TRINITY SUNDAY, C
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-25
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Trinity. One of the most iconic phrases of Christianity. The trinity is present in our actions, our art, our liturgy. “Holy Trinity” along with “Christ the King” is one of the most popular names for an Episcopal church. We share it with over 500 Episcopal churches.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. We transition from the relatively rapid progression of seasons Advent through Eastertide recalling Jesus’s birth, death, resurrection and ascension – the real biggies – into the vast expanse of ordinary time celebrating the life that happens in between. This Sunday we pause to celebrate the Triune God. The Holy Trinity. The words are found nowhere in the bible, yet it is one of the most fundamental, sacred precepts of the Christian church. Fundamental, and utterly incomprehensible. There are more heresies arising around this topic than any other in Christendom. In fact, I’ve been told that there are really only two ways to avoid preaching heresy on Trinity Sunday. One is to stand up front, say nothing, and show photos of cute kittens. The other is to quote the Creed of St. Athanasius. We’ll get to that in a minute.
All this Trinitarian heresy bubbled up around the time of Constantine. You remember Constantine – the Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity, and therefore converted the Empire to Christianity. Constantine wasn’t necessarily incredibly worried about the concept itself, but he was very concerned about maintaining order. Maintaining order meant having an orthodoxy on which to fall back. To that end, in 325 he called the council of Nicea, which dealt with a number of issues, most prominent among them – what is the trinity? From that committee meeting of bishops came the compromise document that we know today as the Nicene Creed, and orthodoxy was born. Apparently with orthodoxy comes heresy – there are heresies I don’t even know how to pronounce. Along comes the creed of St. Athanasius to clear up the clarification:
(read rather quickly)…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
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.
(pause, big breath)
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….
Mmmm….looking around I recall that, while simply reading the Athanasian creed was supposed to protect one from uttering heresy, it was also guaranteed to give the congregation a good nap – so perhaps this will help those visually minded folks among you…
(Draw celtic knot Triquetra)
For Christians, the celtic knot Triquetra represents the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–three persons as one God. Its three equal arcs represent equality, its continuous line expresses eternity, and the interweaving represents indivisibility and unity. Sounds perfect. Except that it also happens to be a pagan symbol as well. And…we’re back to heresy.
(Diagram/explain the Shield of the Trinity)
“Wait. I hear a noise. I hear a sound. Do you hear it?
It is Wisdom calling.
Where is she? Where can I find her?
She calls from the heights of the heavens and speaks with truth on her lips.” (excerpted from Ministrymatters.com)
We tie ourselves up in knots, celtic and otherwise, trying to find The Answer with a capital A. No matter how many diagrams we draw or marginally heretical metaphors we make, we cannot find a logical way to make 1+1+1 = 1. So we either ignore the whole thing, or put it down to an article of faith and either way pray to God nobody asks us to explain it. As one author said, “we want to be able to explain the Trinity in logical, rational terms. But the Trinity is a mystery, and like any mystery, we go down rabbit trails, there are sleights of hand, there are diversions and distractions (these are all known as “theology”!).” This author sees the doctrine of the trinity as “attempting to draw us closer to the truth that God is Love. Not an hypothesis, not a research project, not a theological conundrum, but Love.” (Thom Shuman, Midrash discussion)
We are accustomed to thinking of mystery and wisdom as opposites. Wisdom is what comes at the end of the mystery, when the secrets are revealed, the answer known, and everybody knows whodunnit. Even at their roots the words are opposite. The root of “mystery” comes from Greek “to close the eyes” and “wisdom” from the Old English – “to see”. The dancing, joyful Wisdom makes her appearance here today to remind us that the mystery which is the God of Love delights in Wisdom, and Wisdom in the mystery.
Dame Julien of Norwich said “And the deep wisdom of the Trinity is our Mother, in whom we are enclosed. And the high goodness of the Trinity is our Lord, and in him we are enclosed and he in us. We are enclosed in the Father, and we are enclosed in the Son, and we are enclosed in the Holy Spirit. And the Father is enclosed in us, the Son is enclosed in us, and the Holy Spirit is enclosed in us, almighty, all wisdom and all goodness, one God, one Lord.”
John confirms that we cannot understand God in God’s fullness, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Paul reassures us that, though the way be difficult, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. I do not expect to understand the trinity, but I know God, the father and creator in the majesty of mountains and waves and stars. I know God, the Son, in the ones who struggle and suffer for justice and peace, in the ones who protect the vulnerable, in the ones who feed the hungry. I know God, the Holy Spirit, in the smiles of children, in the wisdom of elders, in the light that shines in the dark times, in the communion and fellowship we share. May we always live and move and have our being in the love that is the triune God…. Amen