in chapter 1 he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. Since the Eucharist was the main service of the early church, there is likely a connection between the death and victory of Jesus Christ in history, the celebration of these in the Eucharist, and John’s description of the worship in heaven. These 3 time perspectives are all ultimately united, and what better place to experience such a time warp than in the good ol’ book of Revelation?!
In verse 2, John sees one sitting on a throne. Around the throne is the amazing technicolor vision of a rainbow; 24 elders clothed in white raiment; lightnings and thunders and voices; and 4 living creatures. These 4 living creatures never stop singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And in verse 11 they fall down and worship the one who sits on the throne, saying, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”
In other words: this is a scene of worship in heaven!! In his Revelation, St. John is giving you the same picture John Keble gave you. He is inviting you into heaven. He has opened the door.
. . . . shall we enter in?
What is to be the response to seeing the Holy Trinity? It isn’t to sit around and speculate
about the Trinity as a philosophy. It’s to worship the triune God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It’s in worship that we most fully see and experience the Trinity. We should love and adore God simply for who He is, expressed through the love He has shown us through the life and work of His Son.
God is so astoundingly beautiful and glorious, that it is very difficult to describe Him and His beauty. But we see symbols of this beauty all throughout Revelation: gold, jewels, a rainbow; angels and archangels and creatures and saints bowing before Him; worship and singing; thunders and lightnings. These are some of my favorite things!
The natural response to such a being would be to bow down and worship! You wouldn’t first say, “Hi, God, old buddy. Let me tell you what I’d like you to give me. . . .” You would be wowed and overwhelmed and speechless. And when you did speak it would be more the language of praise and adoration and thanksgiving than of petition or asking Him for things. Only after you realized that such a wonder was not only terrifyingly glorious and powerful but also a person who loved you would you dare to ask for anything other than to have your life spared.
So we worship the Trinity because the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are so worthy of worship: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power . . .” But God’s beauty is not just an abstract or external beauty; it’s not just a beauty of vision.
I want you to think for a moment. Who is most beautiful woman in world?
First, how would you describe her? You might use words to tell about her hair or eyes or lips or figure, but it wouldn’t really communicate her beauty very well, would it? Likewise, it is difficult to describe or understand the Trinity.
So who is the most beautiful woman in the world? According to various polls it might be Audrey Hepburn (Evian poll), Angelina Jolie (People magazine 2005), and according to various internet polls Aishwarya Rai (an Indian actress), Julia Roberts, or Beau-Latasha (a European supermodel for whom I can find no images on the Internet, leading me to believe she is the ultimate in unobtainable beautiful women because she doesn’t exist!)
Whoever she is, God is her creator, and He’s far more beautiful. The woman who is physically most beautiful might not be beautiful in her actions at all. But with God truth is beauty and beauty truth: who He is and what He does are one. He’s a vortex of creative activity and love. This is not just what He does but also who He is. God is love, not the adjective “love” but the verb “love,” love in action.
This God who is love created us in love: The Father; the Word by which all things were created; and the Spirit who hovered over the waters. Out of love the Father sent His only begotten Son to become one of us, and the Son, after He had given up his life, resurrected, and ascended, sent down His Holy Spirit to be His presence with us. That’s the Trinity I know and love. And if you think such love is boring or irrelevant, and will only be intensified in heaven, then I suppose God might be such a person.
So when we worship God, when you think of the Trinity, think of the Trinity in motion; think of the God who acts in history and in your life. People think heaven is boring. The implication is that God is boring. Isaac Asimov, a very intelligent man who wrote 300 books, once said: “I don’t believe in an afterlife, so I don’t have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.”
Asimov has it all wrong. Saying that God or heaven are boring is a little like saying a tsunami or hurricane are boring. They might be dangerous and terrifying – but they are definitely not boring! I think he must have pictured God as just sitting on His throne doing nothing all day and night except merely existing.
But the Trinity I worship is the one who created me and all things; it is the Trinity who has actively sustained me and all things: without God’s continued action we wouldn’t even exist. The Trinity I worship is the Father who out of love sent His Son; and the Son who humbled Himself and gave up His life for me and was raised by the power of the Father; and the Holy Spirit who the Father and Son have sent to dwell within my heart and within His people.
Ezekiel pictures heaven as a place of angelic and celestial motion, of angels buzzing around and wheels spinning; and of a living, moving cloud of glory. No, the Trinity I worship is not sedentary or passive or boring at all!
But if St. John allows us a glimpse of worship in heaven, how can we worship the Trinity here on earth? The truth is that through the Holy Spirit, the Trinity dwells within us (John 14:23). The truth is, we are with Christ in heaven (Ephesians 2:6). We are with Him especially, by the Spirit, just as St. John was – in the Spirit every Lord’s Day. We ascend in the Spirit into heaven to worship with heavenly creatures who rest not day or night. So whenever we worship in Spirit and truth, they are with us and we with them.
St. John’s Revelation, his picture of the Trinity and heaven is a picture of a living and active God who is worshiped in the corporate liturgy of the Church! This is the true meaning of the sursum corda, the lifting up of our hearts to God, after which we, with all the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we sing, “Holy, holy, holy!”
Do you want to know and see the Trinity? Then don’t sit around and merely think about the Trinity as an abstraction, as a thing, an “It.” Instead, come and worship Him with all the angels and archangels!
If our eyes could be opened for 1 minute to see the high company we are in when we worship, not just the saints here on earth but also those in heaven, and not just heavenly creatures but the Trinity itself – surely it would be harder for us to go back to our miserable, contemptible follies. It would revolutionize our lives!
Today, make time to join the hosts of heaven in seeing and worshiping the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
Prayer: Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God Almighty,
Who was and is and is to come!
You are worthy, O Lord,
to receive glory and honor and power;
for You created all things,
and by Your will they exist and were created.
Holy, holy, holy,
Lord God of hosts.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- What creative ways could I find to worship God throughout the day?
- What is it about God that you find most beautiful and compelling? Meditate on that today.
Resolution: I resolve to commit at least one special act of worship today.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson