I wonder how many of you knew it was Trinity Sunday today, before I told you at the beginning of the Service. I have to say that I find that mere mention of the Doctrine of the Trinity makes people’s eyes start to glaze over. We don’t find Trinity Sunday riveting and exciting like Christmas or Easter. Most Christians have a sort of hazy understanding of the Trinity, but can’t really explain it, and certainly aren’t excited by it. Well, I think we should be! Early Christians agonised over Trinitarian belief. Schisms have been caused by it and martyrs have died for it. You see, the Jews believed strongly in One God, one nation! Jewish children were taught that the Lord our God is but One: ‘Him only shalt thou serve.’ The first Christians were, of course, Jewish, brought up to believe in that one, true God, and they feared the blasphemy of believing in anything other than the oneness of God.
So, how did belief in the Divine Trinity come about amongst those first Jewish Christians? As we read the Gospels we can detect in those closest to Jesus a growing belief that He was more than just a man. ‘We beheld his glory, full of grace and truth’, says John. ‘You have the words of eternal life’, says Peter. ‘My Lord and my God’, says Thomas, as he kneels and worships the risen Christ. The resurrection appearances prove Christ’s Divinity beyond doubt, and at Pentecost, the disciples experience in their lives the promised unseen Companion, Advocate, Teacher and Guide, the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. This is a close up and involved God, a God who became human in order identify with human suffering. God actually experienced death Himself through His Son in order to overcome it, and then gave human beings His Holy Spirit as a permanent help and inspiration.
The Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is about relationship, and it’s about wholeness and that’s why we should be excited by it. In our OT reading this morning, the Lord speaks to Isaiah in the first person plural, ‘Who will go for us’ He says, and He is described as thrice holy. When Isaiah ‘sees the Lord’ it’s as if he’s looked through a window at how life should be lived – so much so that he must hold his head in shame. There is a dynamic to the Divine life, and Christians speak of this dynamic as the relationship of love. Not words, but actions, relationship. So, if what we see in the Trinity is a model of how we should live and relate to one another, let’s look a bit closer.
The relationship between God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is united and harmonious rather than an excessively centralized authority. In other words, they get on well together and no one person dominates. Whilst Jesus, during His life on earth, always sought to do the will of His Father, there is no evidence of it being imposed on Him, rather He continually seeks out, discerns His Father’s will and He does it out of love. Whenever God the Father is heard in relation to Jesus the Son, then the words are always of love, support, commendation and encouragement. ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’ says God at Christ’s baptism. ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ God says at Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain.
God is not egocentric or solitary or coercive, but creative, loving and self-sacrificing. We see in the relationship between the persons of the Trinity, that we are part of a community of faith that is more than our individual, autonomous selves. The love of each member of the Trinity for the others teaches us that we must always consider and have respect for other people and for God. Nothing should be too much trouble for other people or for God.
This also has implications in terms of a more equal sharing of the earth’s resources. We live in a world where a large proportion of the wealth is controlled by a relatively small group of people and organisations, and the poor increasingly pay the price of globalisation, which exploits them but doesn’t enable them. Going back to our Trinitarian model of living, this becomes an issue for us as Christians.
Rublev’s famous icon of the Trinity which you may have seen before (see above), gives many profound insights into Trinitarian relationships, but perhaps one of the most striking is that there is a space at the centre front of the picture so that we are invited into this relationship of shared hospitality. There is no compulsion here, but a luring, attractive invitation. The power of the Holy Spirit opens the circle of the Trinity to the world. How exciting is that!
We may also conclude from the relationship between God the Father and God the Son, enabled by the Holy Spirit, that there is communication, understanding and consensus, with each person being completely known and understood by the others. One of the problems for today’s Church, for us, is that many people no longer understand Christian language. Outside of formal Church Services, I continually find myself trying to interpret faith and the sacraments of the Church to people who don’t share a common religious language, and to do it without losing their very potent significance. Symbols are often helpful, as at baptism, but there is also a need for us all to present the Good News in a meaningful and relevant way in a society where Church has to compete with a range of leisure pursuits, as well as a 7 day working week. However, there is an increasing interest in spirituality, because the need for God exists in all of us and He seeks us out. If this spiritual quest can be pointed in the direction of the Trinity, then not only will the contemporary need for relationship and roots be met, but the spiritual quest will be transformed into a journey of faith.
The role of the Holy Spirit in relating and reinterpreting the Christian message to our particular time and culture is of prime importance. As we look to the model of the Trinity as our guide, we need our church to be an inclusive, co-operative and generous community, perhaps nearer to its Early Church roots, and there is a real challenge to live the Gospel rather than just to preach it. St. Paul reminds us, in the Epistle reading this morning, that we are all children of God, to which the Spirit bears witness with our spirit, so that when we cry ‘Abba! Father’, we are joint heirs with Christ, joint inheritors of God’s Kingdom. How good is that! Paul goes on to remind us that this lifestyle of love and service, rather than coercion and control, is costly. It takes time and effort, and often receives no thanks. But we are promised that, although we may suffer as Christ did, in this life, we will also be glorified with Him in the next -
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
May we know that loving presence and relationship of the Trinity as a reality for ourselves and in our church, and be willing to live it out in lives of love and service.