This is the season of sacraments.
These weeks after Easter are a time of promise and joy. Besides the usual weddings and baptisms, there are ordinations and confirmations and First Communions. Just last weekend, 88 children received Christ in the Eucharist for the first time here in this church. It was something beautiful to see.
But there was another First Holy Communion service that took place last weekend that deserves attention. It was also beautiful—but in a way you might not expect.
The pictures from the liturgy were posted on Facebook, and beyond the celebration of the sacrament, they were an affirmation of faith. I think they also have something to say about this feast we celebrate this weekend, honoring the Most Holy Trinity.
The pictures showed the First Holy Communion at Our Lady of Peace, a Melkite Catholic Church in Homs, Syria. In the Eastern Catholic tradition, children receive their first Eucharist when they are infants, at the same time they are baptized. But many parishes have a formal “First Communion” liturgy when the child is seven. And that’s what they were doing last weekend at Our Lady of Peace.
The scene was recognizable and familiar. It could have been taking place in any church in this country during this time of year—41 angelic children, girls in white dresses, the boys in white robes, all with their hands folded in prayer.
But then you noticed what set this scene apart.
The church had been destroyed.
Windows were shattered. Scaffolding covered the walls. A beautiful fresco behind the altar was scarred with black marks left by fire and debris. Parts of the ceiling were missing.
Three years ago, Syrian rebels attacked and occupied Our Lady of Peace during a civil war that has been dragging on for five years. The people of Homs are now finally starting to rebuild the church.
It was the patriarch who suggested holding the First Holy Communion liturgy there, in the midst of the rubble and the ruin, while the church was being restored. He did it for one simple reason:
He wanted to show the people hope.
The Facebook post I saw was written in Arabic. The rough translation said the service was taking place inside that church to “confirm that life is stronger than death and destruction.”
To see those images is to realize: this is our faith.
This is why we are Easter people.
This is who we are—people seeking grace in a battered and fallen world, cherishing how God works in our lives and, in the midst of that, embracing the divine promise of the Trinity.
When we try to talk about the Trinity, it is easy to get confused and mired in theology—it’s one of the most complex and nuanced doctrines of our faith. It can be hard to wrap our heads around the notion of one God in three persons. Saints and scholars have wrestled with this for centuries.
But when I saw the images of that church, and thought about what was happening there that Sunday, I realized: those children get it. In that crumbling building, they were showing us what the Trinity means.
Because, despite the debris and the dust, despite the rubble and ruin, God was there.
God the Father was there, in the presence of the people and in the Word of the scripture.
God the Son was there, in the Eucharist the children were receiving.
And God the Holy Spirit was there, in the courage and confidence and piety that bound the people of Homs together.
God was there. Love was there.
It was Love among the ruins.
And it sent a message to a skeptical, shell-shocked, terror-ridden world.
It said: here is all we need. Here is hope.
In his letter to the Romans we heard a few moments ago, Paul wrote:
“We boast in hope of the glory of God. We even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
This is something the faithful people of Syria understand so well. The love of God has been poured into their hearts. And they are showing how that love is lived.
And we have a share in it. The same Trinity that was there for the people of Homs is with us here and now—in word, in spirit, in sacrament.
Reflecting on all this, I think those images from Syria should make all of us pause. We take so much for granted. People grumble about getting in and out of the parking lot between Masses. They complain about having to go to church every week. They whine about having to sit through boring homilies from the deacon.
This weekend, though, step back. Take a moment to remember those men, women and children in Syria. Especially those children. Remember what they go through to do what we’re doing right now.
And remember what draws them to a half-ruined church on a rubble-strewn street week after week after week. It is more than faith.
It is an extravagant, boundless love, the love of the Most Holy Trinity—and the love of the people and their steadfast trust in God.
The people of Homs are saying to the world: in spite of everything, we have hope. We believe God is with us. We believe he stands with us, even in the rubble of our lives.
The devotion of the Syrian people should humble us all. May their quiet, courageous example guide us to a deeper love for the Trinity.
God the Father, who created us.
God the Son, who redeemed us and gives himself to us in the Eucharist.
God the Holy Spirit who abides with us, uplifts us, inspires us, consoles us.
The God who is, who was, and who is to come.
My friends: please pray for the people of the Middle East, who are suffering so deeply now. The world cannot be allowed to forget them. Pray that they never lose faith and always cling to hope—hope that endures, hope that sustains, hope that, as Paul assures us, does not disappoint.