“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Words from our 1st reading today from the 34th chapter of the book of Exodus – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his joy.
The adjectives that describe the Lord God in our first reading are relational qualities, describing how God relates to us: that God is merciful, that God is gracious, that God is slow to anger, that God is rich and generous in being kind and loyal and faithful to his own. These are all good, positive qualities that we would be fortunate to have exhibited in every relationship that we were a part of. We know, of course, that life is messy and that people can be vindictive and selfish and mean and faithless, especially when things don’t turn out as we would like. As a case in point, in this part of our story and our history in the first reading, the Israelites were in the desert at the base of Mount Sinai. They have just been rescued from slavery in Egypt, they were defended by God against the Egyptian Army and they had passed safely through the Red Sea with the spoils of Egypt. And yet after all these things that God had done for the Israelites, they abandoned him, engaged in wanton revelry, and worshipped a Golden Calf instead. In spite of their unruly behavior, God comes down to meet Moses, the people’s representative, and to make amends and to renew the covenant with his people. That gives a greater depth of meaning to the revelation then that the LORD is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity. God so badly wants to be in a relationship with us and is willing to do the hard work to make it flourish, even when things don’t always go so well. And all we have to do is take a look at the cross to know how far God was willing to go to save our relationship, that God so loved the world.
And I think that is what is sticking out so clearly to me amidst the solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity that we celebrate today: that God is relational. We know that – that God is three in one, a trinity, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has always, for all eternity, been in a relationship of love within God’s very self. And now, God is inviting us into that relationship of love. As God came along in their company in the desert wilderness, the Israelites came to know that their relationship with God was indeed characterized by mercy, graciousness, rich kindness, and fidelity. What adjectives and words would apply to our own relationship with God? What’s your relationship with God like?
To this end, it might be helpful to call to mind an image to illustrate our relationship. Some people think of God as their as Lord and Savior, while others see God as a Friend. Such images have implications for what our spiritual life is like, and what we are called to do as we enter into our relationship with God. If God is our Lord, then we ought to listen to what He asks of us and should shape our life around his teachings and guidance. If God is our savior, we need to surrender, reach out, and let ourselves be saved. If God is a friend to us, then our spirituality will be characterized by a sort of sharing of life and all its happenings. I share with you my favorite images of my relationship with God. For me, God is like a Father. I’ve always looked up to my Dad in my life and have had a good relationship with him, and so God is like Dad multiplied by infinity. Parents, never discount the influence you can have on the spiritual life of your children. It’s in part why I’ve always wanted to be a “Father”, and I have happily answered that call, serving as a Spiritual Father for the Church. For me God is also a hidden God. At times in my life, I find it hard to relate to God or don’t understand why something is the way it is. When I came across the idea of a hidden God some years ago, that image was helpful for me to understand that just because God is hidden, doesn’t mean that God is absent. Though we don’t often speak of it, there is great biblical resonance with the image of a hidden God – God is veiled before Moses, hidden in the cloud of today’s first reading, God hides in swaddling clothes in a manger, God bleeds on a cross, the disciples on Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus right away, God is hidden under the form of bread and wine. Sometimes, in his hiddenness, he is trying to reveal something new in our relationship, we just need to open ourselves, look for him, seek him out with the eyes of faith. Can you let yourself play hide and seek with God? And the last image I’ll share is seeing God as compassion itself. Not to diminish God as a savior, but sometimes this image shortcuts the manner in which God saves, because, there are times we feel God has failed us in our expectations and again looking at the cross, we see that God didn’t prevent Jesus from suffering that terrible fate. Nevertheless, God loved Jesus through that experience of death to new life. A compassionate presence is one that intimately walks with us, hangs with us in our plight and loves us through it all. How many times in life do we look back on our lives, particularly those difficult times, and say that I only made it because I was loved through that experience, because someone was there with me through it all and was compassionate towards me? That is what God does for us, and indeed God is close at hand whenever we see that compassionate care is exhibited. These are my favorite ways of relating to God. There are many more images that we could use of course. All of these images have something meaningful to say. None of these images does justice to the totality of our relationship with the Triune God. God cannot be trapped in a box. There is and always will be a mystery that transcends our human limitations.
You know, I can tell you about God, I can tell you about my relationship with God, but at the end of the day, you will need to cultivate the relationship you have with God for yourself. As with any relationship, there is a certain personalism about it, that someone else can’t do or live for you. Revealed today is how much God wants to be in a relationship with you and the lengths God is willing to go to make this relationship work. How have you personally responded? How do you relate and what’s your image of God? What does that mean for your relationship, and where you need to go? What’s your story? May we reciprocate that love of God, and find ways to personally enter into the relationship with him, who is Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.