Rublev and the Trinity

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2 Pentecost, June 18

Gen. 18:1-15 (21:1-7) or Ex. 19:2-8a
Ps. 116:1, 10-17 or Ps. 100
Rom. 5:1-8Matt. 9:35-10:8 (9-23)

At the Oaks of Mamre, the Lord appears. To Abraham, sitting at the entrance of his tent, this appearance resembled three men. They are, as an old story tells, and imagination delights to see, three persons in the unity of one being. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit stand near the tent of the old patriarch, carrying news of a promised heir. Sarah, hearing the news, and considering her old age, laughs at the prospect of fertility, but her laughter signals both doubt and wondrous joy, a sign that what is impossible is possible to God. “Now Sarah said, ‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me’” (Gen. 21:6). Indeed, laughter is an immediate recognition of the strange mysteries of God, seen often by a trained eye.

Abraham begs the visiting men not to pass by until he has given them a little water and a little bread. At Abraham’s request, Sarah prepares bread. A servant prepares a calf. All these, along with curds and milk, are set before the visitors, thus fulfilling every obligation of hospitality. Viewing this scene through the eyes of Abraham and Sarah, as suggested  in Rublev’s icon of the Trinity, the angels are seated around a table in perfect balance, each extending a hand of blessing over food placed in a cup. This visitation foreshadows the Eucharist, in which the presence of Christ is at the same time and necessarily the presence of the Trinity, a presence shared with the community. The offering of food by Abraham and Sarah, though a sign of the all-sufficient offering of Christ, shows also the role of the offertory by the faithful in the Eucharist. “You give them something to eat. … How many loaves have you?” (Mark 6:37-38).

This eucharistic presence, which is not restricted solely to ceremonial celebration, is the very presence of God to which all the faithful have access through the mediation of Christ. “[S]ince we are justified by faith, we have peace with God though our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand” (Rom. 5:1-2). Access here indicates both an invitation into the divine presence and a further invitation to free and open speech. “The grace in which we stand” is, in essence, the new condition of the new humanity redeemed in Christ. Christ and the whole Trinity, by implication, work to accomplish human redemption and impute that redemption moment by moment through the promise of a real presence. “I will be with you always, even to the close of the age.”

The gift of the divine presence remains a gift even though it is received “though faith.” Here faith cannot mean an act of will or mere emotion, however sincere. “Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Consider Karl Barth on precisely this point: “We encounter the action of God in contemplating the crucified and risen Christ. His action does not depend upon some experience of our souls or upon some stirring in our spirits. … Faith is the point at which life becomes death and death becomes life in Christ” (The Epistle to the Romans). In a sense, faith is doing and being nothing, a complete surrender to the prevenient work of God. Dying with Christ, we live in his presence evermore.

Look It Up
Read Romans 5:5 and Matthew 10:19-20.

Think About It
God’s love for you.


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