Isaiah 40: 12-17, 27-end, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-end, Matthew 28: 16-20
Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the year which focuses on a doctrine rather than an event, when we’re encouraged to think a bit about the Christian understanding of God.
You might think that holding to a view of God as Trinity as complicating things unnecessarily or posing the main obstacle to shared understanding with Muslims and Jews. We may have some sympathy with the lady in Stevie Smith’s poem who dismissed God-talk as idle speculation. ‘Mrs Simpkins, having nothing else to do, Decided that the Trinity wasn’t true, Or at least but a garbled version of the truth And that things had moved on since the days of her youth’.
Well, it is important, and today, Trinity Sunday, we try to summarise what we can say about God, the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. It’s an impossible yet necessary task. It is necessary for at least 3 reasons. First, our belief about God is not simply a matter of opinion, it is about truth. It seems to me that the best and ultimately the only reason for being a Christian is because we believe it to be true. Our faith may make us better people; it may bring comfort, it may be enjoyable, but the only satisfying reason is because it is true. Otherwise religion becomes privatised, as we say today, no more than of personal opinion - I can follow my God, while you follow yours - and we know what disasters, distortions and terrors that can lead to. The Christian faith has a particular understanding of God – Trintarian which distinguishes us from the other great Abrahamic faiths - Judaism and Islam. We do people of other faiths a disservice- and indeed ourselves if we say that all religions are the same, and ignore our differences.
Second, our understanding of God must have some continuity with the God of the Bible and the first Christians - their God and our God is essentially the same (which is why the say the creed week by week. ‘We believe in one God’ ‘We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ’. ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit’. Together as part of the church, we embrace for ourselves a list of beliefs that point to truths which no words may encompass. We read the signposts pointing us in the right direction towards God, and away from concepts that might lead us astray or leave us with a distorted idea of who he is.
Belief about the Trinity didn’t fall as some fully formed philosophical concept from the deliberations of a working party of theologians. It came out of the prayers and reflections of a community of faith over several centuries - ordinary people who encountered God in their lives - an experience which at times was deeply held and sometimes fiercely defended.
The early Christians came to understand that with Jesus- and his risen life, that had experienced a little of the Kingdom of God. Jesus showed the human face of God himself, but it didn’t stop there. The New Testament, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, tell us that even after Jesus’ acension they still knew the presence of God with them, guiding their life and work together, enabling, empowering and enlivening them - as the spirit of God in their midst. Their God is our God!
Today’s scripture readings hint at how the idea of the Trinity is beginning to emerge - it’s there implicitly in both the epistle and the gospel. ‘Jesus takes his leave of the disciples at the Ascension with these words;” Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the holy Spirit’. And in the epistle, Paul signs of his letter to the Corinthians with that formula which the church has used ever since.: ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you’.
And thirdly, the Trinity is important because it gives us a precious insight into God’s nature. God is love and so at the heart of God himself is relationship - mutuality, community, a giving and receiving. Unity, yes, but not static, its dynamic - the Father (giving love), Jesus (receiving love) and the spirit (communicating love). Thinking of God in this way enriches our understanding of his nature. God isn’t an object - he is love, which implies movement, community, relationship.
But all this remains rather abstract unless it connects with us. And the connection is this - Jesus relationship with God is opened up to us too. We are invited to join in the relationship of love that flows within the life of god himself. These things are more effectively conveyed by metaphor, analogy, or visually rather than words alone, and here is one well-known example: Rublev’s icon of the Trinity. (clear relationship between the three persons, open at the front drawing the viewer, you and me to participate in the life of the Trinity)
I have suggested why the idea of the Trinity is important for us. I haven’t explained the Trinity - but I don’t think it isn’t a matter for explaining. It is a mystery - a truth which in the end we can only contemplate and worship.
Amen Rev Canon Nick Darby