Let Us Sing "Holy, Holy, Holy"
A Homily for Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Trinity Sunday marks the end of our seasons of festivals – Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost now lay behind us as we enter into “the long green season,” as some have called it. It is called by others “Ordinary Time” for the use of non-festal music during the season. As we move into Trinitytide shift from our season of rejoicing in all the glory of God and all that He has done for us and into a season of learning.
For traditional Anglicans – the start of this season is marked by Trinity Sunday – for the whole of the Trinity was finally and fully revealed to God’s people on Pentecost Sunday. To remember this revelation on Trinity Sunday we recite the Athanasian Creed in which the great Saint of old attempted to summarize the nature of the Trinity, we pray the Litany to mark the start of a new major season, and use the Long Exhortation as we take time to search out our heart and pray that the Lord would reveal to us those areas in which we need to repent, to cast our sins upon Him and grow in our trust and faithfulness to Him.
As we celebrate the revelation of the triune nature of God – our hearts cannot help but be stirred by His glory. The developers of the lectionary took note of that, and as you can tell from the readings – as we understand the nature of God – we understand at the core of that nature is His glory and holiness. In our lectionary readings – His majesty is portrayed for us.
As we contemplate who God is – our hearts and minds are conformed to dwelling in His glory – being in awe of His holy nature. However, probably every single person here posses a profoundly modern mind. What does that mean for us as we approach out holy God?
It means that our minds were shaped out of philosophy that was predominant in the middle to late parts of the 19th century and into the early 20th century. It means that we approach the world from a rationalistic, and scientific point of view approaching the world – not with an open mind – but with a profound sense of skepticism.
The general nature and sentiment of skepticism has affected how we approach God and has formed our theology for the last century. Instead of reading the scriptures with seriousness, and standing on the shoulders of the theological giants that have come before us we seek to create some new thing, or dismantle that which would free us and save us.
But Christian – we are called to approach the Triune God – the God who is three and yet one – in humility for as we are reminded in our readings today – He is full of glory – He alone is holy. He alone is worthy to be worshipped. We are called to come before a God who is greater than our imagination, intellect, and rational abilities.
Today, in our reading from Isaiah – we get the proclamation of a vision of Isaiah, in this vision the incredible glory is revealed to us – a glory that when we let it be our chief objective defeats the rationalism of the 21st century – and allows us to live more full lives. As we learn to live in the shadow of God’s glory, pursuing His holiness – we are freed from the cynicism and skepticism of our age and brought into the incredible mercy of His goodness.
The vision occurred in the year that King Uzziah died. Uzziah reigned for 52 years – that were described as both prosperous and secure. However, Uzziah did two things that earned Him scorn – he did not tear down the pagan temples in the high places and then even worse – he had the audacity to enter the inner sanctuary of the temple an activity reserved only for the priests. For this latter sin – Uzziah was struck with leprosy.
This point in Isaiah marks the end of a long reign – not a great reign but at least a stable one. Whenever we see political shifting it makes people uneasy. There are so many unknowns – in the government people try to figure out who will be the next leader and jockey for the affections of that person so their positions remain safe. For the person on the street unknowns haunt them – will this be a good leader or a bad leader? How will his reign affect me? This was true in the Ancient Near East and it’s still true today – we find ourselves at a point of nervousness whenever there is political uncertainly.
But here Isaiah shifts his focus – not to another earthly king – but to the Lord – the Lord of lords and king of kings. Isaiah sees him seated in His throne so it is, that in the throws and tumult of political change – Isaiah is saying to Israel – trust in the Lord for He is the one true king.
In our age, when there seems to be a tremendous amount of chaos – we can take comfort in these words written well over two-thousand years ago. While we may like or dislike our political leaders – we are reminded and comforted to know that there is ultimately one king and one God – that the Lord is our king – he is the king of the realm which we belong – the kingdom of heaven. To this day – Isaiah is still calling God’s people to the same thing – like us have fidelity towards our true king – the King of heaven – our God and Lord.
As Isaiah sees the trail of God’s robe flowing into the temple – we know that now as the Holy Spirit has come to rest in the lives of all Christians – it is through submission in the Spirit to God and His will that God’s glory is spreading through the world. This image of the tail of God’s robe pouring out into the temple – reminds us that we are living temples of the Holy Spirit and in that – God’s glory is spreading not just into the temple – but into the whole world.
As we read scripture – we see that we cannot lay our eyes on God, for He is far holier than we could imagine. It is His Holiness that causes His glory to shine forth – so what do we do with Isaiah seeing Him? It is most likely that God will, from time to time, clothe himself with visibility for the good of His people, to encourage His people and to call us to persevere, to repent, to trust in Him all the more. Furthermore – for a season in History God revealed Himself to the people in Jesus Christ. Not only could people lay their eyes upon Him – but he walked with them, he made friends. In Jesus we saw God face to face.
As we get to the second verse we are in our culture surprised to see that the seraphim are above God. This is a great example of needing to read from the cultural context – for us – the thing that takes the highest priority has the highest position. This is why nothing should be higher than a cross in a Church. Or at a state build the American flag will always hold the high position on the flag pole, or even if you enter an old European town – the steeple of the church was always the highest point in the town. The height of a thing tells us of its priority. However, in Isaiah’s context – what he is seeing is the seraphim holding the position of the servants. The Seraphim are there to constantly give praise to God and to serve Him and glorify Him day and night.
But we get this crazy description of the Seraphim we six wings – two to cover his face, and two to cover his feat, and the final two to hold himself up with. We often get a humanized vision of angels in our iconography and popular Christian art and from the epistle to the Hebrews it would seem that some angels can in fact take on human form – but we realize that Angels are also terrifying creatures, and in more than one case – throughout scripture – upon seeing angels people bow down to worship them. But the Angels point the people’s worship to God – as we read the scriptures we see the greatness of an Angel – and realize how much greater must God be!
The Angels today give us a part of our Sanctus Song which we sing when we come to the Lord’s table for Holy Communion. It is interesting – when you read the church fathers – almost universally – they read the tri-fold Holy-holy-holy – as a praise to each part of the trinity – one Holy for each person. St. Ambrose puts this particularly well:
Cherubim and seraphim with unwearied voices praise him and say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts.” They say it not once, lest you should believe that there is but one; not twice, lest you should exclude the Spirit; they say not holies [in the plural], lest you should imagine that there is plurality, but they repeat three times and say the same word, that even in a hymn you may understand the distinction of persons in the Trinity and the oneness of the Godhead, and while they say this they proclaim God.
They rightly see it as the utmost importance that all three persons be included in this song of praise to our triune God.
Last night I was talking to another pastor friend about this – and I was telling Him how the church fathers read this – and he made a fascinating observation – God’s central or primary attribute is His holiness – we never see the angels singing songs of praise of “Love, love, love,” or “wrath, wrath, wrath,” or “judgement, judgement, judgement,” or “mercy, mercy, mercy” – each of these other attributes are subsets of God’s Holiness – God’s love – the favorite attribute of our time – flows out of His holiness. God loves his people, God hates sin, God judges the world, and pours our mercy upon people – because He is holy and so it is right that we with all the angels hold up this attribute – and sing of it with gladness in our hearts.
Now – modern scholars take a different approach to this grouping of three holies – an approach that I think is equally worthy of weighing. Within the Hebrew language – there is a pattern where words will be repeated to emphasize the importance of that word. Normally this would be done twice – but because of the brilliance of God’s Holiness and the fact that it is beyond what we can comprehend Holy is repeated three times. Holy is the only word which is repeated three times in the Old Testament.
I think that perhaps this is not a question of either or, but rather – both of these perspectives draw us deep and deeper into understanding who God is and his unapproachable brightness, the fact that he is set apart from all else.
Yet – what makes God amazing is that in Christ God goes from being unapproachably holy but to both Holy and imminent. That is to say that God’s holiness in Christ sacrificed for us upon the cross – has torn open the veil and in Christ and through Christ we can experience the inexpressible holiness of God. We are being drawn into a more right relationship with our creator who is also our redeemer.
Still – Isaiah is not satisfied to leave us with a simple song – but when we experience God’s Holiness it is an earth shaking experience – when we truly experience God is should humble us – and shake up our world.
As we come to Isaiah crying out – “woe is me!” We need to remember the chapter before were filled with woes for those who had completely rebelled against God’s holiness. Who had forsaken holiness and righteousness for their own way – and their own glory.
Even Isaiah – recognizes his fallenness and brokenness in light of God’s Holiness. This attitude flies in the face of our culture – we want to know what we are okay – we are good enough – we are successful – that everything is just fine as kind. But here – Isaiah models for us a different approach – here we are reminded to fall before the face of the living God in humility – fall before him as broken and sinful people in need of a redeemer and savior.
We cannot heal ourselves without God – nor can we find atonement for our sins without Him – we cannot find the peace our hearts long for unless we rest in God. And like Isaiah we are called and invited to cry out to him to recognize the great chasm between us and God. To fall before his thrown and realize our need for Him.
Now friends – here is the good news – there is no sin, nor any damage that is too dark that God cannot heal it and redeem it. God can redeem our darkest sin and mend our most tattered hearts. God can lift us up and bring us back into a good and right relationship with Him and this is what He does for Isaiah.
In a foreshadow of the things to come God sends one of his seraphim to cleanse Isaiah’s lips with a live coal. It foreshadows what Christ will do for all who believe on Him – “it encapsulates the ideas of atonement, propitiation, satisfaction, forgiveness, cleansing and reconciliations” all of which will eventually be completely satisfied in Christ. Like, when we rest in Christ our atonement is instantaneous – so too is Isaiah’s cleansing. Isaiah is made clean through a coal offered by God – we are made clean by the atonement of Christ’s death on the cross.
And now, as we reach the end of our Old Testament lesson – we see God’s calling – and Isaiah’s willingness to go. We see that as Isaiah has been cleansed by God and brought into His communion – that he has now joined in God’s great commission of His children – that just as Isaiah has been made clean – we too have a vocational requirement to share what we know to be true with the world. We are called to be cleaned by Christ and then go into the world to proclaim what He has done for us.
Today as we read through Isaiah we explicitly saw two parts of the trinity and how they work to magnify and glorify each other – we saw God the Father full of glory on His thrown and we saw Christ – redeeming us – but what of the spirit? The Holy Spirit continues the process of redeeming us – convicting us, and drawing us closer and closer to the Father. It is Christ who sent the spirit to be with us – and it is the spirit that continually calls us home.
God’s glory is beyond the rational comprehension that our age demands. Rather – it is bigger than anything which we can imagine. God’s glory fills his heavenly temple, pours out and tumbles through out the world. Yet to experience that glory in its fulness is more than we can comprehend or handle.
So let us humbly come before our Lord, let us rest in Christ, who has forgiven and redeems us, let us dwell in the spirit who heals our brokenness and draws us closer into Him. Then having been bound to God in Christ let us go into the world to proclaim His holiness and his love and his mercy to the hurting, the needy, the sinful, and the broken that they too may glorify our God who is in heaven and join with us in coming before His throne and table and with all the angels and archangels sing his song of praise of – Holy, holy, holy!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.