But something else happened. As guitarist Alex Lifeson burst into the solo in the song, ‘The Garden' (above), I found tears welling up. It took me back to another concert by the band Radiohead which I was at a few years ago, about which the writer and broadcaster Rhidian Brook spoke of on Thought for the Day. He said,
‘... Half way through a beautiful song... my friend, who as far as I know has no religious affiliations, turned to me with tears in his eyes and said that he was having a religious experience. He wasn't being glib. Something was happening in that moment; something powerful enough to make him cry, embrace me and for both of us raise our hands in a gesture of abandoned praise. We both knew, without saying so, that we weren't worshipping the band - great though they are - and that this 'something' was about more than just music...’
Now this overflow of emotion could be explained away by me becoming soppy in my older years, the sonic vibrations, the mass gathering of people, or the consumption of beer leading to a heightened sense of euphoria. But I’m not sure that we can just write the experience off as a ‘feeling.’ The experience, like stunning scenery or fine art, was a window through which we sometimes get glimpse of something beyond ourselves that we cannot possess, that we perhaps can’t name, that comes to us as a gift, that cannot be rationalised with our eyes or minds.
Paul, the writer of today’s Epistle from Romans 5:1-5, had a glorious technicolour experience of that ‘something’ for himself on the Damascus road. That encounter utterly transformed his life. Here he writes of the unknowability of God, the Creator of all that is good, holy and beautiful, becoming fully known to us, broken and failing as we are, by the free gift of the grace of God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and the assurance of his love shown by the gift and presence of the Holy Spirit. We can receive this gift of grace only because we are justified by God - He makes us just, rights the wrongs we do to each other and Him. He makes us holy people - because of the faith He puts in us by sending His Son and the faith we place in Him as a result. Got it? No? let me put it another way:
A young lady one day was speeding through a small Georgia town. She was traveling 70 mph in a 55 mph speed zone. The police pulled her over and wrote her a ticket that would cost her $100. She didn't have the money to pay it and ended up having to go to court over the ticket. In the courtroom, the judge said, "You were found guilty of going 70 miles an hour in a 55-mile speed zone. You have to pay $100." The young lady said, "I'm guilty, but I can't pay it. I don't have $100." "Well, if you don't pay the ticket, we'll have to lock you up for the weekend." "I can't pay the ticket, but I don't want to go to jail. Can you please have mercy on me?" The judge matter-of-factly replied, "I can't change the law. The law says that you've got to pay $100, or you have to spend the weekend in jail." Starting to tear up she spoke in a small voice, "Isn't there something you can do? I can't pay but I don't want to go to jail. Have mercy on me." The judge looked down on her, pushed his chair back from the bench, zipped down his robe, and took it off. He went over to the side, picked up his jacket and put it on. He walked down and stood beside the girl, reached in his wallet, and brought out a hundred-dollar bill. He put the $100 bill on the bench, took off his jacket, then went over and picked up his robe. He zipped up his robe and got back behind his bench. "Young lady, you've been found guilty of going 70 miles an hour in a 55-mph speed zone. The law is the law. I can't change it; the law says you must pay $100 or spend the weekend in jail. Ah! But I see somebody else has already paid the price."
We cannot apprehend this holy God. We receive only glimpses of Him, as through a window, in things like the beauty of music. Those experiences can be overwhelming and they draw us in - longing for more. Yet because we are created and He is Creator - we are so utterly different in our being and our character is so far from His perfection - we cannot approach Him even though we long to, we want more of that sort of experience. So He approaches us. Despite all that divides us - His holy Godness and our failing Humanity - He crosses that divide by His goodness and love for us in the person of Jesus. He offers what we long for but cannot name, and makes us what we cannot be - and offers us a share in the glory of God Himself. When that glory seems very distant, because much of our experience of life is less than glorious, the Holy Spirit given to us helps us to take confidence in God’s constant love for us, waiting patiently and faithfully on Him, despite it all.
Friday night’s gig snatched a glimpse of something beyond that cannot be apprehend yet which is offered as a gift - thousands of people gathered, experiencing something that they don’t want to end, moved by something they cannot name and somehow caught up in it all and the experience transforming however we might feel about our individual lives for a time, into hope. This sounds a lot like worship.
Friends, this Trinity Sunday we are caught up afresh into God the Father’s eternal love song over all that is created and we are invited to sing along; we are moved by that love for us shown and experienced in Jesus the Son still, which we are called to share; and even in the midst of the brokenness and failure that fills our lives from time to time we can be confident in lasting hope through the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit, a hope and gift we are to live out and make known.