On Monday morning my extended family gathered to say goodbye to my Aunt Anne. She was a mother, a sister, a clergy spouse, a friend and so much more. I was planning on being the preacher and the celebrant at the memorial service, but the weather in Baltimore on Sunday night caused my flight to be canceled and meant that I was not able to be with the rest of my family. Thank you so much to the Rev. Canon Dr. Mark Gatza at Emmanuel Church in Bel Air Maryland for filling in on such short notice. I hear it was a lovely and fitting service.
This was the brief meditation that I had planned to share:
This weekend we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity. One of my friends jokingly suggested that rather than preachers trying to imagine a new way to explain what it ultimately an unfathomable doctrine, it would be better for all if we just put Rublev’s famous Icon of the Trinity on the pulpit and just stared at it for twenty minutes in silence.
If you’re a preacher faced with preaching about the Holy Trinity, that’s a funny, not funny sort of joke.
It’s a powerful image (pun intended) because Icons by their nature attempt to communicate and invoke ideas about God and the divine without using words. Words can be powerful tools but ofttimes in church they fail us because they simply can not express the ineffable truths of God. I suppose that’s why hymns are so important in our liturgy – when prose cannot take us to the Truth, we add music and poetry. I don’t suppose they get us all the way to the divine reality, but they can help move us closer.
An Icon, which is usually described as being written rather than being painted, has its own lexicon and vocabulary that tries to lift us even higher than the music, poetry and movement of liturgy which we know so well. An Icon uses certain colors to mark the presence of the divine. It uses a reverse perspective with the focus point being behind the viewer rather than in front to show us that that heaven and the realm of God is greater and more capacious than our human one. And it uses geometry to help us understand how God’s realm and ours are connected.
I’m not sure that twenty minutes in the presence of a true Icon is enough for us to fully unlock its meaning.
My Aunt Anne, and the life of love that she led, was one of the truest Icons of God’s love that I have ever experienced. She had the gift of hospitality and warmth that could gather people together and create circles of love and community no matter the circumstance. I knew her best as a small child when I was able to visit with her and Uncle Joe – and what I remember is what it felt like to be in a place, a home, that had that quality of light, laughter and love. I remember the radical acceptance of myself and others. If was going to try to write an Icon of a Christian, I would probably start with Anne.
Today we are gathering to remember her life, and to stand together as witnesses to God’s promises to us in the words of Our Lord Jesus. Perhaps you’ve made the connection that early theologians made about Icons and Jesus… Jesus of course is much more, but in some small ways we can understand the person of Jesus and the events of his life as a sort of written and embodied Icon of the reality of God. And because as the Councils of the Church have declared, we believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, Jesus is also an icon of our humanity. That why we can claim that because Jesus rose from the dead, we shall too. Because Jesus’ life was transformed and not ended so too shall ours be as well. Because Jesus’ demonstrated the cosmos shaking power of God’s Love and because he has called us his friends – preaching to us even when we were dead – we too shall live.
It is impossible for me to fully understand or even begin to fully imagine how life and love are woven together. But we have seen images of it in the lives of the people we have encountered along our Christian journey. We have experienced a taste of God’s transforming, liberating and life-giving love because they have loved us. They are icons. Anne was one of my icons. Some of you are as well. By God’s grace perhaps each of us here can be for others – preaching God’s love with our lives.
God’s love is this. That though we die, yet shall we live. And we shall see each other again. With our own eyes shall we see our redeemer and each other. Because God’s love has been victorious over our ancient enemy, God’s love has taken away the sting of death and it is no more.
Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.