2020 Trinity I Open Hearts and Open Eyes

Postulant Ken Kubo
14 June 2020

No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.- I St. John 4:12

Welcome again to Trinitytide, that half of the church year which counts its Sundays looking back over its shoulder at an increasingly distant Trinity Sunday – until we begin looking forward to Advent. Trinitytide lasts 23 to 27 Sundays, depending on the date of Easter – this year we will have a fairly ordinary 24. Of those, we will spend 23 looking back and only one (“The Sunday Next Before Advent”) looking forward. Given how important Our Lord’s Advent was and is and will be to our eternal salvation, perhaps we should instead be celebrating this day as the 24th Sunday Before Advent! I can tell you once we start the planning and rehearsals for our annual Advent service of Lessons and Carols, the choir really does count time as the Sundays left until Advent, some with anticipation, and others with a bit of dread. And with God’s grace, this year will grant us that bit of normalcy.

You will note that the First Sunday in Trinitytide also commemorates what I believe is the longest named Feast in the calendar because it is the Sunday in the Octave of the Commemoration of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus, commonly called Corpus Christi. “In the Octave” simply means within the seven days following the Feast itself which was celebrated last Thursday. And if you ask, as some I know did, “why does a city in Texas have a Feast named after it?” please understand that the city is named for the Feast not the other way around – allegedly, the bay it sits on was discovered by Spanish explorers on the Feast of Corpus Christi. As an aside, my family researched interesting attractions in Corpus Christi, which include the USS Lexington, a WW-II era aircraft carrier nicknamed “the Blue Ghost” used for (among others) the movie Pearl Harbor, and the Texas State Aquarium which houses dolphins, a two-toed sloth, a raptor exhibit including a bald eagle, and an exhibit that replicates the ocean environment around a deep sea oil drilling platform. But what’s in a name (reminding us all, of course, that we’re holding services in the outskirts of El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles de Porciúncula – The Town of Our Lady the Queen of the Angels on the [River] Porciuncula). You can probably derive that “Corpus Christi” is Latin for “The Body of Christ” as shorthand for its longer Feast name. The Feast is sometimes called the Thanksgiving for Holy Communion, and celebrates Our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist. It was conceived of by St. Juliana of Liége, Belgium as a parallel celebration to Maundy or Holy Thursday. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper and the institution of the Holy Communion, but it also focuses on Our Lord’s suffering in the Garden and His subsequent betrayal by Judas Iscariot. Corpus Christi is a celebration and thanksgiving for the Blessed Sacrament alone. And while we are not currently in a position to celebrate that perpetual memory of His precious death and sacrifice, we may still hold ourselves in spiritual Communion, giving our thanks for the saving power of love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I St. John 4:11)

Today’s readings speak much of the power of love to heal and redeem not just individuals but societies and nations. The prophets tell us of the power of God to uphold those who will walk in His ways, and similarly to bring the short-term prosperity of those who seek only their own gain to naught. And God warns us that it can be hard to hear those prophets over the siren song of the world or jealousy for those who seem to prosper from selfishness. It does not take Scripture to remind us that there are many kinds of love out there, and not all are holy.

As you remember, the New Testament was set down in Greek, the common written language of scholars and tradespeople of the times. Ancient Greek had at least a half-dozen different words for “love” – apparently love to the Greeks was like snow to Eskimos. Of those, philautia, the love of self and self-interest maps closest to the deadly sin of Greed, selfishness that does not consider others. C.S. Lewis participated in a set of radio talks about love in the late 1950’s which were compiled in his book The Four Loves in which he discussed the importance of love and the care with which they had to be balanced, tended, and appreciated lest they lead to the wrong behaviors. At the time, his work drew criticism in the United States, because he dared to say that eros, physical love and attraction, was normal and healthy and a big part of what he called “appreciative love.” Yes, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia was called out for his stand on sex. However, he also noted that eros alone could easily be taken to excess and a much darker semblance. Philia, the bond of friendship, Lewis lauded as almost a lost art – that modern society had discounted the value of what he termed “the happiest and most human of all loves” because friendship was not necessary to survival and had to be chosen and mutually cared for. And then there’s storge, social, communal love based on close association, including the love of parents for their children or those who are socially interdependent. As Star Trek’s Cmdr Data put it, “My mental pathways have become accustomed to your sensory input patterns.” Lewis posited that much of human happiness actually depended on storge, part of belonging to something and contributing to it. The Greeks also used this to represent dutiful love, including children back to their parents and citizens to the state. As today is also Flag Day, commemorating the adoption of the U.S. Flag in 1777, it’s important to remember that the flag is a symbol of our country to be respected, and that we demonstrate our love for our country through the honor we pay the flag. Just as with the symbols which adorn our walls and altar, it’s also important to understand that our dutiful love, our storge, is for what the symbol represents, not just the symbol itself. For Lewis, the greatest love was selfless, sacrificial, wishing the good of another – and that was agape. One of the names for Holy Communion is the agape Feast, because it remembers not just the Passion, but the boundless love that motivated the sacrifice for our redemption. Agape is the selfless love of God for humanity, and it is reflected when we are able to reach out to our neighbors with charity and understanding and forebearance, to love them as we have been loved.

“Then shall all shackles fall: the stormy clangor of wild war music o’er the earth shall cease; Love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger, and in its ashes plant the tree of peace.” – John Greenleaf Whittier

When we look at the challenges and strife that plague the world, whether strife between nations or in our own streets, it seems a bit simplistic to quote a bit of popular music and say “Love is all you need.” But perhaps Messrs Lennon and McCartney had skimmed Lewis’ book and were on to something. Certainly, our society could use more philia and a lot more storge just to survive. But to prosper and recover our health and balance will take a healthy dose of agape. In the KJV translation, agape is often translated as “charity” rather than just “love,” because the word (and its Latin equivalent caritas) better conveys the sense of giving selflessly. Agape in different conjugations appears over 250 times in the New Testament, 61 times in the Gospels alone (196 in the Epistles, 6 in Revelation, and all of once in Acts). It is central to Our Lord’s teachings because agape is the engine of redemption and the Christian ideal. On the other hand, the word “love” appears some 613 times in the Beatles’ catalog. For your fun fact to use at cocktail parties (when we have those again), 613 is also the canonical number of the Jewish Commandments in the Torah. I’m willing to go out on a limb and call this coincidence, but it should remind us that obeying the letter of the Law is insufficient without holding to the spirit. In other words, keep the Commandments, but let your motivation be your love of God and love of your neighbor as yourself. That will begin to calm the strife and bring wars and tumults to their long-awaited end.

And, for those who asked for it, your Princess Bride moment. In a dream, the Princess is accosted by a woman in the crowd, booing her for her actions and saying in part: “You had love in your hands and you gave it up… True Love saved her [in the Fire Swamp], and she treated it like garbage.” So, like the Princess, let us waken, open our eyes, and take the words to heart, understanding that the True Love, the agape that redeems and uplifts us, is a precious gift to be treasured, and that through embracing it, we can balance the love in our lives with the love that we can give back to world. Every change, every conflict is an opportunity to respond with love as our motivation. As we continue to reopen businesses – theatres and ice skating rinks – agape will be tested and will be needed more than ever, and as individuals, we’re fairly few in number. But remember that as we plant that seed of peace in the world, we are strengthened by the Body and Blood of our Saviour in every act, no matter how small, so that peace will grow and prosper. As another modern poet wrote, “You can’t reap what you don’t sow; Plant a seed inside the earth, just one way to know its worth – let’s celebrate the world’s rebirth, we say Let it Grow.” (Fletcher Sheridan, “Let it Grow”) Open your eyes and your hearts, and keep faith that love – agape – will indeed conquer all.

Almighty Lord, you guide us. Help us to know the ways that you would have us walk and lead us with your light. Holy Ghost, you inspire us. Strengthen our hearts and minds that we may have the courage to choose your paths. Blessed Redeemer, you love us. Ennoble our spirits that we may share that love with all those we meet along the way that your peace may prosper on the earth. Eternity Trinity, One God, be with us in our journeys, that we may choose wisely to do your will in this world and share in your eternal kingdom in the next.