Trinity Sunday, 7th June 2020

‘Trinity - After Rublev’ by Meg Wroe

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.’ 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. 

Athanasian Creed

WHOSOEVER will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick Faith. Which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the Catholick Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity;

Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son: and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son: and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate: and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible: and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal: and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals: but one eternal.

As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated: but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty: and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties: but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God: and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods: but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord: and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords: but one Lord.

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity: to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the Catholick Religion: to say there be three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.

So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons: one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together: and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid: the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved: must thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation: that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the right Faith is that we believe and confess: that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds: and Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world; Perfect God, and Perfect Man: of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting; Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead: and inferior to the Father, as touching his Manhood. Who although he be God and Man: yet he is not two, but one Christ; One, not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh: but by taking of the Manhood into God; One altogether, not by confusion of Substance: but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man: so God and Man is one Christ.

Who suffered for our salvation: descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the Father, God Almighty: from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies: and shall give account for their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting: and they that have done evil into everlasting fire. This is the Catholick Faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost; As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

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, 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. 

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