Rev'd Daniel Irvine
Most priests throw their hands up in despair when it comes time to preach on Trinity Sunday.
Even I was not displeased when last year my two weeks’ holidays at the end of my study semester happened to mean I got to watch someone else preach on the Trinity instead of having to come up with my own sermon.
Alas, no such luck this year…Easter must have been a week early because I start my two week holiday tomorrow!
But I hope I am not going to disappoint you when I say that I have no nifty analogy to give you to make sense of this great mystery.
I have no nice image for you to keep in mind or help explain it.
Only some words about why the doctrine of the Trinity developed in the first place, and what it reveals to us about God.
You see over the years the doctrine of the Trinity has often been caricatured as an irrelevant theory. An exercise in learned people using human philosophy to make simple things overly complex.
But the beginnings of trinitarian thinking in the New Testament are powerful and relevant statements, designed to help us in time of need, to bind us together in love, and to send us out on our mission.
One of the clearest examples of such a passage comes not from the Gospel set in our current lectionary for today but from the conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus himself offers the first ever “trinitarian” formula as a baptismal symbol.
It also often leaves people puzzled.
Well to put it into a little context Matthew was most likely written around 85 C.E. so about 55 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and well after most of the letters of the pauline corpus were written.
But as Tom Wright (a world renowned scholar and former Anglican Bishop of Durham) points out in his book Twelve Months of Sundays: Biblical Meditations on the Christian Year, that whole passage in the conclusion of Matthew is implicitly trinitarian; if the writer hadn’t supplied the trinitarian formula by putting it on the lips of Christ then we would have had to put it in ourselves just to make sense of it all.
After all what could it possibly mean when it says that Jesus is truly the Emmanuel, the God-with-Us, will be with us until the end of the age?
You see the Trinity is in reality, a doctrine about JESUS:
It safeguards the reality of his humanness while he walked and taught in Galilee, and keeps him firmly in place now as the true and final revelation of the one true God.
But it also simultaneously unites him with, and distinguishes him from, the unseen source of all, on the one hand, and the breath of life that sustains us right now, on the other; the Father and the Spirit.
And the point of it all, then and now, is mission: the God revealed in Jesus is the missionary God, sending his healing love into the world in Jesus, and now, under Jesus’ authority, sending out Jesus’ followers (us) with the same healing love, of which baptism is a sign and seal, and which Jesus was trying to explain to Nicodemus in today’s Gospel.
The development of thinking around the Trinity can also be seen in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, written in the 50s most likely, and it shows that the trinitarian blessing contained in our second reading was not something bolted on to the text as an afterthought.
Rather, it arises from the inner logic of the whole letter, as Paul wrestles with the grace of Jesus as the motive for his work, how he learns to live by the love of God in good times and bad, and how he celebrates the Spirit through whom he and his diverse, and often difficult congregations, learn to see Christ in one another.
For Paul it ultimately all comes down to some very practical and basic matters, which 13.11 makes clear: sort things out, pay attention to what you are told, agree together, live in peace. And “The God of love and peace will be with you.”
It is the Emmanuel promise…again, guaranteed by the God-with-Us person, Jesus, and renewed in daily reality by the God-with-Us Spirit.
And behind it all stands the God of creation and covenant, the God revealed to Moses, Isaiah and all the prophets.
Since the very heart of the incomparable greatness of God is God’s self-giving love, then the more that one contemplates God’s power and glory, the more one discovers that it is strangely available to us, shared not least with those who are weary and exhausted.
One good place to start to try understand the Trinity is to read Isaiah 40-55, written to give hope to a people in exile and despair. It was work addressed to a people in dire need by a God of love and compassion. And as we read we should ask ourselves, what might this God be like if it were to become truly human?
Hopefully the answer is that God would be like Jesus.
What would this revelation mean in and for each of our lives?
How might we then share that meaning with others who do not yet know?
This connection between God and Jesus, when we dig down into it, is why theologians and scholars reflect and ponder the scriptures. It is why should read them and be constant in prayer. So that we can try and get a better understanding of who Jesus was, because as it was put by Niels Gregersen concerning Jesus, “if this is God, then thus is God!”
The more we know about Jesus, the more we can learn about God.
So let us pray that as we reflect on the Trinity we may be filled with the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that our lives might overflow with the Love of God and that we might truly be joined to each other through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and that these qualities are reflected in us everywhere we are and flow through us to everyone we meet.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.