Readings: Gen 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Cor 13:11-13a, Matt 28:16-20 – by Rev Ellie
I used to quake when asked to preach on Trinity Sunday. What can be said that hasn’t been said before? Why do we have a separate Sunday for something that we celebrate every Sunday? Well, before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to share a few things with you. If we had an overhead projector in church, I would include some clips in our service. Because you’ll be reading this in your own time at home, I include these clips in their entirety for you to peruse.
The first is a YouTube video titled ‘St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.’ https://youtu.be/KQLfgaUoQCw. This pokes fun at some of the analogies used and some of the heresies that the analogies illustrate. It’s the one time that if anyone says to you: ‘The Trinity is like…’ then I suggest you leave.
Jesus describes many things in the New Testament as being like something. But the Trinity is a post Biblical concept that tries to describe the essence or being of God, Son and Holy Spirit. It is not a word that appears in the Bible.
The Athanasian Creed is printed below – give it a brief read.
This reminds me of the texts that had been badly photocopied and we were asked to read before our theology tutorials at university. We would then debate the texts and try to tease apart any heretical understandings (if you could understand those heresies in the first place, and didn’t have post-it notes by your computer explaining the differences).
By now, I expect your head is hurting and you’re ready to walk away in frustration. You would be no different to any other theologian down the ages who has tried (and failed) to explain the Trinity. And that, is the nugget of my sermon. The Trinity is not something that can be comprehended, or understood. It has defied any explanation. It is not a concept that the head can really understand. People will try, but they will always come up short.
Why then have a Sunday that is about the Trinity? Because it is about the mystery that is God, Son and Holy Spirit, all in one. When you first encounter God (or the Son, or the Holy Spirit) and you decide that what you have experienced is so life-giving that you decide that you can’t do without it,
you ask God into your life. ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done’ – you’re inviting the Trinity into the Tabernacle of your heart. This is not something that the head can comprehend. There are no words that will do this justice. The repetition found in the Athanasian Creed illustrates this. However, Jeremy Begbie, https://youtu.be/E021XK7tHlc describes how we struggle to see something that can fill a space and coexist with something else at the same time. Jeremy speaks both as a theologian and a musician. For me, his description ties in with what I feel in my heart and the resonance of the Trinitarian life.
We can’t have one part of the Trinity without the other two. The disciples knew the God of the Jewish faith. He was there in their culture, steeped in their way of thinking, cheek by jowl with the pagan religions that the Roman overseers had brought with them. Then they met Jesus, and followed this Rabbi around the region, not quite understanding what he was talking about, yet knowing there was something different – the Messiah, the redeemer of Israel. Then in three short years, he was crucified and buried in someone else’s tomb. Next they meet the risen Christ in the upper room and elsewhere, even on the road to Emmaus. And they’re told to wait for the Helper, and the Holy Spirit arrives like the rushing of a wind. That day is known as the Day of Pentecost, which we celebrated on the 31stMay – a week ago. We have moved with the disciples from having been part of culture where God has to be worshipped in certain ways, with rules and regulations overseen by the Pharisees and Sadducees, to walking with Christ in a continuous learning involvement to then receive the Holy Spirit and continue that experience.
On one level, my previous paragraph is simply describing a set of historical events, and that is what the eye sees and reads. But the indwelling of God in our hearts cannot be seen or read. I suggest that as a people we have depended too much on seeing, observing and reading. We want to read the liturgy in church rather than listen to the words and the drama that unfolds before us. We cannot use all our senses in our worship if our eyes are looking down, at the book in our hands while we sit.
Church, the Christian life and our walk with the Trinity involves the whole of us, and the wholeness of God. What I describe above is this gentle way in which God reaches out to us, allowing us to get to know what Jesus is like as a human. This requires all our senses in active participation. Then the Holy Spirit comes, and all our senses are required once again, as we cannot see or read the Holy Spirit. We have to allow our senses to resonate with the Trinity.
At the start of this reflection is an icon created in the style of Rublev. The Three in One invite us to share in that communion. Made in the image of God, we are in communion with one another, and also with the Trinity – because that essence (as illustrated by the Athanasian Creed) is in communion.
Friends, brothers and sisters, I invite you to explore once again your relationship with the Trinitarian God. Release your dependence on the way church is structured, and find the one-in-three and the three-in-one in your painting, gardening, drawing, sewing, quilting, walking, cycling, fishing, volunteering – whatever it is that is clean and wholesome and that you enjoy. Because God is right in there with you.