The first movie I saw after my years in mission in Kenya was “Shakespeare in Love.” There is a scene between Philip Henslowe, the theatre owner and producer, and Hugh Fennyman, the investor, which I have always remembered.
Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. Fennyman: So what do we do? Henslowe: Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well. Fennyman: How? Henslowe: I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
One thing I have learned is that while Divine Mystery seems furtive and cryptic, it is very real. Hard to explain, but real. It works out. Even if it leaves me perplexed. Church history often seems like insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster – at least parts of it. It is like a mystery. Who would have thought that in all the acrimony of the 15th and 16th century, today there could be a thing such as Christian unity?
This week our special six-week summer series will peer into the mystery of Church History. Here is a summary: how Christianity in the West got divided. Maybe next summer we will have to look into the ecumenical/church unity movement. Yet, while preparing for the sessions I have had a lot of time to think about unity and lack thereof in the Christian Church. Throughout church history, Christians have come up with many ingenious ways of explaining why the one church can be divided into many factions. The easiest, of course, is to say that everyone outside of a particular circle is not actually part of the church. That was how the church patriarch Cyprian dealt with it: By definition the church is one, indivisible; so if there appear to be “divisions,” the reality is simply the true church versus a wicked pretender. And outside the church, there is no salvation.
These days, even across the Protestant-Catholic-Orthodox-Pentecostal-“Bible believing” divide, we are not given to labeling others “wicked pretenders.” Chrissie Hynde excepted. Christians in one “church” have encountered those of another “church” and found genuine faith, piety, the movement of the Holy Spirit, grace, and good works. We are all worshipping communities who share the same Scripture: “I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” (John 17:20-21) Occasionally there are insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster, but we are bound in our belief in Jesus, and we have Jesus praying for us. No mystery there.
Perhaps the lesson on Most Holy Trinity Sunday is that we celebrate the Divine Mystery of a Unity so deep, so amazing, that despite the worst of our human hubris and foibles, if we can but believe, strangely enough, it all turns out. Not through any real efforts of our own, but through the grace of the Most Holy Trinity which heals, reveals, and makes real the Oneness to which we are called as communities, families, and fellow travelers facing insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster. In faith, it all turns out.