The idea of a special Sunday devoted to the Trinity likely arose because once we hear of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost—first Father, then Son, and then Holy Spirit, last Sunday–it must next be time to hear about the Trinity!
The use of John’s Gospel reading for Trinity Sunday also points in this direction, with its statement: “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” Read on Trinity Sunday, this makes it sound like God as Trinity is an idea waiting for formulation in the life of the Church and specifically in the Nicene Creed of the great 4th century council after that name. God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God. The church was led into this Nicene Creed truth, so the use of John here suggests.
This is true so far as it goes, but it could be misleading. God the Holy Trinity is not a theological idea first produced in a church council. Rather, it speaks of something deeply original about God, personal, and forever: the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as he is and always has been is the Trinity. So the preacher who decides it is his job to explain the mathematics of Three in One and one in Three may end up on a path as prone to lost-ness as those I have discovered in the “Forest of the Three Pignons.”
Fortunately we are helped by the choice of passages from Proverbs and Psalm 8 for this Trinity Sunday. They are not obvious choices if one is looking for the mathematics of Three in One and One in Three. And they are not of course New Testament passages, or the minutes from the Council at Nicea, but passages from the scriptures of Israel. This is very important.
It tells us the God of the Old Testament is not the Father only, God #1 of 3, or an ancient Jehovah deity, but God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit all three. The God of Israel’s Scriptures Jesus refers to as himself. “Before Abraham was I am.” The “I am who I am” who spoke to Moses is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our artists are often better at the Trinity than theologians.
In the Cathedral of St Saveur in Aix there is a marvelous altar painting of God as Trinity, and it comes from the pages of the OT. Moses stands with his eyes shaded and downcast and his shoes off. Arising above him is the burning bush. Beside the bush is an Angel. One can see sheep grazing in the near and far distance. The shepherds of Luke watching their flocks by night and the shepherd Moses occupy, in the artist’s mind, the same horizon. For inside of the bush, at the heart of its flames, is the infant Jesus, often held by his mother Mary in Western tradition.
Moses, Exodus tells us, sees a great sight, and he is warned by a voice not to try to see too much but to turn aside. An angel appears to him, but the angel is not the great sight and the angel is not God himself. The voice of God; the Holy Spirit burning but not burning up; and the incarnate Jesus are all there, but Moses cannot see the details of this except as a sign: like bread and the body of Christ. The artist shows us what is happening, and it is really happening, and we share his vantage point because we know the whole Trinity story of the Bible. The artist realizes that if he is going to depict the voice of God in the medium of sight—how do you do that?–he must paint Jesus. No one has ever seen God. The only begotten of the Father has made him known.
Believe it or not, the biblical passage most frequently cited in defense of the Trinity in the early church, seeking a way in their “Forest of the 3 Pignons,” is the one we hear this morning from Proverbs of Solomon. Mr Wisdom. Wiser than he even knew.
It is a remarkable passage. It speaks of an agent alongside God, in his intimate company. He delights in God and takes pleasure in doing as God does. Before anything was formed: mountains, seas, worms, exotic trees and animals, creatures fathoms below on the sea bottom, the forests of millions of pigeons, and skies and stars and galaxies, and you and me, he was there with God. He was not made, but is the maker at God’s command. He is begotten of God. Coming forth from his own deepest self.
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
Delighting in the human race. Not envious as were some of the angels who worried to lose their special fellowship with God. No. God, Father and Son both, delighted in us. And that very special delight uniting them must have a name as well, and must be an agent as divine as them both. The Holy Spirit. Mysterious, blowing where it wills, whose job is to point not to himself but to the love, the constant affirmation, the cheerful obedience of Son and Father, Father and Son. The Holy Ghost is that God.
And his other job is to enliven us to see the love of God as that which makes the fire burn and not consume, reaching out constantly to remake us. And giving us speech of acknowledgement. So our Psalm specially chosen for today:
1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet
10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
God has put into our hands those things which he can perfectly control, and which the Son fashioned and made. He did this knowing we would make a mess of it and we did. But this is what love is about. And this is the real heart of the Trinity.
There was once a father whose son fought often with him. One day the son stole his credit card, and left in the family car. As these things go, many months later, he came to the end of himself and wanted to return. He drove up and down his street at night and saw the lights on in the house, and in his empty bedroom, his parents and brothers going about their evening rounds. He had earned enough money to attempt a small repayment and decided to put it in an envelope and leave it in the mailbox, with a letter asking for forgiveness. When he opened the box to leave his offering there was a note inside: “Welcome home son, your bed is made and we have a hot meal for you. We’ve missed you. Love, Dad.”
When a puppy spills the milk we forgive the puppy. But the milk must be cleaned up. When we do those things that ought not to be done, there is a mess to be cleaned up. And so inside the fellowship that the Father and Son share from all eternity there was a decision this will be the job of the Son. To bear the human condition, to let it do its worse, to restore the milk to the bowl, and the ought-not-to-be-done to a place pleasing in God’s holy sight. “Welcome home, sons and daughters.” Love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
So this holy fellowship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is not a fellowship of mathematics and abstraction, but a heart of majesty in creation, a heart of love, of fire, of forgiveness, of new life promised every day. In an effort to speak of this as the eternal purpose of God, 1 Peter 1:19 calls Christ “chosen before the creation of the world, a lamb without spot or blemish.” And Revelation: “a lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”
The love and the power that set the stars in the skies made you and me and knew from all eternity our weakness and our willfulness and our ought-not-to-be-done self. He made us all the same and declared the matter very good. For burning in the heart of the Trinity is the fire of forgiveness to the point of sending the one who shared all majesty with God, but thought equality with God not a matter to be studied in a mirror, but to be displayed on a cross of love.
And here is the kicker: this was so not just in the sending of Jesus during the sous-prefecture of Pontius Pilate, but was so from the very beginning, in the very council of the Son and the Father in choosing to make us and give everything into our hands. Seeing afar off on a hill at Calvary, and at close range, the price that would be paid, and deciding it was all worth it. Part and parcel of the same love and holiness that set the stars in the sky and put all things into our hands.
On Trinity Sunday, then, “by a confession of a true faith we acknowledge the glory of the Eternal Trinity” – so our collect reads. A day of acknowledgment. Our note slipped into a mailbox, to receive his back as a personal, eternal, threefold forgiveness and promise every day of new life. The Holy Trinity tells us who God is in himself, a fellowship of love and forgiveness before ever we were made. A decision to make us, redeem us, and remake us all coming from the same eternal fellowship. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Holy Trinity One God.
I got very lost the other day on a long walk in the Forest of the Three Pignons. Sometimes getting lost can sharpen one’s eye and help one know how glorious it is to be on a steady path and to know one’s way. What if this is what God knew about us from the very beginning when out of love, God Father, Son and Spirit, made us, you and me, and gave into our hands the Forest of his Very Good. That we might find him searching for us and delight in being found. And that out of joy, we might point others to His safe keeping as well and show the path’s steady way for them as well.
This would be my prayer for St Luke’s parish, this Holy Trinity Sunday 2016.