The skyline around the church has changed. Three sculptured figures have been placed on top of buildings and we were privileged to host the celebration of their installation on Friday. The works belong to the city and are by the contemporary British artist Antony Gormley. They are made of sheet lead on fiberglass shells and depict casts of the artist’s own body. They were bought by the city in the early 1980s and, although previously displayed, have been in storage for a long time. It is good that they now have a more permanent siting, where they can be seen by everyone coming into the city centre and I expect will be an additional attraction for visitors to come here, and therefore provide a boost to the city centre economy. And we are right in the middle of them.
The sculptures go under the name of ‘Places to Be’ and are a reflection on the human form occupying a space, what it means to be a place in a space and looking beyond that space to the vastness around us. So, that title, ‘Places to Be’, can refer to both location, where we are, and also what it means to be a place of being in ourselves, who we are. There are three poses for these statues – which are not static figures, unlike military generals and other notables in so much civic statuary around the country. One has his arms outstretch embracing the sky. It is embracing the vast and fathomless space of all that there is, the cosmos and who knows what else beyond. One is looking out to see what can be seen and in wonder. It is looking at all that is approaching and what might be on the horizon, the extent of our gaze. The third is walking, on a journey towards a destination undefined but looking purposeful.
What I liked about the way Antony Gormley spoke about these sculptures at the reception in the church on Friday lunchtime was his openness to possibilities and interpretations. He did not close them down or narrow their field; in fact quite the opposite. He expanded how we might see them and let them draw us to expand our vision. The strapline (and hashtag) from Vivacity for the installation is #LookUp, encouraging us to raise our gaze both literally and figuratively; to raise our gaze from our phones and the immediate. Look up and see what more there is to see. Look up and have our perspective expanded to new hopes and possibilities.
Embracing, looking and walking. Modes of being and places to be. The horizons of our perspective, these being expanded as we ‘Look Up’ and a journey in purpose. These are interesting themes through which to approach Trinity Sunday, which is the day we think about who God is and where God is.
Embracing the vastness brings us to touch transcendence, the origin and vastness of God which is far beyond anything we can hold. Arms outstretched in wonder and adoration is the beginning of faith and religious, spiritual stirrings. God, whom we call Father, is the source and goal of all that there is and can be. This wonder fills hearts with a sense of purpose and being in a place where to be is to exist where there is something rather than nothing. Some aspects, many aspects, may puzzle, even perplex us – and there are great questions with which we struggle at times – but they do not remove or silence the wonder and deep sense that our being exists within this vastness and it is not empty.
Arms outstretched embracing also carries the echo of Christ’s arms outstretched on the cross. And the vastness, the transcendent comes close. The created order is embraced with the love of the God who so loved the world that he sent, that he came among us in Jesus Christ (John 3:16). And that crucial and self-defining phrase, ‘God so loved the world’, was part of our gospel reading this morning. This is God’s answer to the perplexing questions, not least of suffering and mortality, where transcendence shows up and shows that the struggle is held and nothing can separate us from that love.
Looking and gazing also bring us to the one who comes close to us. We ‘look from afar and lo we see the power of God coming’, and he brings healing in his wings. Biblical writers have long yearned for the fulfillment of their hopes and we affirm these in Jesus Christ. We see in him all that we can see of God, of what God is like. Nicodemus, in our gospel reading (John 3:1-17), went to see Jesus at night and the night is dark when there are no streetlights. So he goes, even as a teacher, in spiritual darkness. But he looks and he sees. And seeing leads to an opening of hope and new life. The story of Jesus Christ has to be told and opened so that the narrative can shape and work within us.
We are moving into the third statue and like the Trinity these figures interweave and connect. We do not stay static, just in wonder or looking, as spectators and armchair consumers. That is one of the flipsides of all our seeming connectivity and technology; we live in a society of consumers and observers. We are called by Jesus Christ to follow him. To move, to go on a journey that will lead into unknown territory for us. And the God of the beyond, even of the present and presence, also moves. The Holy Spirit is the wind that blows and causes movement. The Holy Spirit compels us to move and sends us to be agents of God’s kingdom of justice and peace. We walk with purpose and hope.
The Trinity, which we celebrate today, is how we see God in these three persons of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They affirm the great mystery of who God is, who we can see God to be, and how we experience God distant, close and compelling; embracing, the one whom we look for and who makes the journey for us to walk. God is the place where we can be and are, makes us a place for him to be, for his Spirit to dwell in our hearts so that we call him Father (Romans 8:15). Look up and see and be. Look up and see the vastness of God, the presence of God and the sending of God in purpose and hope. Look up and see images that can remind us of God the Holy Trinity.
Sermon preached at Peterborough Parish Church, Trinity Sunday, 27th May 2018