Only a New Word will do.

Homily at St Dyfrig’s for Trinity Sunday, 2012  – with special prayers for Queen Elizabeth II

Do you ever struggle to find the right words? Does it bother you when experts use jargon to give the impression that they know much more than you do?

Yet sometimes, we just have to use a new word because the thing we want to talk about isn’t quite like anything we’ve got a word for already.

Take the word “quantum”. If you start talking about “quantum physics”, you conjure up the image of something profoundly mysterious – and rightly so. The last hundred years of scientific research have shown us that when you look at matter on the smallest scale, it does things that are counter-intuitive for people used to seeing everyday objects behave in everyday ways.

In the quantum world, an object can be a particle and a wave at the same time, it can appear to go through two different holes at once, and can even pass through a solid wall. Although this sounds downright weird, it’s a weirdness we can study and describe precisely using mathematics. By applying that maths we can design silicon chips, nuclear reactors, and ultra-secure communications for banks. All of this, thanks to quantum physics – an accurate description of the weird way stuff works in the universe.

Sometimes, we just have to use a new word because the thing we want to talk about isn’t quite like anything we’ve got a word for already.

Today, Trinity Sunday, celebrates another unique and counter-intuitive reality. We believe in One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is three, and God is one. Nothing else in our human experience is both three and one at the same time. But we dare to make this absurd-sounding claim because it is the best way of summing up what we know about God.

We look to Jesus as our teacher, and we trust in the Apostles to pass on to us his teaching. It took time for the Apostles to realise the exact relationship between Jesus and the Father – in today’s Gospel, we read that some of them hesitated to bow down and worship Jesus. Worship was only meant to be offered to God. Was Jesus just a teacher who had, quite remarkably, risen from the dead – or was he God? Hesitantly, the apostles accepted that Jesus was worthy of being worshipped – he was divine!

But how could Jesus be God? Although he declares in John’s Gospel that “The Father and I are one”, yet they were distinct enough that Jesus prayed to the one he called Father. St John also tells us that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The only sense we can make of this is to say that Jesus and His Father are “cut from the same cloth”, they share the same spiritual stuff.

Philosophers call the stuff something’s composed of its “substance” and in Latin, the word for this is consubstantialem – composed of the same substance. In the Creed we recite at Mass we used to say that Jesus was “of one being” with the Father but in our new translation, a decision was made to use an English version of the Latin word, a unique word to describe a unique situation.

Now, therefore, we acclaim Jesus is “true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father”. When we hear that word, it reminds us that Jesus is everything that God the Father is, with only two exceptions. First, Jesus “came from” the Father, as one soap bubble comes from another which is stretched. Second, the Father did not enter into our world by becoming human flesh; this was the unique mission of Jesus. Those two things aside, Jesus is just like God the Father.

The Holy Spirit also shares the same substance, which comes from – the technical word is proceeds from – both the Father and the Son; if we continue our image of a soap bubble being stretched and splitting into two, the Spirit might be something like the specks of soapy substance which fly off in all directions as the two bubbles finally become distinct and perfect spheres. Like any image which tries to capture God, this soap bubble image is more wrong than right, but it might give us some sense of what is going on!

One other word of warning – whenever you read a text which mentions the name “God”, always ask yourself: does this mean God-the-Father, or does it mean the divine substance, the God-ness, which is shared by Father, Son and Holy Spirit? This God-ness is sometimes referred to as “Godhead” in our hymns and poems. This helps us make sense of how the Word can be WITH God and also BE God in the famous passage which opens St John’s Gospel.

Sometimes, we just have to use a new word because the thing we want to talk about isn’t quite like anything we’ve got a word for already.

There’s another unusual word which we’re given in today’s readings, and which has been taken up into the new wording we use to celebrate Mass. St Paul declares us Christians to be “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ”. The word “coheirs” also appears at the end of the Second Eucharistic Prayer, which is the one we usually use for weekday Mass.

Why co-heirs? To understand this, consider the role of a co-pilot on a commercial jet. A co-pilot is a fully qualified pilot, perfectly capable of flying and landing the plane on her own, in an emergency. But she is a co-pilot because she flies alongside a captain, who is legally the commander of the aeroplane. Often the co-pilot manages the most difficult parts of the flight, with the captain supervising and ready to take over in an emergency. The co-pilot understands that she has responsibility for the plane along with, not apart from, the captain; she is authorised to fly because the captain is in command. As we celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this weekend, we note that her authority is also that of a co-pilot; in our constitutional monarchy, the Queen signs into law the legislation agreed by Parliament.

We who are baptised have become members of the Body of Christ – but Christ remains the head. The word consubstantial reminds us that Jesus is deeply connected to God the Father. Jesus is at the right hand of the Father in Heaven because it is his inheritance. As members of Christ’s body, we do not become God, but we are intimately connected to God – and that connection is renewed and deepened each time we receive Holy Communion. We belong in heaven because we are profoundly connected to Jesus: we are co-heirs with Christ.

Do you ever struggle to find the right words? The 19th century poet William Henley, who was not a believer in Jesus, concluded his poem Invictus with the words: I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

We dare to proclaim a different poem:

God is the master of my fate: Christ is the captain of my soul.

I’ve got out of the driving seat, Co-pilot now – Christ’s in control!