‘So how did you get here today?’
It’s a question that’s asked at social gatherings, conferences and parties everywhere and anywhere to which people need to travel.
As you might know, I don’t have a parish of my own. My job is teaching and mentoring people who are in training for the church’s ministry, and whilst many people in that situation up sticks and go to college for a few years, many don’t; they stay living at home, looking after their families and doing their jobs, doing evening and weekend classes and placements to get them from A to B (A being the point at which they are told that yes, the church would like to sponsor them through training for ministry and B being the point at which the Bishop lays hands on them at their ordination).
When I first attended one of the weekend residentials, which take place in the Waveney Valley just on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, someone asked me ‘So how did you get here today?’ I launched into a long explanation of my own sense of God calling me to serve the church, the process of trying to work out how to respond to that, my own experience of being in training for the church’s ministry and so on – and then I realised. ‘You meant, how did I get here TODAY, didn’t you?’
Our journeys, both physical and spiritual, say a lot about who we are. How we get from the As to the Bs in our lives tell you much of what’s really important about us. How we travel tells you where we live, where we work, who our friends and family are, how we choose to spend our leisure time. Journeys may seem mundane, but they tell the very story of who we are. That’s something to think about next time you’re stuck on the motorway or on a crowded Tube train!
Nicodemus, about whom we heard in our Bible reading just now, is one of the many people in the Gospels who travel to meet Jesus. In the Gospels we read about people who travel considerable distances to see Jesus, like the Magi who make the long journey to offer their gifts to the infant Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. Others come upon him almost by chance, like Zacchaeus, the famously short man who clambers up a tree when Jesus passes through his home town of Jericho.
We don’t know how long Nicodemus’s journey took him. We do know that he came to see Jesus at night, maybe under the cover of darkness out of fear that his position as a Jewish leader might be compromised if he were seen with this controversial rabbi. Or maybe it was his social position, and the wealth that went with it, at stake; from what we learn later about Nicodemus in John’s Gospel, it’s safe to assume that Nicodemus was a rich man, which means that he had a lot to lose. We can’t know for sure, but John gives us a couple of clues: for Nicodemus, this journey to see Jesus was a risky business.
For those of us for whom the journey to church is easy, short, and risk-free, I’d like to remind us that this isn’t the case for everyone around the world. There are many places where going to church is a real risk, and there are many people for whom going to church is a real risk, even here in the UK. I’ve been helping a family from the Middle East recently to find their way to faith in Christ; like Nicodemus, they are drawn to Jesus and want to seek him out. One of them has told me that for weeks she would find times to sit on a bench outside a church, too scared to go inside but praying that the love of God would reach through the church walls to touch her as she sat. For this family, like Nicodemus, coming to Jesus is a risky business; because of their religious and cultural background, they know that they risk losing their community, the business network that allows them to work and have a roof over their heads, even maybe their lives. Maybe our own journeys to church, or our own journeys of faith haven’t been quite as perilous as this family’s, but maybe we know something of what Nelson Mandela calls the long walk to freedom in our own lives.
At the heart of this encounter of Nicodemus with Jesus, though, is the dawning realisation that however risky Nicodemus’ journey to find Jesus, however long it may have taken or whatever it may have cost him, the Jesus whom he meets has made the longest journey in history: the journey from heaven to earth. This is a journey which has cost Jesus much – he has been sent, we hear, by a Father with whom he lives in perfect, eternal love. This is a journey which involved real risk to Jesus – as his journey through his earthly life continued, he indeed lost his community, his friends, and even his life. This is a journey of love. Nicodemus sought out Jesus, just as the Middle Eastern family did – but what he, and they, discovered was that God had long been seeking them out.
In the journey from heaven to earth which we hear about in today’s reading, we get the most tantalising little glimpse into the life of the eternal God, a life richer and fuller than anything we could ever imagine or aspire to. As I say, our journeys tell most of what is to be told about us; our journeys tell where we live, who our friends and family are, what our job is, what our loves are. We hear about the Father who sent Jesus. We hear about the Spirit going with Jesus, blowing where he will on this risky journey from heaven to Bethlehem and Nazareth, to Galilee and Jerusalem, from Golgotha to the depths of hell, from the empty tomb to the Mount of Olives and finally back to the heights of heaven, to the true home not only of Jesus himself but of all who come to believe in Him.
The inner life of God – the life into which we get a tantalising glimpse in this morning’s reading – is what we celebrate today, Trinity Sunday. It’s a life richer and fuller than anything we can imagine or aspire to, but we see a little of what it means as we go, with Nicodemus, to Jesus. It’s in Jesus’ relationship with his Father – who is never out of Jesus’ thoughts in John’s Gospel – that we see what it means for us to know God as our heavenly father who watches over us with eyes of love. It’s in Jesus’ sensitivity to the presence of the Spirit, whom he sees at work in the world and in the lives of people – that we can start to imagine what it might be like to be led by the Spirit as Jesus was.
This is all possible because in Jesus, we see ‘God with a face’, God taking on humanity and living our life with us so that we can start to glimpse what it means for us to live the life of God. In other words, Jesus is our way into understanding the Trinity; Jesus interprets God to us and for us, and sends us, as the Father sent him, out into the world in which the Spirit is still at work in the hearts and lives of people, so that we can interpret God to the world and for the world. Jesus’ journey can become our journey, if we let it. Our journeys can be journeys of love, even the journeys we would rather not have to take, like the journey through illness or bereavement or through an unfulfilling job.
So what we are given, this Trinity Sunday, is not the answer to a particularly knotty puzzle, but a tantalising glimpse into a life of love divine which is beyond our wildest dreams, yet which can become the way that we live, too. We are given an insight into the lengths to which God went for us, from heaven to earth, so that when we are lost in the world’s dark alleys and in the crowdedness of our own minds and lives, he can bring us home with him. This what we are given today: not an answer, but an invitation. Will we join Jesus on this journey of love? Will our lives, wherever they lead us, interpret God to the world and for the world? This is what Trinity Sunday is about, because this is what God is about, because this is what God has always been and will always be about. This Trinity Sunday, this week, may we journey on in the everlasting love of God, and take others with us in that journey as we walk with Christ. Amen.