Archives for May 2002

Trinity Sunday (A) – 2002

May 26, 2002

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday – what an amazing thing it is to celebrate a doctrine of the church with its own Sunday in the church year! There are designated Sundays for a couple of Christianity’s central doctrines – the Incarnation and the Resurrection – but these are directly related to the life of Jesus. The doctrine of the Trinity wasn’t articulated as such until Tertullian coined the word in the early third century. Certainly there were hints before: The fact that God refers to God’s self in our Genesis reading as “we,” not I. Paul’s wonderful closing benediction in his second letter to the Christians in Corinth: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all evermore.” And, of course, Jesus’ Great Commission in the final ending of Matthew’s Gospel: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” These are the building blocks from which the historic doctrine of the Trinity was carefully crafted in the fourth and fifth centuries. We assert that there is one God – not three Gods, but one – in three Persons – not two, not four, but three persons, all of the same substance, the God-substance, the God-essence of the Eternal. These persons are called “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

Father Grant Gallup, a priest in Managua, Nicaragua, and one of the most creative and courageous preachers in the Episcopal Church, writes in his “Homily Grits” of the Holy Trinity as a hierarchical image within the context of a hierarchical church. Using the classical symbol of the equilateral triangle, he notes that the very geometry of the symbol places one point of the triangle at the uppermost part of the structure – God the Father at the pinnacle, in other words. He uses the old spiritual, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,” to illustrate the “upward” journey from the merely human to the Supreme Divinity, the First Person of the Trinity, the Father. However, the Creed of St. Athanasius, which you can find on page 864 of The Book of Common Prayer, says of the three persons of the Trinity, that, “none is greater, or less than another.”

Gallup suggests that an image more faithful to the historical formulation might be the circle, and a better “theme song” for the Trinity might be sung to the melody of “Jacob’s ladder,” but like this:

We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
We are dancing Sarah’s circle,
Sisters, brothers, all!

Every ring gets fuller, fuller,
Every ring gets fuller, fuller,
Every ring gets fuller, fuller,
Sisters, brothers, all!

Think of it: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in community with one another, dancing forever in a circle dance of Love, love that flows out from that Circle into the hearts of all the beloved children who are invited into the dance, created male and female in the image of God. “In our image,” as today’s lesson from Hebrew Scriptures reminds us.

There have been many attempts in recent years to expand the traditional language of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to words which reflect a broader understanding of the Trinity, such as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” Although this is an official option for several mainline Protestant churches, it describes different functions of God, rather than naming the persons of God. The personal nature of the Trinity is too central to our understanding to limit our prayerful references to a functional description. New Zealand’s Prayer Book does better at this task, suggesting, as one option, “Divine Parent, Only Begotten, and Holy Spirit.”

No matter how traditional, inclusive, or expansive our language is for God, it’s still no more than our best attempt to name what we have experienced of the Divine.

God the Father – Creator of the Universe, Lover and Pursuer of the Beloved, source of all life eternal and goodness universal, the Supreme Parent who never lets the family down.

Jesus, God the Son – the Eternal become Us, the Forever Word spoken into the Finite World, Immanuel, God-with-us, risen and alive. Fr. Gallup, as he repeats the beginning of Paul’s final blessing to the Corinthians, says, “The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ – Paul starts at the place in the Circle of God where it was broken, so we could join!”

God the Holy Spirit – God with us today, illuminating the Scriptures, animating our faith and worship, interceding for us in our weakness “with sighs too deep for words,” leading us, strengthening us, turning on the lights for us when our paths become indistinct, blowing as powerfully and unpredictably as the wind. As Jesus reminded us, we can’t see the wind, but we can-especially in its aftermath-witness its power!

Augustus William Hare, a 19th-century divine – with all the masculine language of the 1800s, of course –  wrote in “The Alton Sermons” (Isbister, 1874) the familiar, classic and still useful reflection on the Trinity, “The Holy Branches: Or Why Was the Trinity Revealed?”:

“One of the comparisons or likenesses I am speaking of is taken from the most glorious object which our eyes see, the sun. That ball of light and heat, which we call most properly the sun, may be compared to the Father, from whom both the Word and the Spirit come. From this sun the light issues, and is as it were a part of it, and yet comes down to our earth and gives light to us. This we may compare to the Word, who came forth from the Father, and came down on earth, and was made man, and who, as St. John tells us, is ‘the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.’

“But beside this there is the heat, which is a different thing from the light: for all we know, there may be heat without light; and so may there be light – moonlight, for example, and starlight – without any perceivable heat. Yet the two are blended and united in the sun; so that the same rays, which bring us light to enlighten us, bring us heat also to warm us, and to ripen the fruits and herbs of all kinds which the earth bears. This heat of the sun may not unfitly be compared to the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, as the creed calls him, for heat is the great fosterer of life: as we see, for example, in an egg. As that is hatched by the warmth of the parent bird, sitting on it lovingly, and brooding over it, until it is quickened into life; just so does the Holy Spirit of God brood with more than dovelike patience over the heart of the believer, giving it life and warmth; and though he be driven away again and again by our backslidings, he still hovers round our hearts, desiring to return to them, and to dwell in them, and cherish them forever.

“Moreover, if any seed of the Word has begun to spring up in any heart, the Spirit descends like a sunbeam upon it, and ripens the ear, and brings the fruit to perfection. Thus have we first the sun in the sky, secondly, the light, which issues from the sun, and thirdly the heat, which accompanies the light — three separate and distinguishable things; yet distinct as they are, what can be more united than the sun and its rays, or than the light and heat which those rays shed abroad?”

Although sentimental, Hare’s piece captures something essential: the love that is the very essence of our God in all three persons, the substance of which God consists, the “heart of the eternal,” which is “most wonderfully kind.” Using Grant Gallup’s metaphor, let us join in the eternal circle dance of Divine Love, singing with all our being:

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.
Amen.

 

— The Rev. Katherine Merrell Glenn is vicar of the Episcopal Mission in the San Luis Valley, a joyful and active “total ministry” congregation that encompasses six counties – 9,000 square miles  of rural southern Colorado.