Today is Trinity Sunday and our last week on this topic. I hope it’s been interesting if not always edifying. The liturgical color for the day is white, because it’s a Holy day. The altar piece of embroidered flowers is appropriate because with the Trinity we now enter the season called Ordinary Time – 27 weeks this year between Pentecost and Advent – the season of growth and grace and greening. In spite of the very cool Celtic symbols they could employ, Hallmark hasn’t picked Trinity Sunday up and promoted it as a holiday, so no one knows what to make of this Holy day.
The Trinity is the doctrine around which the creeds were designed: the Three-in-One Godhead of God the Father-Creator-Lover, God the Son-Savior-Teacher, and God the Holy Spirit-Sanctifier-Comforter-Inspire-er. Many more descriptors could be added.
It wasn’t until this time around that I realized the Son is only specifically, knowningly Jesus after the incarnation and during his lifetime. Before that, the Son of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is pre-existent and non-specific as in the prologue to the gospel of John where he is called the Word. After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, the Son is Jesus the Christ, or Christ Jesus. Of course, the formula was devised, revealed, centuries after Jesus’ life and death so they had the advantage of seeing it that way.
What we have learned in this series of sermons is that the Trinity is not biblical – meaning that it is not found or formulated in the Bible. The concept grew out of the influence of Greek philosophy – Platonic, Stoic, and Aristotelian thought. The apostle Paul used this philosophy as a way of evangelizing the Greeks in his various letters. The Trinity was formed in the mathematical and logical necessities of the age – as I talked about a couple weeks ago – so it’s very man-made in that regard. But the Trinity is rooted in scripture. The church fathers deliberated with scripture in one hand and philosophy in the other. They spent their careers working out the contingencies and heresies (those theological mis-steps) if certain understandings of Jesus or the Holy Spirit were taken to their unreasonable, but logical extreme. They were serious about this business. They wanted to get it right. Theirs was the age – the fullness of time – for codifying belief in the body and substance of God.
The church today is the inheritor of those struggles, their moments of inspired brilliance, the heated controversies, but most of all – of their incredible intellectual curiosity about God. That was the gift. What remains of that time are volumes and volumes of systematic theology – the scientific branch of the study of God – (yes, there is a scientific branch of the study of God) which no one outside of seminary and a handful of us church nerds actually reads; and we have the creeds.
On Trinity Sunday we celebrate not an event like Christmas or Easter or Pentecost, but a reality: God comes into human experience in a diversity and a unity. During this long Ordinary season, the meaning of those church events takes root and growth tendrils out into our lives. Worship themes focus on fundamental human conditions – sickness and healing, loving your enemy as well as your neighbor, guilt and forgiveness, the individual and society. Sermons might focus on the parables Jesus taught, or the psalms, or a book like Esther or Ruth. The image of God shifts in these. The persons of God shift in our lives, too. We might identify with one essence of God more than another. Jesus might be a teacher in your life, or a brother; or you might hear the judgement – especially in the gospel of Matthew where Jesus keeps saying the wicked will be thrown out into the utter darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth – and might adopt an image of an angry God and a narrow way. You might identify with the God of creation in these gorgeous summer days of growth and power, or the Spirit of Peace in an evening of birdsong and fireflies. I still believe that Woman Wisdom is part of the Trinity, ignored by the Church Fathers, but present in the experience of God in our lives.
I was looking for a Hans Christian Andersen story to connect with his week – which I didn’t find, by the way, so don’t look forward to it – but I read that he didn’t believe in the dogma of the church. Hans Christian didn’t believe in Trinity, but in one God and believed Jesus to be a specially chosen man – like a super prophet, the summa prophet of God’s word, but not divine. Interesting.
My point is that even if we each believed in Trinity in good and proper form, God would still be a mystery – a unity of diversity. God necessarily becomes One made of countless persons (not simply three), because we know and trust and turn to and believe in God in a hundred thousand unique images, no matter what the formula says. We each imagine a different thing at the name of Jesus. We each believe in a different set of qualities in the nature of God. Not because we are heretics, but because that’s the way God has self-revealed the divine nature of love to us.
So, while there is the need for a formula, a doctrine, a creedal statement of belief, it is for the sake of the church universal. It is for teaching. In the midst of worship, it is a logos reminder of the skeleton of God’s being. It is the God we worship in name, but not the God into whose arms we fall when we’re crying. Not the God who meets us at dawn on a misty morning lake. Not the God I love and almost hold, feeling the weight of the newborn Christ child against my chest as the last chord of Silent Night fades at the late Christmas Eve service and the candles go out and we go out into the snowy path home. You could add your own, “This is the God I believe in” images. We don’t need to parse the persons, we know it is all One. The divine Being is purely mythos, beauty, a sounding at the depths of our DNA, some connection to the image into which we are made.
For us, today, Trinity Sunday is not much of anything, it is the Sunday that gets swallowed up by Memorial Day and the start of summer. And that’s okay, because it isn’t anything in itself. Trinity is God coming to us in three persons so that we have God with us wherever we go, whatever we manage to do with our lives, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. God has promised to be with us – revealed and hidden – in nature, in each other, in biblical teachings, in God’s Spirit of love, in creative inspiration, in the comfort of the saints around us and those gone before, in peace.
May that peace, and that Three-in-One God, be yours this day.