Ezekiel 1:4-10, 22-28a; Mark 1:1-13
If two people get married, it is invariably the case that they employ a photographer for their wedding day, either a professional at great expense, or a friend. In either case, it is not uncommon for the photographer to ask the couple, at some point during the day, to pose looking at each other. If you are a budding photographer or plan to take photos at a wedding in the future I would recommend that you ask this of the bride and groom, because what you will probably capture is that very special look of love between the two people – amongst all the finery, food and festivity, there comes a moment when the two lovers look at each other, encapsulating the essence of the event – the celebration of love.
When St. Augustine was trying to find the words to describe the mystery of the Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he remembered this most unique of human experiences – a loving gaze- and saw how it could express something of the divine community of love. Just as the lover and the beloved gaze at each other in mutual love, so God the Father looks at God the Son and the love, which passes between them is God the Holy Spirit. Three persons made one through their love.
To use this unique experience of the uniting power of love between two people as an analogy for the Trinity is very helpful but it does highlight a profound difference. Each one of us has, not only a deep capacity to love but also a need to be loved. People often talk these days of the importance of “loving oneself” as if it is impossible to love another or receive love unless one first loves oneself. There is some truth in this but experience teaches that invariably we are unable to love ourselves until we learn to love another and receive their love in turn. To be able to love we must look outside ourselves, only then is our true need to love and be loved fulfilled and life takes on a richness and vulnerability, which was not there before.
Christian theology says that this need has been met and fulfilled within the being of the Godhead. As William Vanstone writes:
“In the dynamic relationship within the being of the Trinity, love is already present, already active, already completed and already triumphant, for the love of the Father meets with the perfect response of the Son. Each, one might say, endlessly enriches the other and this rich and dynamic interrelationship is the being and life of the Spirit. Therefore, nothing beyond the being of God is necessary to the fullness or fulfilment of God.”
That dynamic interrelationship is evident in this evening’s reading from Mark. Even at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry the Father proclaims Jesus to be his beloved Son, with whom he is well pleased, and the Spirit moves Christ into the wilderness.
God is not like us who must look beyond ourselves to another who, by responding, will satisfy our need to love. Within the mystery of the divine being there is present both the power to love and the triumphant issue of love in the response of the beloved.
If this is so then it has profound repercussions for how we see our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Just as when we look upon couple is love and feel as if our presence makes no difference at all to their love for each other, so we must look upon the Trinity of love and know that we and every other created being are not necessary to the being or fulfilment of God. God is complete in himself and is not reduced or unfulfilled or even incomplete if we did not exist. In no way can we claim that without us, without our being or without our response, God is in any way unfulfilled. God needs no response from us, or anything in creation to be divinely fulfilled, for he is whole, complete, satisfied within himself the Trinity of love.
If God has no need to look outside himself to have his love made whole and fulfilled than the fact that God loves us is pure gift, which flows from the fullness of his being of love. It is not the kind of love, which springs from need or emptiness but from an overwhelming generosity. It is the kind of love, which a family has who, united in mutual love, take an orphan into their home. They do not do so out of a need but in the pure spontaneity of their triumphant love. Nevertheless, in the weeks that follow, the family, once complete in itself, comes to need the newcomer. Without him the circle is now incomplete; his absence now causes anxiety; his waywardness brings concern; his goodness and happiness are necessary to those who have come to love him: upon his response depends the triumph or tragedy of the family’s love. In spontaneous love, the family has surrendered its own fulfilment and placed it precariously in the orphan’s hands. Love has surrendered its triumphant self-sufficiency and created its own need. This is the supreme illustration of love’s self-giving or self-emptying, that it should surrender its fullness and create in itself the emptiness of need.
In the revelation of such love cannot be easily understood by humans beings, nor readily described as to be comprehensible, as our reading from Ezekiel this evening demonstrated. The awesome, terrifying vision Ezekiel called the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. All he could do was fall on his face. More awesome still is the fact that, if God has taken us, and all creation, into the perfection of his community of love, then who we are and what we do matters. It matters to God if we are absent or not, if we are wayward or not, if we are good or not. Our response to God’s love affects God himself.
This does not mean that God is like Big Brother watching, judging our every move, but that you and me and all creation, are part of that divine look of love. To know this and experience it is to be fulfilled and for life to take on the richness and vulnerability of knowing that we are looked upon in such love and that love in turn, turns our eyes towards him and all he loves so that we are lost in wonder love and praise.
Rev’d Dr. Jonathan Arnold
11th June 2006