Reflections on Trinity Sunday
O Lord, our Sovereign God, You are neither made nor fashioned by anyone.
Wonderful beyond measure, You are faithful Father, servant Son, and enlivening Spirit.
Holy Lord, beautiful and dynamic, intimately united as a society of love,
You are our Creator and cause,
You are our perfect Savior,
You are our Intercessor and giver of spiritual gifts.
Lord of all, You call us forth;
You, the Triune God, make us good.
And so we sing: Hallelujah! Bless the Lord.
Hallelujah, praise God’s holy name!
We celebrate in faith the sacrifice of Jesus Christ once and for all
For the sins of the whole world.
God, You have reconciled us to yourself and to one another;
You have covenanted with us by the presence of the Holy Spirit,
Who gathers us together and transforms us to new life.
And so we repent from our sins,
seeking your mercy, Lord, to inspire us to wholeness and grace.
You gather, protect, and care for us, your beloved, through Word and Spirit.
This you have done from the beginning of the world and will do to the end.
Have mercy upon us and forgive us for sinning against you.
We have not loved one another as we should,
We have not sown the seeds of gospel hope,
We have not been present for worship.
Restore us, Lord.
May we give ourselves willingly and joyfullyReadings:
To be of benefit and blessing to one another,
That we may truly share one faith, have one calling,
And be of one soul and one mind
For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."
Being a teacher and a preacher can be truly humbling. Especially when I come to a day like today: Trinity Sunday. A friend shared a story about being invited to preach to get some experience early on in her studies. She readily agreed not knowing what the texts for the day were… She had been the victim of an old rector’s prank: get the seminarian to preach on Trinity Sunday!
And here’s why it is a prank: “How does a preacher take an apparently contradictory and paradoxical doctrine, that has caused more controversy than any other in the church’s history, state and explain it in a concise way, give some vivid and creative analogies and examples, make it accessible to people of all ages, and make it about then minutes long?”
And then the real kicker: “How does a preacher do all that without understanding the subject matter with anything approaching comprehension?”
How does a person, a mere mortal, even begin to comprehend the enormity, the eternal nature, the profound wisdom of God? (I cannot even begin to understand the instruction/construction manual for most Ikea products or children’s (some assembly required) toys!)
This inability to grasp the Trinity has caused some to suggest that the doctrine simply be jettisoned as unhelpful and worthless. Others have simply relegated it to some back drawer of their mind… where they keep other “important” yet seemingly irrelevant facts such as the Pythagorean theorem.
But I might suggest that there are numerous incredibly important and necessary things that the Trinity has to teach us.
First — The drama of the doctrine
The Trinity, the central doctrine of Christian theology, says “the one God exists in three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” The church hammered that definition out at her earliest councils in the first five centuries, and it’s what we confess that we believe — but it always comes up short precisely because of its object — of what it tries to describe.
Listen to this from Bishop N. T. Wright:
“A great many arguments about God — God’s existence, God’s nature, God’s actions in the world — run the risk of being like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining . . . . The difficulty is that speaking of God in anything like the Christian sense is like staring into the sun. It’s dazzling . . . . [O]ur lines of inquiry, our probing and questioning, may perhaps lead us in the direction where God might be found, but they cannot break through and claim to have grasped God all by themselves. [N]o human argument could ever, as it were, get God in a corner, pin him down, and force him to submit to human inspection.”
The infinite God can’t be grasped with finite human reason. We simply cannot pin God down, and all attempts to do so — however noble and brilliant and beautiful, however close they may come to an actual description of the inner life of God — they come up short.
And that’s exactly why this doctrine is so compelling! Who would ever make up something like this? It makes a mockery of our own wisdom and places God hopelessly beyond our ability to define and control. The doctrine of the Trinity didn’t arise in the minds of theologians or philosophers or it would be more rational, easier somehow to understand.
Dorothy Sayers calls this the exciting, unexpected “drama” of the doctrine: “It’s not beautiful phrases, nor comforting sentiments, nor vague aspirations to loving-kindness and uplift, nor the promise of something nice after death — but the terrifying assertion that the same God who made the world lived in the world and passed through the grave and gate of death. Show that to the heathen, and they may not believe it; but at least they may realize that here is something that a man might be glad to believe.”
The Direction of the doctrine —
C. S. Lewis says the doctrine of the Trinity is like a map — Use it to get your bearings, but don’t confuse it with the reality it describes. Lewis says:
“If a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of colored paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only colored paper, but [remember this:] If you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary.”
We get direction from the doctrine — it does tell us something real about what’s going on inside the life of God. It’s not exhaustive, but it’s true. It gives us direction.
But think it all the way through: If the doctrine is true, then we do have real, direct insight into the reality of God if we come at it the other way ‘round. There is another way to peer into the essence of God without depending completely on our reason. N. T. Wright says “no human argument could ever pin God down,” but in the very next sentence he says: “It is part of the Christian story that there was a moment when God was indeed pinned down, subjected not just to human inspection but to trial, torture, imprisonment, and death.”
The doctrine of the Trinity says Jesus of Nazareth was God himself, and he came into the world not just to be pinned down but to be nailed down, affixed to a cross to atone for human sins. There’s something about God that just is what we see when we look at the rood. God just is self-sacrifice for the beloved. God just is “my life for yours,” not “your life for mine.” God just is faithfulness and forgiveness, he just is justice and mercy, he just is love that will never let us go, love that is nailed down so we can be free.
The Dance of the Doctrine —
To understand more about the essence of God, God’s own life, but not to begin thinking about your life is to miss the whole point of what we do. And this is true about Trinity Sunday. It is not just about God’s inner life; it’s about my life and your life, and our life together.
Catherine LaCugna wrote:
“The life of God is not something that belongs to God alone. Trinitarian life is also our life. [T]here is one life of the triune God, a life in which we graciously have been included as partners. Followers of Christ are made sharers in the very life of God, partakers of divinity as they are transformed an perfected by the Spirit of God . . . . The doctrine of the Trinity is not ultimately a teaching about “God” but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other.”
And the word used to describe this life is perichoresis — it means mutual interdependence… objects that don’t remain static but orbit around and circle each other.
Or to use a more elegant word — it means “to dance.”
So, if God is a Trinity of persons, and “the whole purpose for which we exist is to be “taken into the life of God,” then our lives must be a dance. When the world says freedom is each individual self exerting its independence and autonomy, the church says real life isn’t self-focused, it’s other-focused. Tom Keller says the dance is “when we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we center on the interests and desires of the other” — that’s where true joys are to be found. Trinitarian life just is mutually self-giving love; it just is coffee hour (hard as that is for an introvert to say); trinitarian life just is opening your homes to share your hearths and share your hearts with your neighbors; trinitarian life just is provision for the poor, it’s coloring on the floor with a child, sitting by a hospital bed, honoring the dignity of every human being made in the image of our Triune God.
Welcome to the triune life. It is the life of God, and we’re destined to share that life as well. Come to the dance.
In the Name of the Triune God — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.