John 16: 12-15
Today is Trinity Sunday and we would not be Anglicans if we did not sing Hymn #1 – Holy, Holy, Holy, God in three persons, Blessed Trinity. Many of us mentally link this hymn with Trinity Sunday and Trinity Sunday with this hymn. Both the words and the tune are permanently joined to the concept of God as revealed in three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we think about the possibility that this hymn is sung every year on Trinity Sunday somewhere in the worldwide Anglican Church, we can be amazed at the hundreds of times this hymn has been sung since it was written well over a hundred years ago.
While we sang this hymn, many other congregations in North America were singing the same words, and because of the different time zones, this hymn of praise will reverberate around the world in Britain, Australia, Hong Kong, Africa and wherever there is an Anglican congregation. We may not recognize the words in Chinese or Swahili, but we will share an understanding through the music about the glorious and mysterious concept of the Holy Trinity.
The text of the hymn is based on a passage from the Book of Revelation (4: 8-11).
“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they say, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’ And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing, ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Several of the images and phrases in this poetic and vividly descriptive passage of scripture are carried into the hymn text. The unusual line about saints casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea is derived from this scripture. Many of the qualities attributed to God are listed here. God is both almighty and merciful. God is perfect in power, in love and purity. God is eternal, everlasting through the ages. To be all these things, God is manifested in three persons.
The familiar words point to the glorious, yet complex, and sometimes hidden, meaning of the Trinity. God is the almighty Creator of the universe, the Father (and Mother) of all existence. God is the loving, merciful and perfect human being in Jesus, the perfect human made in the image of God. God is the powerful, unseen Spirit, which permeates existence, always here to guide and sustain God’s creation.
The author of the words was Reginald Heber, a clergyman in the Church of England in the early nineteenth century. He wrote poetry, essays and several hymn texts. The tune was composed by John Bacchus Dykes, one of the foremost church musicians of the nineteenth century in England. He wrote more than three hundred hymn tunes, many of which are still in use today. In 1861, Dykes composed the music for Heber’s hymn text specifically for Trinity Sunday. He named the tune, Nicaea, after the Council of Nicaea held in Asia Minor in the year 325, when the doctrine of the Trinity was debated and declared an essential doctrine of the Christian faith.
Jesus knew that his disciples would not comprehend all his teaching, or the reason for his death, or the miracle of his resurrection. He knew that they would feel lost when he ascended to God. He assured them that God would not abandon them, but would send the Holy Spirit to sustain them and to encourage them to take up the mission of Jesus and to trust in God’s steadfast love. With the dramatic blessing of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples at Pentecost, the Trinitarian God was fully revealed.
God the Creator was already evident in everyday life, in the seasons of the earth and in the joys and sorrows of human existence. The human image of God was personified in the preacher from Nazareth, who taught that the commandments to love God and to love others were to be valued above all things. And finally the Spirit, invisible, yet as powerful as the breath of life, was sent to lead humanity into all truth, but only in God’s time. Three persons, yet one indivisible God!
There is a great deal that we do not understand about God, so it is with faith that we believe in the possibility of the Trinity, and it is with trust that we rejoice, sing hymns, and praise God, who will not abandon us, but is with us always.
Thanks be to God. Amen.