A Surprising Personal Encounter with Jesus Christ

Sermon for May 22, 2016
Trinity Sunday
John 16:12-15

 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”

I recently experienced the Holy Trinity in yoga class.   Yes, I experienced the Holy Trinity.  And, Yes, I was in yoga class.  (Not sure which you might find more surprising…)  It was one of those “Relax and Renew” classes for deep-stretching, with maybe four poses in an hour, a class that one of my friends calls “an orchestrated nap.”  For this particular stretch each of us was curled in a fetal-like position on the floor but with our torso twisted stomach-down on a bolster, a stretch meant to open lower backs and hips.  As I stretched and listened to the soft music and looked across the room, I saw adults of all shapes and sizes curled on their bolsters, like babies lined up in a nursery: there was a petite older woman, small and looking frail; there was the big guy (BIG!), looking like a hibernating bear; there was the familiar silhouette of my wife, always beautiful.   I suddenly welled up as I realized:  “This must be how God’s sees us.”   Gazing on us tenderly, like beloved children; gazing on us, “delighting in the human race.”  I was in a room filled with people loved by God!  LOVED!!

That grace-filled moment took me by surprise and lasted only briefly.  But in that moment I glimpsed the Holy Trinity looking at humanity with love.  Looking with love at humanity and “delighting in the human race,” is one of the things the Trinity does.  At least according to Ignatius of Loyola, whose “Spiritual Exercises” included an exercise in which a person imagined him- or herself to be the Trinity, looking with love at humanity.  It was experiences like I had in yoga class, or like Ignatius of Loyola had and encouraged others to have in the Spiritual Exercises – experiences that  ordinary people had and continued to have – that helped the Church discover the Trinity.  That’s “discover,” not “invent.”  The Church did not invent the Trinity, a team of bishops developing just the right formula to describe three in one and one in three.  The Trinity was not invented; the Trinity was discovered through experience.

That the Trinity was discovered through experience is important for two reasons.  First: it means that we can know the Trinity even now with a felt, interior knowledge.   As surely as I knew the Trinity’s love for me and my fellow yogis, as surely as Ignatius experienced the Trinity looking upon humanity with love, we can experience God’s love for us!  Second, that the Trinity was discovered means that our relationship with the Trinity, like all relationships, contains the potential for surprise.

I am going to speak about the second first, the potential for surprise.

I suspect that all of us have been surprised by someone we thought we knew well.  For example – here is a monastery story! – I remember listening to a sermon from a brother who – how shall I put it? – was not the most scintillating of speakers.  (That’s not the surprise.)  And brother X, who shall remain nameless – a straight-laced, “do the right thing” kind of guy, with whom I’d lived 24/7 for the past five years and whom I thought I knew well – suddenly was no longer seated in his place.  “Where could he have gone?”  I wondered.   Then, in his habit, crawling(!) between the rows of chairs toward the exit, I saw him.  I was incredulous.  I didn’t know whether to laugh, to cheer him on, or to tell him, “Get your (tush) back in that seat because if I have to listen to this sermon…”   Now that Tom, the Superior at the time, is dead, I can divulge that Tom dutifully called the brother into his office and scolded him, but only half-heartedly and with a twinkle in his eye.

I thought I knew Brother X well, but I had no idea that he was capable of crawling out of church during the sermon!  (Lest you get any ideas, know that I see everything from up here…)  Similarly, as in any relationship, our relationship with the Trinity contains the potential for surprise.  Jesus hints at this potential in today’s gospel lesson: “I still have many things to tell you.”  There is still so much more that Jesus has to say to us; he wants to tell us “everything he has heard from the Father” (15:15).  But we cannot bear it now, he says, and so he waits.  To surprise us.

The potential for surprise can be healthy for a relationship.  The potential for surprise lets us know that there is more to learn: about the other person, about ourselves, about the new and deeper places of connection we can reach with the other.  This potential for surprise is especially important in our relationship with God because if we already knew the extent of God’s love for us – if there were no more surprises – then God’s “love” in our life would be circumscribed and limited to we already know.  And as much as we may have loved and felt loved, that love pales in comparison with the love with which the Trinity wants to surprise us.

And so Jesus has not told us everything yet, but still has many things to say to us.  As soon as we can bear it, he will surprise us by showing us even more love.

Which brings us back to the first point, that even now we can experience the Trinity’s love for us.   In Christ, the Trinity is embodied:  “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1:19).   Because of Christ, we in our bodies can experience even now God’s love for us.  Not God’s love in its fullness, but in degree sufficient to feed us, heal us and sustain us now.  To experience of the love of the Trinity is pure gift; we cannot make it happen.  That said, there are things we can do to put ourselves in the path of the ongoing freight train of grace (as it were), so that we might stand to receive more of love’s impact.  No Christian life is complete without a regular – if not daily! – practice intended to put us more fully in the path of God’s grace, who can’t wait to surprise us with more love.  And daily is important!  As the Pope himself writes:

I invite all Christians everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day…  The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (Ev. Gaudium, 3).

If we would better know the love God has for us; if we would put ourselves in a place to be further surprised by love; if we would be a beacon of God’s hope and love to the community beyond these walls  – we ourselves must first attend daily to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Rather than tell you what you might to do attend to “a daily renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ,” I invite you to make space to let God show you.  Which God very much wants to do, because God loves you and wants nothing more than to invite you deeper into the love that is between the Father and the Son.

Why not ask God to show you how you might daily attend to a “renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ?”  Why not ask God?  And then be prepared to be surprised by God’s response.  Who still has many things to say to you.  About how much God loves you, about how much God cares for you, about how God wants you to flourish and how God invites you into deeper relationship with the source of all love, Jesus Christ.

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