In the Lectionary

May 30, Trinity B (Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17)

When words fail, the church sings—especially on Trinity Sunday.

They braced themselves against the wind blowing across the bluff, standing in a close circle around a hole in the ground, arms around one another’s waists. They had just lowered and buried their mother’s casket by hand, and, as one, they inhaled deeply and began to sing: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty!” The rest of us encircled them with our bodies and our voices, though not loudly—we wanted to hear them sing, as we had so often before. They sang her into the next life.

She had suffered crippling arthritis for years, had been wheelchair bound for as long as I knew her. Her husband, himself old and bent, had cared for her in their home until she drew her last breath. They were a family of singers, some of them professionals. They tell stories of evenings in their childhood around the upright piano in the living room, their mother—before arthritis prevented it—lining out the melody of hymns, teaching them the words and the parts. They could sing anything in the old red hymnal and a fair number of show tunes, too. Mostly they sang for the sheer pleasure of singing together, but sometimes they sang because it was all they could do—arms around one another’s waists, their voices rising and falling like the wind.

Trinity Sunday is the oddest of church festivals. Unlike other holy days, which celebrate events in the life of Christ or of the church, Trinity Sunday invites us to an idea. It grabs us by the scruff of the neck and gently shakes us, turning our attention from the limits of our language and images for God to consider an idea for which language and image eventually fail.