In John’s gospel, a Pharisee named Nicodemus visited Jesus by night, seeking elaboration of his teachings. Jesus ends up telling Nicodemus this, concerning the instruction about being born again from above: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit.”
Which brings us to last week’s Vigil of Pentecost, in the context of which, we celebrated in baptism that Axel Norwood was in fact born again from above by water and Spirit.
This was undertaken in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, the name of our Trinitarian God, whom we celebrate today, in whose name we always baptize. This child was birthed a second time from the womb of the font, from the matrix of our Trinitarian God, in the power of the Spirit working amidst water and word.
Being born from above is not simply a spatial designation. Heaven and earth, and the worldly cosmos, in John are not reduced to an up there, down here equation. No, we are talking about realms here, competing, conflicting realities known on earth. One reality, the worldly or earthly, needs salvation and the other reality, from above, the heavenly, provides that salvation.
In fact, the heavenly realm in Jesus of Nazareth, the word of God made flesh, has come down to earth as John reports Jesus as having said, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”
And that descent of Jesus, the Son of God the Father into our reality makes for our salvation. Again, Jesus in John: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)
That’s what happened in microcosm last Saturday on the Vigil of Pentecost in the life of Axel Norwood, and some of us were eyewitness participants in this sacred reality. Jesus’ descent from the Father into the life of Axel in the power of the Spirit made for a child’s salvation.
Additionally, Jesus in John says, speaking of God’s Spirit, “the wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
Here’s the thing: the wind of God, the Holy Spirit, has chosen to blow here and now, and chose last week to blow in our midst at Axel’s baptism.
I cannot help but think of the encounter between Jesus and the leper in Matthew’s Gospel: The leper said to Jesus, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.” [Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately his leprosy was cleansed.” (Matthew 8:2b-3)
So it is that Jesus chose again in the power of the Spirit to blow into the life of Axel last week on the Vigil of Pentecost. Axel was adopted by God in Christ by the Spirit. Paul writes in Romans in today’s second reading about our receiving a spirit of adoption in contrast to a spirit of slavery. Indeed, Paul writes, “When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15b-17a) Indeed, Baptism evokes our cry in the Spirit, “Abba! Father!” The cry from our lips, we, who are adopted children, and siblings to our brother Jesus, who also saves us, who draws us to himself.
Indeed, in that sacramental moment, Axel was lifted up out of the water, connected as he was through that means to the death and resurrection of Christ. “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Baptism joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection, making the familial bonds complete.
I share these thoughts on baptism lest in our comparative social isolation because of the pandemic we lose sight of the centrality of baptism in our life together.
Let’s turn now to Holy Communion. The Son of Man also descends into our midst in, with, and under the holy meal. Isaiah’s vision recorded in today’s first reading is apt in capturing the sense of holy mystery that is part and parcel of the Eucharist.
In that reading, heavenly beings, the Seraphs, called to one another – “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord.” These are the words we continue to sing on each Lord’s Day as many of us again celebrate together the Eucharist outdoors. This is the song we share with heavenly, holy beings in the presence of God in Trinity. Let the holiness of this sacred reality sink in for a moment.
Listen again to the graphic language of the prophet to get a better sense of the unspeakable holiness of our participation in the trinitarian divine mysteries when we sing out, “Holy, holy, holy” again from today’s reading from Isaiah:
“The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts!’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’” (Isaiah 6:4-7)
When we commune, we take the bread to our lips, as good as a live coal as it conveys to us the real, holy presence of the living Christ. Likewise, we press the cup to our lips as we share in the blood of the living Christ. And suddenly we see with the eyes of faith our Sovereign, Christ, the Son of the living God in the power of the Holy Spirit. And the prophetic word is extended to us as well, as if to say, “Now that the bread and the wine have touched our lips, our guilt has departed and our sin is blotted out.”
Thanks be to God! Let us not take for granted this our share in the mysterious realities of the God whom we know and confess and praise as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When it’s all said and done, our sacramental life, our share in the Trinitarian life of God, is in the service of God making known eternally living divine love for all who would receive it: “For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Or to say it another way, the mission of the one God in three persons is, in short, lovingly to save the world for all of eternity.
And once again, as I have said many times in these weekly sermons, we also are sent to share in this saving mission. Or to invoke again the words from the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading once the burning coal touched the prophet’s lips: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’”
And so we say, “Here we are, O God, send us.” In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:
- How do the Trinitarian realities of God manifest themselves in your journey of faith in our life together?
- Recall particularly holy moments on those occasions when you have shared in the celebrations of baptism and Holy Communion.