All power in heaven and earth: sermon on Trinity Sunday

“And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth.”

What does it mean to say that all power is given to Jesus Christ in heaven and in earth? One thing it means is that human beings who have power, whether in the Church or in the world, will be answerable to Him for how they used it. As He says in the gospel, “There is nothing covered that shall not be revealed.” In the meantime, God allows the powerful to have a great deal of freedom in using the power they have, whether for good or ill. So, St Paul, having recalled how the Father has subjected all things to the Son, then acknowledges, “We do not yet see all things subject to him.” Amazing though it is, the world often seems to go on as if the Incarnation, the Passion and the Resurrection had never taken place.

Yet there are some exercises of power that our Lord has reserved for Himself even in this world. One of these is the power to institute sacraments. It was revealed to St John the Baptist that the One on whom he saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove would institute an entirely new form of baptism, able to give grace to the soul. Yet Christ instituted not just baptism, but all the sacraments. Thus, He made marriage a sacrament of the new law when He attended the wedding at Cana and worked His first miracle there, at Mary’s request. He initiated the sacrament of extreme unction when He sent out His apostles to anoint the sick with olive oil, so they might recover and have time to amend their lives before they had to die. He instituted the sacrament of holy orders when He commanded the apostles, “Do this in memory of me.” For how could they do what He had just done, offer His Body and Blood, unless He also gave them the priesthood by which they would do it?

No man apart from Jesus Christ has ever had the power to institute a sacrament. Even if the pope and all the bishops of the world were to come together and try to do so, they would not be able. Of course, they never have. Unfortunately, people do sometimes try to invent sacraments, perhaps without knowing what they’re doing. This is an example of what we call superstition. For example, a person wears a lucky charm around his neck, or carries around some herbs for protection from evil spirits, or uses tea leaves to foretell the future, or messes around with crystals. Whenever somebody tries to use material things to achieve an effect that God alone can accomplish, but without being authorised by God and the Church, he is aping the sacraments, and falling into superstition. And that is a sin against the first of the ten commandments.

But why did Jesus reserve to Himself the right to institute the sacraments of the new law? First, because they pertain to what is closest to His Heart, namely, our salvation. Christ didn’t come into the world to give us new forms of government or new technology. He leaves all that to the ingenuity of men. Why then did He come? “I came, ”He says,“ that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” It’s through the sacraments that He shares with us this abundant life that He already has.

Then again, the sacraments are there to make us holy. That’s why we need them so badly. We come into the world marked with original sin, and our frailty is such that even when we have good intentions we easily fall into actual sins. But no sinful man could ever invent a means for sanctifying himself and other people. It would be like trying to wash off mud with more mud. That’s why we have to receive the sacraments from outside. We receive them from the God Man, about whom we say in the Gloria, Tu solus sanctus — “Thou alone art the holy One”. 

And the last reason that only Christ could institute the sacraments is that they are the way that He Himself enters the soul. As He says in St John, “If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him.” The Blessed Trinity cannot be summoned by any human art. But Christ has set up these means, the sacraments, as seven paths by which He, with His Father, and their Holy Spirit, the three divine Persons, will come and make Their home within us. Blessed be the holy and undivided Trinity, because He hath shown His mercy to us.