Rublev’s Icon, by Pastor Noel

June 15 & 16, 2019    Trinity Sunday, C

(I regret that I am unable to add a picture of the icon. It is readily available on line and might help in understanding this sermon.) 

An icon is not just the little picture on your computer screen.

Icons are special spiritual pictures that are painted, or written (the correct word) to help us look out of everyday life into God’s kingdom.

      Icons illustrate the Scriptures, and our life with God. An icon is a window that gives us a spiritual view of God’s kingdom, with life restored and perfected.

There are rules for writing icons, just as many painters follow rules of perspective and color, for example. Icons are still written today—you could take a class in icons. The most famous are from the Middle Ages, and are from the Eastern Orthodox Church, especially Russia.

      This icon, one of the most well known, was drawn by Andrei Rublev in 1425. He was an old man when he wrote this, and he died 5 years later. The icon has been restored and is as close to the original as possible.

      This icon has a double meaning. It is known as the Trinity—Father, Son, Spirit, and it is based on the story of the angels who came to Abraham and Sarah.

      In Genesis 18 we read, “The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat (by) his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him.”

      The visitors are welcomed and fed and tell Abraham that Sarah will have a son.

      Sarah laughs, because she is old and this seems impossible. The Lord asks them, “Is anything too wonderful for God?”

      This icon is also Father, Son and Spirit. And, in the style of iconography, there are many symbols and meanings that most of us need to have explained.

      Rublev has given us three gold-winged figures of people, sitting at a table with a gold chalice in the middle. There is a house in the upper left, a tree in the middle, and a hill upper right that doesn’t show well even in the original.

      The important focus is meant to be on the figures and the table. The bowl on the table holds roasted lamb. For Rublev this represents the altar and Holy Communion.

      Seated on the left is the Father. Jesus is in the middle, and the Spirit on the right. The color of their clothing is symbolic and an explanation.

      The Spirit wears sky blue and the green of early spring, or water. We remember the Spirit’s presence in Creation. The Spirit’s breath still brings life to heaven and earth.

      The Son wears clothes of dark, earthy brown with a sky blue cloak. He also connects heaven and earth. The gold band transforms his earth colored clothes to be divine. He is both of earth and heaven.

      The Father wears what appears to be a shimmering robe, in colors that defy description. It looks transparent. We can’t see the Father. We can experience the will of the Father in Jesus’ life and in the movement of the Spirit.

      As we look at the icon we see that the angle of the heads has meaning. The Son and Spirit lean towards the Father. The Father leans toward the Son. The pointing hands also draw us into the scene, and invite us to enter.

      There is space at the table. Space for each of us. We sit by the chalice with the roast lamb, and we look across at the Son, the lamb of God.

      Take time to gaze at this icon and focus on it, and lose focus on what’s around us. You will begin to see a cross. The tree, Jesus, the chalice, and us sitting there, are the upright. The heads of the Father, Son, and Spirit become the cross piece.

      Like any good piece of art, icons change as we look deeply into them and let our minds wander.  We see something in a new way, get a new vision or inspiration. The Father  speaks to us through Rublev. The Son speaks to us through Rublev. The Spirit speaks to us through Rublev.

      This is how icons are used in worship. We sit and gaze on them. We let everything else go away. We focus on the whole or part of the scene. We find that we are looking beyond the paint to the reality of God’s kingdom.

      The Trinity cannot be captured in even the most sacred icon. The Trinity cannot be captured in any one thing. The Trinity is not a triangle, or clover, or three men sitting at a table.

      The Trinity is God’s movement through the cosmos. It is the dance of the Spirit that weaves around and through all creation, reaching out hands to bring us in.

      The Trinity is the flow of God’s love that Jesus lived and the Spirit calls us to live. It is the breath of Creation that God is still breathing to fill us with love and compassion.

      The Trinity is the community and companionship of God’s kingdom. We are invited to enter that community. We are invited to be that community.

      In his book “Behold the Beauty of the Lord: Praying with Icons,” Henri Nouwen ask, “How can we live in … a world marked by fear, hatred and violence, and not be destroyed by it?” 

      He quotes Jesus asking the Father to protect us, “They do not belong to the world any more than I belong to the world.” (John 17:16)

      Nouwen says that the spiritual life is living in the world without belonging to the world. He says that our true home is not “the house of fear….but the house of love, where God resides.”

      We enter this true home when we sit in meditative prayer. In silence, as we gaze at an icon, or sit with closed eyes, we hear the sounds of the cosmos. We hear God calling us to let this house of love be our home, and our way of life.

      We don’t worship the icon, we worship God who we find in the icon.

      Like our worship here in church, the icon shows us that God’s love is for the whole creation. We continue to worship as we take that love into the world. Trinity Sunday invites us to join the dance of the Spirit as we reach out and invite everyone into God’s house of love.



The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details