O Unity of threefold light,
Send out Thy loveliest ray,
Add scatter our transgressions’ night,
And turn it into day;
Make us those temples pure and fair
Thy glory loveth well,
The spotless tabernacles, where
Thou may’st vouchsafe to dwell.The glorious hosts of peerless might,
That ever see Thy face,
Thou mak’st the mirrors of Thy light,
The vessels of Thy grace.
Thou, when their wondrous strains they weave,
Hast pleasure in the lay:
Deign thus our praises to receive,
Albeit from lips of clay.And yet Thyself they cannot know,
Nor pierce the veil of light
That hides Thee from the thrones below,
As in profoundest night.
How then can mortal accents frame
Due tribute to their king?
Thou, only, while we praise Thy name,
Forgive us as we sing.
Archbishop Metrophanes of Smyrna c900AD
translated by Fr. J. M. Neale.
On Trinity Sunday, we sang this hymn to Tallis' Third Mode Melody which suited it rather well, I thought. It was clearly English and yet clearly Catholic, written before the Great Schism, and therefore perfectly Anglican Catholic. For me, personally, it presents the strange imagery of the Mass whereby in humble settings, with unclean lips, and sin-stained lives, the Light Incomprehensible can still shine forth into the world. I think sometimes we forget that this is possible.
There still is a sense in the world whereby people think that they are too sinful for God to be near them. They say with St Peter, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." and yet, rather than accepting His presence as the Prince of the Apostles, they continue to push God away. Now why should this be? I expect for most people who feel like this, the god that is so down on sinners is the one they try to steer clear of. Yet, this is not the God that we Christians worship.
What is certainly true is that where God is, no sin can be. This may sound like a rejection of sinners, but in fact it's more like saying that where light is, no darkness can be. We cannot get rid of sin by chasing it away any more than we try to sweep up the darkness before switching the bedside lamp on. The fact that we miss is that God loves us more than we can ever think.
As always, love is truly the key. This is a God Who, out of sheer respect of humanity, chooses to limit Himself so as to allow that Humanity to realise love without coercion. This has terrible consequences and yet those terrible consequences are allowed, as well as being provided for. Not one sparrow will fall without the eye of God beholding it and we are worth more than many sparrows. And yet, with God those terrible consequences mean more than some anodyne existence of not really being because they have a fulfillment within Himself. The suffering of Our Lord alongside us consecrates our suffering as surely as He consecrates the waters of baptism by being baptised in the Jordan.
It is in Christ that humanity finds itself completed. It was He who broke the lock of the door back to God put there by our failure to choose what is Good. It was He whose Humanity drags us back through death into life in God. Every single Eucharist holds this fact: Christ is truly present in the Mass and thus we find ourselves standing in the courts of heaven without realising it. We look around, and still see the cracks in the wall, the damaged floor tile, the slightly wonky nose on the statue of Our Lady, the frayed edge of the server's cotta. We look and we hear the priest's knee crack as he genuflects before holding up the little white disc.
Yes, that is what we see and hear and smell, and touch and taste, yet with Christ's presence it is truly consecrated, taken up out of the shabby shadow of our everyday existence and truly lying just behind the veil of God's infinite glory. If we come to church expecting just the same old boring things within the same old boring reality and fixating on the same old boring hymns and listening to the same old boring sermon, then we have forgotten the reality that lies behind what we see. Our reality is merely the dust cover to our true life. Look beyond the crack in the wall to see the golden walls of God's throne room; look beyond the damaged floor tile to see the emerald floor upon which the saints tread with steps beyond Time; look at the wonky nose on the statue and see beyond to see Our Lady, the Queen of Heaven, perfect in the presence of Her Son;look beyond the frayed edge of the cotta to see the white robes given to each citizen of heaven and remember that you, yes you! have your own white robe waiting for you.
Heaven is always threatening to burst in on our little thin veneer of reality, and God Himself wants nothing better to sit down with each and every sinner so that they will cease to be sinners just by His very act of sitting with us. God loves us and He is not too proud so as to separate Himself from His Creation. His divine humility shows that He has nothing to prove about His Majesty or His Glory. Neither must we bee to proud as to separate ourselves from God because we are sinners and therefore unworthy of Him. Of course we are unworthy, that's what makes the Mystery of the Incarnation more delicious. We should just accept, repent of our sins and find ourselves always in the presence of the Divine Christ.