A Reflection on the Gospel for
May 31, Trinity Sunday
by David Somerville+
Recently I delved into the study of the musical form, the Fugue, developed by J. S. Bach. I took a second, third, and several more listens to portions of his Well Tempered Clavier. I began to appreciate the organic interplays of distinct melodies, short pieces of music that function as “subjects”. There are generally three of them, soprano, alto, and tenor. They are sung by three individuals or groups in choir, or played instrumentally. The first, typically the alto, begins, and then the soprano and bass “chime in” before the preceding subject melody concludes in such a manor that at intervals a chord “happens” with the delightful experience for the listener as “harmony”. Harmonies become more complex and exciting as the three parts continue. They “imitate,” or compliment, each other. Each has its own character; no one of the three is dominant. There is a quality of development and progress in the togetherness of the the parts, contributing to something wonderfully holistic. Such is the lyrical magic of Bach’s genius.
So what has this musical form, the Fugue got to do with Trinity Sunday? It helps to make the largeness and wholeness in the theme of Trinity manageable. It can guide the pulpit minister away from attempting the impossible— to preach about everything, and that is good because any time a preacher plans to address everything is a good day to stay home from church!
Fortunately, though, Trinity can be the good recapitulation of all that has gone on since Advent that it is supposed to be. It is a day to celebrate our potential to be a people of differences, having encountered the full story of the person and work of Christ, and yet be one people in textured harmoniousness as the continuing body of Christ in the image of God. It is what makes us into a well tempered community in readiness to confront something well put by Edward Beecher (Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother). He spoke of the Christian call to service, writing that “Great changes do not begin on the surface of society, but in [the] prepared hearts [of God’s people]: So what then is the message of Trinity Sunday? It is of the God-power given to the community of the baptized, staying together to do what Beecher describes.
Does our society need “great changes”? The recent acquittal of an Ohio police officer of criminality in the shooting of two defenseless African American people did not bring peace and closure with regard to the tragic, violent death of this couple of people two years ago to a community that had already been troubled with a long history of distrust in the Cleveland judicial process. Protests followed.
I could not help noticing in the protesting crowd a woman wearing a cassock, surplice and tippet, arm in arm with other protest march leaders. The organized presence of these community leaders discouraged the kind of enraged looting and burning that hit the city of Baltimore earlier this month on the one hand, while validating the neighborhood’s perception that their oppression by the police was something they had lived with for years. Cleveland’s black community obviously was feeling the pain once again of there being no justice in yet another verdict. The rational analysis on how the thirty-one year old white officer was acquitted was perceived as merely a rationalization of institutional bias.
I was not in Cleveland, and know only what the press has told the American public at large, so my suspicions or comments about the verdict are really nothing new. But the fact of the matter is that Cleveland became the site of a familiar bad atmosphere: the toxic fog of anger, anxiety, and fear on the part of both the civilian public, and a people employed to maintain public safety. The atmosphere was threatening the health and well being of a neighborhood. Have the battle-helmeted police, mostly young white men, been adequateky educated in such things as black cultural history, urban sociology, and the psychology of fear?
Trials and their outcomes are supposed to send a message to the public that denounces lawless violence, and that those who engage in such activities will bear the consequences of the law, thus leaving the citizens with the motivation to abide by it. So goes the theory. The Cleveland verdict has had no such affect on anybody in Cleveland — especially the African American community, who have grown to both fear and hate the uniformed professionals— who are really not the reassuring symbols of public safety that they should be for the people they serve.
The administration of law and the oppression of a minority group comes from generations of cultural habit. A heavy-handed police force, decked out in combat field gear only worsens the situation with aggravated fear-based oppression. But one woman, visibly a priest, was in the company of others. She with the diversity of fellow Christians and conscientious believers of various creeds with a common value for bigotry-free justice and good will had their arms locked together, believing in Henry Beecher’s conviction that, as noted above, holds that “Great changes” cannot be imposed on the surface of society. Real change happens in peoples’ hearts. It comes from their communion with a really present God. This God comes from the priesthood — not the one of liturgical formality, important as that may be, but from a people who bear a community reality too large to be borne by any one prophet alone.
As a people of faith, we all, who have lived the Great story of God, the point, so to speak from Advent to Pentecost , would do well to support one another by repeating Beecher’s truth in order to keep the memory fresh.
Beecher completes his thought by adding more thing: “People in communion with God [have within them the power to rise above the apathy of the age, and speak with living, vital energy, and give life to the community and tone to the public mind. [Italics mine]
Trinity Sunday is a day that brings us to celebrate the truth that the wholeness and diversity of the many parts of our faith, and the diversity of souls who bear them, can do what the oppressiveness of martial law cannot do – Bring the dynamic peace of the creator/redeemer/spirit to one of several troubled cities and more.
Until we succeed in actualizing Beecher’s vision, we will only hear the world’s noise, not the music where differing melodies greet each other, building up to the dynamic unity of both the transformed world, and the holiness of God.
Note to the reader: I use two excellent sources without which, I could not do this series with some accurate sources of information:
- SermonWriter – Resources for Lectionary Preaching http://www.sermonwriter.com/
2 Oxford Biblical Studies http://www.oxfordbiblicalstudies.com/