6th Sunday of Easter John 14:15-21 Acts 17:22-31
Jesus promises the Holy Spirit
How do you describe the indescribable? And how do you portray the unperceivable? If there’s anything we’ve learned these last months, it’s that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to show the invisible. But we do know it’s there: in the case of Covid-19, for instance, the virus cannot be seen as such, but we see the effect it has: on personal lives, on communities, on medical staff and the economy; to name but a few. What we cannot see with our eyes, we are ‘touched’ by, through its effect on human life. And yet, there is hope, because there is something else we cannot see but that is very much there, even in today’s world, in our communities, our churches, our circles of family and friends. And I’m going to show you something too, taking you back to the early 15th century – something that portrays the unperceivable, and that describes the indescribable. I’m not showing you the real thing – that’s not within my power, as it’s literally priceless, apart from the fact that it’s somewhere else physically. But I’ve got a copy, and that should do quite well: (showing a picture of the Rublev Icon)
This icon, usually known as The Trinity or the Rublev icon, is based on a story from Genesis 18, of the Lord’s visit to Abraham and Sarah: Abraham was sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him and who in the next chapter were revealed as angels. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and bowed to the ground, then organised a meal for them, according to the rules of hospitality. And one of them told Abraham that Sarah would give birth to a son. Various studies have concluded that Andrei Rublev had tried to uncover the doctrine of the Trinity, one God in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The icon is unusual, as it doesn’t follow traditional rules and is full of symbolism. If you would like to know more about it, there’s a link to a 6 minutes video that you can find in the written version of my sermon on the website.
So why am I drawing attention to this icon today? Well, it is assumed that today’s Gospel reading was also the basis for the way in which it was made. And the ‘something’ that is described in John 14 and that holds it all together is love. Love is not visible as a material and tangible thing – it’s not an object. But it’s still there, in the words of Jesus, in his ministry on earth, in the way he relates to the Father, in his teaching and in his work of salvation: love is the reason and the result. It’s not an object but it’s a subject: it is in relationship and it is relationship. ‘You can’t see it with your eyes, hold it in your hand, but like the wind that covers our land’ as the song goes. Jesus offers this love in the shape of the Holy Spirit, who is to come and help us because of the love of the Trinity. This is the Spirit of truth, the Advocate, who reveals Jesus and the Father to the world. Why? Love. Who? Love. How? Love. Each time the answer is love. It’s what gives us hope, it’s what encourages faith, and it’s what can become visible, even in our present time, and what the icon describes. And it’s what you have in your own home today as well. Because God’s love is there, with you, in your prayers, in your reading of God’s word, in all that you do in looking after yourself or others. God invites you to draw closer to him and see the invisible that is God with you in his love. Jesus says, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ Love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, makes it possible to see God. Which is what the image of the icon of the Trinity also seeks to portray. May the eyes of our hearts be opened to God’s love today, as he speaks through his Spirit. Amen.
Explanation of the icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev, ca 1418?.