Lessons for Trinity Sunday, Year A: Genesis 1.1-2.3; Psalm 150; 2 Corinthians 13:5-14; and, Matthew 28.16-20
In the Name of the Blessed Trinity: Creator and Redeemer and Giver of Life.
Today is the first Sunday after Pentecost. It’s the day when the Church chooses to celebrate one of its most foundational doctrines, its most essential creeds: The Trinity – Holy God, three persons in one unity. As the Church universal, the Trinity is professed each time we recite the daily office and every time we make the Holy Eucharist. It’s a deeply theological profession. Controversies have arisen, arguments fought, and centuries of Church councils have been called to glean an understanding. Countless books have been written and analogies made.
It is a difficult mystery to talk about; but, it is a mystery that can be grasped because it is a mystery that is experienced. It is a mystery that can be understood because it is the mystery at the heart of our creation.
ORDINARY TIME AFTER PENTECOST
I find the placement of the solemnity of the Holy Trinity interesting. For the rest of the liturgical year, from Advent through Pentecost, the Church focuses its attention on Jesus. In Advent, we look to his coming; at Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation; and, after Epiphany, we recall his divine manifestation in and through Jesus. Then, in Lent the Church prepares for Jesus’ final act of self-giving love, culminating in the climax of the cross on Good Friday and the victory of Easter resurrection. From Advent to Easter, we live the liturgical drama of Jesus, the Christ Sunday after Sunday.
Now, after the Ascension and Pentecost, the hard part begins. Now, we are invited to a living faithful discipleship “with the Spirit’s gifts to empower us for the work of ministry” (“Lord you give the great commission,” Hymnal 1982, #528). When I was growing up, this day used to mark the beginning of the long stretch of Ordinary Time that would end on the Feast of Christ the King in November. From a linguistic point of view, the season is called “ordinary,” from the Latin ordinale, meaning “to order” or “to number, because this is when we begin to number the Sundays. Next week, for instance, will be Proper 6 and the week after will be Proper 7, et cetera.
Growing up, though, I used to think it was ordinary because – well – it was ordinary. I still think that there is something to that. Today, in the liturgical calendar of the Church, we enter an ordinary time that is not dedicated to a special event or occasion. Instead, the season is given over to understanding and contemplating the “ordinary” existence of our lives. This season is dedicated to learning who we are and what we are about as followers of Jesus and what it means for us to be a part of the Jesus movement. The Book of Common Prayer doesn’t use the term “Ordinary Time;” but, rather, the season is called “after Pentecost.” Now, there is something in that name as well, something that gets at the same notion as Ordinary Time. “After Pentecost” – the Spirit has come and empowered the Church and us individually to make the journey, to follow after Jesus, and to make our mission. The season we begin today, with Trinity Sunday, is the season of discipleship and mission, a time to reflect on what it means to be the children of God and the body of Christ in the world.
Trinity Sunday is the perfect way to begin the reflection on who we are and what we are to be about because the Trinity is essentially about a way of being and of doing.
THE INNER LIFE OF GOD
So, on the one hand, the doctrine of the Trinity reflects something itself of the inner life of God. When the Church professes and celebrates the doctrine of the Trinity, we are saying that “the one God exists in three Persons.” The Church came to that definition at its earliest councils in the first five centuries of its life. It’s what the Church confesses and believes.
To be sure, the language that is used necessarily comes up short. Bishop NT Wright has noted that when we speak about God, our attempts…
…run the risk of being like pointing a flashlight toward the sky to see if the sun is shining.NT Wright, Simply Christian, 56.
We shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that God is some being that we can actually take hold of with our interested study, like mathematics or climate science. The ineffable mystery of God simply cannot be grasped with finite human reason and language. All attempts to do so, however brilliant and beautiful, come up short. But this doesn’t mean the language we use doesn’t reflect something of reality.
Indeed, the experience of the Church and its members demonstrates the Trinity.
The early faith community that passed on to us their doctrine and understanding of the Trinity knew the story of God in their own lives and from the lives of their ancestors (through the scriptures). They knew God as Creator, in whose image they were created. They God as provider and protector, with whom they had an intimate relationship as a parent, as father and mother. This knowledge and these stories is their story of salvation, and continues to be ours.
The early faith community knew God in Jesus, son of God and son of Mary. They knew the witness of the gospels, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Through the early apostles and disciples, the community heard the Jesus narrative, what Jesus preached and taught, how he cured the sick and drove out demons, and how he cared for the poor and lifted up the lowly. In Jesus, God was with us, living and acting in new and profound ways. Jesus was the incarnate Son, whose life, death, and resurrection redeemed all of creation.
The early faith community knew themselves to be empowered by the Holy Spirit, the promised gift, advocate, and helper. They witnessed the Spirit give life to the new people of God, the body of Christ; and, they felt sanctified for life together and commissioned to bring the good news to others.
The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t constructed as some philosophical masterpiece; but, rather, it arose from the felt experience and self-understanding of the early Christian community.
UNITY & DIVERSITY IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH
If you leave here today with some fuller notion of the Trinity, I am glad. If you leave here today with some fuller notion of the Trinity but you are not at least tempted to think more deeply about your own life in light of that Trinity, I have failed. I am, therefore, going to be quite explicit and plant a matter for your consideration.
First, God is one (cf. Deut. 6:4), the essential unity of being. And that unity is one in which we are invited to participate. In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul describes the unity of the Corinthian Church as the body of Christ, a oneness found in their relationship to the Lord. In any event, we are invited to be taken into the life of God, to participate in the unity of Creator, Redeemer, and Giver of Life as we recognize ourselves created in God’s image, redeemed in Chris’s love, and renewed in the Spirit’s power.
In her book God for Us: The Trinity and Chrisitan Life, Catherine LaCugna wrote,
The life of God is not something that belongs to God alone. Trinitarian life is also our life….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.” ()Catherine LaCugna, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian LIfe, 6.
The word that LaCugna uses to describe this participated life is perichoresis. It’s one of my absolute favorite metaphors for the Trinity. It is a Greek word that literally means “through the dance” and describes a mutual interdependence, a picture of objects that don’t remain static but orbit around and circle each other. Our Trinitarian oneness is expressed in our common creed and our common baptized life and mutual interdependence.
Second, our creed doesn’t just affirm the essential oneness of God, it also affirms an essential diversity. God is three persons which are one nature. This understanding is not accidental; it is essential. There is a diversity in the Godhead – an essential diversity that manifests in an essential relationship one with the other. One without the other is incomplete! My intent here is not to try to fully explain the mystery. Rather, my hope is that we might draw on something to consider: When we say that the Trinitarian life is also our life, we recognize our unity and also celebrate our diversity.
Given the turmoil in our nation and the crisis of racism and its adjacent sins, acknowledging the diversity of the Trinity as essential is vital because it also then acknowledges the diversity of creation as essential.
The diversity of creation is, in other words, not accidental. Black lives matter! Yes, this is a statement of justice for people that have been oppressed. It is also a statement of a sincere belief that all of creation in all of its diversity reflects the very life of the Trinity itself. One without the other is incomplete. Black lives matter! because in our systemic and systematic sin black lives have been taken for granted, forgotten, and disrespected.
Because our lives are taken into the life of God, our lives are a dance, in an orbit with God and with one another. The world might want a self-exerted autonomy, the American myth might tout a rugged individualism, and certain forces might claim American exceptionalism but the gospel says and the Church lays claim, not to a selfish focus but an other-focused ethos. When we delight in service to someone else and as we center on the interests of others, that is where true joys are to be found. Trinitarian life is found in mutually self-giving love; it is a coffee hour and Eucharistic fellowship; it is providing for the poor and sitting by a hospital bed; and, it is honoring the dignity of every human. Trinitarian life is standing in solidarity with the oppressed and proclaiming, “Black lives matter.”
Indeed, as Orthodox bishop, hierarch, and theologian, Kallistos Ware has pointed out:
“A genuine confession of faith in the Triune God can be made only by those who, after the likeness of the Trinity, show love mutually towards each other. There is an integral connection between our love for one another and our faith in the Trinity: the first is a precondition for the second, and in its turn the second gives full strength.”Kallistos Ware
Welcome to the triune life. It is the life of God. It is the life we are destined to share. It is an invitation to see that we have all been created in the image of God, redeemed by Jesus the Christ, and called to take part in the dream of God’s renewal of the world in the power of the GIver of LIfe.
Thanks be to God, blessed and holy Trinity.