Trinity Sunday 2019
It is widely thought that it is impossible to preach about the Trinity without falling into Heresy. For anyone who is interested there’s a list of the most common ones on the noticeboard at the back. It appears to me that Christians have debated the Trinity for almost 2000 years and no-one has yet got it quite right. Some Christian groups don’t believe in the Trinity at all, as the world ‘Trinity’ isn’t mentioned in the Bible, although there are Gospel accounts where God appears as Father, Son and Holy Spirit all at the same time, so Trinity is definitely implied.
The thing is we can spend whole lifetimes trying to nail God, to understand God fully and rationally. If anyone were to succeed ( and some believe they have) then God no longer BE God, but just a human invention – an idol. If Trinity Sunday teaches us anything it is that God is a mystery, beyond our deepest knowing, way beyond any of our thinking.
Trinitarian fashions come and go. When I was a child it was all rather mathematical. I can remember singing endless dull and unmemorable hymns about 3 in one and 3 in unity – it all seemed rather mathematical and utterly irrelevant to anything real. Fortunately, these days, new ideas about the Trinity have emerged which make it all much more interesting and relevant.
I mentioned last week about something called the Great Schism which rent apart the Easter and Western Churches. This was all to do with one phrase in the Creed – the one where we say ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son’ – a very familiar phrase. In the Orthodox churches this phrased ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father’ – no mention of ‘and the Son’. This might seem rather petty and uninteresting, but it is actually very important. You see, if the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son what you get is a hierarchy. But if the Spirit proceeds from the Father, as Jesus also does, then what you get is a community or communion – three persons, one God, in a perpetual flow of love, meaning, conversation, balance. These days most western churches have come to see that the Orthodix churches were right all along, although we keep on saying that single phrase ‘and the son’ which makes such a difference.
And community is what the Church is all about. We know how good it is when everyone works together well, when ideas are shared and gifts offered and shared, where conversation is easy, where all are included and welcomed into the circle of friendship and love. This God of community is what we uniquely offer to the world – a model of community where all are equal, where there is no outsider, and where everything is held in perfect but lively balance. In God’s community, the creation is held as the outpouring of the creativity of the Trinity. Salvation is held there too – God’s love poured out for our sake. Human inspiration, giftedness, fruitfulness is there too – the work of the Holy Spirit. It is like a beautiful dance which surrounds us and holds us within – and its name is Love.
So you can begin to see how the Trinity suddenly becomes relevant. It gives us a model of how to live both as church and as humans in the world. The Trinity is inclusive – no-one is sidelined or alienated. The Trinity is full of hope – there is no end to its love, dynamism, liveliness. The Trinity holds the Creation, humankind, animals, plants, oceans and mountains within its embrace – an expression of the creativity which happens when there is harmony, and where destruction is banished. The Trinity is our life and it’s our vision for how the world should be.
I hope you’ve all got a little picture. I don’t think this was necessarily created as an image of the Trinity, but I chose it because it reflects something of how many of us experience the mystery of God the Holy Trinity in our lives. It’s by a Scottish artist called Craigie Aitchison who died in 2009. There in the centre is Jesus, our Saviour, hanging between earth and sky on the cross, bearing our sins. He is both our Saviour and our teacher – the particular reason that we gather as Christians, as Jesus’s disciples and followers. In this picture you can see how even pain and isolation are held within the mystery of the Holy Trinity.
Then there’s that tree – a tree of life standing opposite the tree of death. It’s greenness reminds me of the glory of creation, and so of the God who created the world, and continues creating it today, even as we sit here – this glorious world which we inhabit in all its power and fragility. Maybe this tree represents God the Father, although I’m pretty sure its a heresy to suggest that only God the Father was the Creator.
And then there’s the little dog. Many of Craigie Aitchison’s pictures have a little bedlington terrier – these were the loyal little dogs he loved, who brought him companionship and joy. Not everyone is a dog lover, but I hope we all have that same experience in our lives of that faithful, trusting love that comes our way one way or another. This is like the Spirit, ever present, ever loving, waiting faithfully by our side in joy (the green tree) and in sorrow (the cross).
I was talking to Hilary last week as we both thought she was preaching today. We were talking about the difficulties of preaching about the Holy Trinity. She said something very profound – which isn’t surprising really – she said something like ‘The Trinity is just about how God is , about how God is God.’ And that’s all we need to grasp really. This lovely picture shows us three different ways in which we experience God being God – in creation and recreation, in the suffering of Jesus which echoes our own, and in the faithful love which never leaves us if only we take time to notice.
God the Trinity. God with us, GOd between us. God within us. Us with God, held in the eternal dance of love. Amen