An Impossible Unity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity – May 30, 2021

St. Mary – Derby, KS

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Psalm 33:4-9, 18-20, 22; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

Divisa uniuntur, discordantia pacantur.

What was divided is united, discord becomes peace

Fulgentius of Ruspe
Yeah, I Play the Cello

One of the things that I spent a lot of time doing in my formative years was playing the cello. That was a big part of my life from 10 to 18 years old. Lessons, rehearsals, hours of practice working to get better and better. Right before my senior year of high school I actually auditioned for the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, the professional symphony up in Wichita, and I made it. Ten other people auditioning and this dweeby, Justin-Bieber-haired, seventeen year old punk made it. The first concert I played with them was actually for a performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony, which is an incredible work because it calls for an extra large orchestra and a chorus of about two hundred, so over three hundred people packed on stage. It was a blast. I always loved playing in a symphony—hundreds of people on stage making this one piece of music.

One thing you cannot do in a symphony, though, is try to dominate or overpower others; there is none of that, it falls apart. And it’s not just about being a conformist. Being in a symphony invites you into a unity, but a unity that also possesses real distinct players. This distinction, though, is always defined and characterized by their relationship to one another (c.f., CCC 252). Does that make sense? In other words, I am only part of this one symphony, of this unity, insofar as I am in relationship with everyone else; I am only able to participate in this relationship if I “live the life” of the symphony. I mean, if I try to be a bluegrass musician in a symphony, it doesn’t work. If I try to “do my own thing” or “live my best life” right in the middle of it, it’s gonna crash and burn. I exist as a very unique and distinct player, but I exists as that player only insofar as I remain in relationship with those around me, remain in unison and harmony with everyone else.

In the Beginning: A Division

I rehearse this spiel for y’all all the time it seems, but here I go again. In the beginning of it all, back when it all began—what the Genesis story is trying to tell us is the origin of a humanity that is deeply divided, a humanity that experiences a deep division, a lack of harmony. Here are all of these individual, free, unique creatures—and they can’t maintain unity and harmony to save their life. From the beginning, they take the prerogative of deciding what they’re all going to do, what is right and wrong in their own eyes. Here is this beautiful “orchestra,” this common humanity given to them, a piece of sheet music laid in front of them, and they just have to play! But they all decide to march to the beat of their own drum, sing their own tune—and it falls apart.

Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his not-so-fortunate neighbors, the people at the tower of Babel—over and over and over again, it is the story of people going their own way, and the deep division and disrupted harmony that ensues. That’s something we still experience the effects of today. It’s in our bones, in our DNA.

We Cannot Fix It

The rest of the Old Testament, then, is the story of how the Lord is working and preparing to renew and restore all of that. Here is all of this division and violence and death, and so God enacts a plan to restore this broken harmony, to bring unity once again. That’s the story of all of those covenants—Noah, Abraham, Moses, David. God is gathering and uniting a people. Through this people He will gather and unite the whole world. And what the Old Testament shows time and time again is that it is God himself who is repairing and restoring this unity and harmony! We cannot fix it! It’s not the humans in the story doing the work.

I mean, for example, one of the most well-known bible stories is when Moses is leading the people out of Egypt, and they find themselves backed up against the Red Sea and the Egyptian army is pursuing them. And they are just terrified because there’s nothing they can do. It’s impossible. But then Moses says something in Exodus 14:14. He says, “The LORD will fight for you. You have only to be silent.” And that’s when God parts the Red Sea, and He does the impossible, and the people are saved. “The LORD will fight for you. You have only to be silent.”

Deuteronomy: Moses’ Challenge to a New Generation

This scene in our first reading, from the book of Deuteronomy—it’s a somber speech of Moses to Israel, a speech highlighting Israel’s rebellion and disobedience. Moses is speaking to the second generation of people freed from slavery in Egypt, the children of the generation that crossed the Red Sea but then wandered in the wilderness for forty years and died. And he is challenging this new generation of Israelites to be different from their parents, to respond to God’s grace with love and obedience, to be faithful.

Why? Because if they do this, if there is a love and obedience present, the people will stand out among all of the nations they will encounter. And people will witness in them, in this people, a profound harmony and unity, a peace and wholeness that they cannot find anywhere else. And that’ll be because this harmony and peace and wholeness and unity is something we have been trying to produce ourselves for millennia, but instead have only been able to produce more and more division and violence and death. This unity will be a great sign, a miracle, a profound witness to all the other nations. It will be a sign of what the Lord is doing, not them. The Lord.

But we know how that story went. Israel went into the land and, long story short, were less than loving and obedient to the Lord. The prophets come along and call the people back time and time again—but it falls of deaf ears. The people keep marching to the beat of their own drum.

The Great Commission: Make Disciples

And so that’s where Jesus comes into the story: he brings the New and Eternal Covenant, a covenant in his own blood. Jesus comes to gather all the nations, to be the Good Shepherd gathering the flock. And as he Ascended, he entrusted this mission to his followers, to the people who have faith in him and have been empowered by the Holy Spirit—that’s what we celebrated at Pentecost. Before he Ascended, he gave his followers this great commission we read today: “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

But you look around, and the church is in a seemingly impossible situation right now. You see, Jesus prayed in John 17 that everyone who believed in him would become perfectly one, perfectly united just as the Father and Son are perfectly one. Again that is the mission: to unite people, just as the Father and the Son are united, just as the Trinity itself is one. But here we are 2,000 years later, and we are the most divided faith group on earth. So many people walking around that have been baptized, that have had water hit their head at some point. So many people that have been taught things about Christianity, or that think they know what it’s all about. But there is so much division.

There was that division a thousand years ago, and then five hundred years ago, and then more and more and more. And every day it seems to get worse. And now it’s not just churches, but individuals teaching and pontificating with so much pride—believing they’re the only ones that get it, and causing more and more division. This is the same division in our families, the same division in our communities—and the division that runs right through the human heart, your heart, my heart.

The Mystery of the Trinity—this great solemnity we celebrate today—is the central mystery of the Faith. But it is not something we are supposed to try to understand or explain or solve, no. The Trinity is something we are supposed to live—this is what God has wanted for us since the beginning. The life of love that is God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that is what it’s about. The reason God is trying to gather us back into this harmony, into this unity—a unity with Him and with each other—the reason, the “why” of it all is because this trinitarian life is what we were made for. God is this eternal exchange of love, and He has destined us to share in that.

The Trinity, the mystery of the Trinity is not an intellectual problem to be solved, but a mystery we are called to live. The greatest miracle people can witness from us Christians is our unity; this unity is the greatest miracle. But just like before, we cannot do it on our own, we can’t create it. Only God can do that. Pridefully, we usually think that we have all the answers, everything necessary to fix the division. But we don’t.

We have only to be silent, to allow God to do the work in and through us. When we cast aside this pride that causes division, and we instead embrace the silence of allowing the Lord to do the work—a profound harmony and unity, a peace and wholeness that we cannot find anywhere else will come about. And this unity will be a great sign, a miracle, a profound witness to all those around us. We will be able to go out and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into this profound unity of the one Body of Christ.

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