A Good Mystery, Trinity Sunday (C) – 2016

[RCL] Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15; Psalm 8 or Canticle 13

Many of us love a good mystery. It’s no accident that BBC television manages to churn out series after series of delightfully entertaining mystery programs. Sherlock Holmes is ever popular. Some of us probably have favorite mystery writers whose novels we love to read.

But when it comes to today, Trinity Sunday, it’s not unusual for preachers to note that this is our only liturgical feast day devoted to a doctrine, to a great mystery. Many preachers will then dive into a pithy attempt to explain the mystery of the Holy and Undivided Trinity in five minutes or less. These efforts are rarely successful, and they are often heretical. You see, the Trinity is a rich mystery, and it does not lend itself to bumper-sticker summaries. More to the point, to reduce deep mystery into a size that we can rationally comprehend misses an opportunity to open ourselves up to divine mystery rather than to close down possibilities.

All that said, if you want a manageable introduction to the Holy Trinity on the occasion of this great feast day, the Wikipedia article is actually a pretty good history of the development of the doctrine and a decent explication of our current understanding of it. If that sounds daunting, you can head over to YouTube, and there Lutheran Satire has produced a four-minute video that hilariously shows the pitfalls of simplistic views and then takes us right to the threshold of the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Rather than trying to shrink a vast mystery into a short explanation, it seems better to ask ourselves what the Trinity has to do with us today. How does the Holy Trinity connect to our day-to-day lives? How can we can be drawn more deeply into an unfathomable mystery?

Last Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost, we focused on the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. This theme continues today in our Gospel reading from the sixteenth chapter of John, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

Jesus was speaking to his disciples – his close friends – just before his final meal, arrest, and crucifixion. In addition to his promises that we would be raised to new life on the third day, he wanted his followers to know that God would never abandon them, that the Holy Spirit would be their companion and guide forever. He was reassuring them that though they were about to face seemingly insurmountable challenges, God would be with them.

We humans are programmed to look for answers in our own minds. We are trained to rationally define our reality, not to seek deeper reality. We are trained to be leaders, not followers. And Jesus says we don’t need to do any of that. We are freed from the limitation and the tyranny of rationalism. We are freed from the limits of materialism. We are freed from the pressure to act as if we have it all figured out.

Imagine, if you will, a different way of approaching the challenges of our lives. Imagine listening to God, rather than informing God of how we’d like things to work out. Imagine that we come to see that there is a deeper meaning to our reality than material goods and the accumulation of more stuff. Imagine that we can turn to God for guidance when we face difficulty.

Friends, we don’t have to imagine: that is our reality. In the Trinity, we see a God who is with us always, who shows us perfect love, and who never abandons us.

Some years ago, a priest from the US was traveling to another part of the world on a mission trip. There, the priest struck up a conversation with the local Anglican bishop. It turns out that the bishop had visited the US several times and knew The Episcopal Church pretty well. The priest asked the bishop about his perception of The Episcopal Church compared with the local Anglican church. With great gentleness, the bishop replied something like this:

I love your church. The problem is that you have too much. When you have too much, it is easy to forget that you are dependent on God. Here, we do not have enough of many things. Every day, we are reminded that we are utterly dependent on God. This means that we must pray fervently to God every day. We know that we are utterly dependent on God.

The bishop’s point was that comfort breeds complacency. Material abundance makes us think we have our important needs met already. We can then start to think of God as a person on whom we call when we want something. We can forget that God offers us everything, and we are always dependent on God, whether or not we can see this.

In Jesus Christ, we see everything there is to see about God’s love. We see a person who entered our world in the humblest, most ordinary way possible. We see a person who loved everyone and who challenged everyone to be transformed. That’s an important point: Jesus never said to someone he met, “You’re perfect just as you are” but rather invited every person to be transformed by the power of God’s love. Using prayer book language, Jesus invited everyone to “grow into the full stature of Christ.”

In Jesus Christ, we see that God was willing to endure the pain and suffering of our humanity in order that we might see the wide embrace of God’s love for all people. And in Jesus Christ, we see the triumph of God’s love over death itself. We see, in the Resurrection, that God’s love can make us fearless – that we don’t need to be afraid of anything, not even death.

But the mystery of the Holy Trinity pushes us to look further. Last Sunday and today, as we think about the Holy Spirit, we see yet another dimension of God’s love for us.

In the Holy Spirit, God has promised to be with us always, to guide us into all truth. The Holy Spirit’s guidance and love is inseparable from the love of God the Father and from the love of God the Son. The Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, and Jesus and the Father are one. There is a mutual glorification at work, and each person of the Holy Trinity reveals something about the other persons of the Trinity. And that is what can draw us into the heart of God’s eternal love: the Trinity represents how God’s very being is about relationship and love. The Holy Trinity is itself the manifestation of God’s abiding promise to be with us at every turn, through every struggle.

This is Good News in our time. So often our temptation is to tear apart the fabric of society and put others down, but we see in the Holy Trinity a God who unites and glorifies. So often our impulse is to separate ourselves from that which challenges us, but we see in the Holy Trinity a God who is eternally steadfast. So often we limit our reality or our possibilities to what fits into our own finite understanding, but in the Holy Trinity, we see a God who promises to lead us into all truth, into deeper mystery.

Today, let us not try to explain away something that is unfathomable. Instead, let us join heartily in songs of praise to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And let us give thanks that this Triune God loves us more than we can imagine. Let us give praise for our God’s everlasting presence in our lives in this age and in the age to come. Let us savor a God who offers us the very best mystery of all, a love that is beyond anything we can ask or imagine. Amen.

Download the sermon for Trinity Sunday C.

Written by The Rev. Scott Gunn
The Reverend Canon Scott Gunn is executive director of Forward Movement, a ministry of The Episcopal Church focused on inspiring disciples and empowering evangelists. In his role at Forward Movement, Scott travels across the church speaking about discipleship. He has served as a parish priest in the Diocese of Rhode Island and, prior to that, as a technology leader in non-profit and commercial organizations. Educated at Luther College, Yale Divinity School, and Brown University, Scott lives in Cincinnati with his spouse, the Rev. Canon Sherilyn Pearce, who serves as Canon Pastor at Christ Church Cathedral. Scott is known in the wider church for Lent Madness, the Acts 8 Movement, and as a blogger at www.sevenwholedays.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @scottagunn.

 

The modern mantra, Trinity Sunday (C) – 2013

May 26, 2013

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

It’s the modern mantra. People chant it all the time: “I’m spiritual, but not religious. I’m spiritual, but not religious.”

“Religion” has become a dirty word. Maybe it’s the nun who rapped your knuckles with a ruler when you were 8 years old. Maybe it is arcane morality, rules that do not suit the 21st century. More likely, it is because of crusades and war and some really ugly things done in the name of religion. Religion has become its own worst enemy.

So we can understand why religion has become a dirty word. Yet the so-called “spiritual but not religious” have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

After all, it was religious people who built thousands of hospitals around this country. It’s hard to think any hospital built by the spiritual but not religious.

It was religious people, not the irreligious, who started the national hospice movement, and who started Habitat for Humanity, which has built hundreds of thousands of homes for the working poor.

Religion frees people from drug abuse and spousal abuse. Religion infuses meaning into the despondent and hope into the bereft.

So even though we might be able to understand why people are abandoning religion, that’s not saying abandoning religion is a good thing. And there is no need to denigrate religion, be it Christianity, Islam, Judaism or Buddhism.

Not to sound cruel, but honestly, anybody can go watch the sun set over the ocean and feel God.

So what?

The real question is, does your amorphous spirituality have legs when your husband walks out the door, or when you find out your kid has cancer?

Spirituality is important – and frankly, we should applaud anyone who finds a way to deepen her spirituality. But spirituality is only half the equation.

Religion provides spirituality definition. It gives it form, an outline, legs to walk on.

If spirituality is heaven, then religion is earth. It is where you live your spirituality. It is how you practice your spirituality, and as we tell our kids, practice makes perfect. Reading scripture, praying together, singing songs, kneeling, crossing yourself, sharing faith.

What practice is there in watching sunsets?

That is why we might consider introducing a new mantra: “I’m spiritual and religious.”

In fact, the ideal bumper sticker might say something like, “I’m spiritual and religious; follow me to church!”

The earth is full of God’s glory. Meaning, a spirituality is wrongly bifurcated when separated from the physical. You need both together.

Which is what Jesus means when he says: You must be born again, of both water and the spirit, you must be born of earth and heaven.

In many ways, this is what Jesus seems to mean by promising the Spirit, in this morning’s reading from John, the Spirit who will actually help you become more grounded on earth.

You remember the old quip “Some people are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good”?

The reverse is also true: Some people are so earthly minded they’re no heavenly good. What good is clay and dirt without soul? What good are you if you don’t connect with something greater than yourself?

Heaven and earth; “I’m spiritual and religious.”

You must be born again, of both water and spirit. When the Spirit comes, he will guide you into all truth.

Remember the hoopla when Facebook went public and people were purchasing Facebook stock not so much as an investment, but because of hype? The stock initially sold for $40 a share, then dropped like a lead balloon to under $20 a share.

But think about these kids, Mark Zuckerburg and his cohorts: They won the lottery. Instant millionaires, billionaires. One article I read told about the fun they’re having spending their gold.

One Porsche dealer sold out, and the fine dining industry in Palo Alto was hopping. Houses at Lake Tahoe were being snapped up at 25 percent to 35 percent over the asking price.

Gold was cheap that year in Palo Alto, but as you have heard, all that glitters is not gold.

You can buy all the houses and cars and retirement you want, but to paraphrase Jesus, life is far more than houses. Life is more than nice cars and fine dining.

Possessing all of earth, when you have no spirit, is vanity.

What good are you if you are all earth and no heaven? Or all heaven and no earth?

Although the modern mantra “I’m spiritual but not religious” panders to a shallow disdain of religion, sometimes we need others to remind us that all we see is not all there is.

We need each other, in this practice of religion and in this practice of life.

This is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is not some arcane static description of God. You can’t draw a picture of God. God is not a triangle, nor an egg, nor a three-leaf clover.

Rather, the mystery we call “trinity” is dynamic. It is an eddy, a current, swirling about your body and your soul, and then about the body and the soul of the person next to you, and then back to you.

Pure and absolute Love. The trinity is action, an action verb, and that action is love.

God says, Receive Love: Peace I give to you. Be Love: Live within that peace. Give Love: Be that peace in the world.

So you see, you are spiritual because you have encountered God, but you are also religious because you have encountered God in other people.

We are spiritual and religious when we have learned to give ourselves away.

So let our mantra be “I’m spiritual and religious. Follow me to church.”

 

— The Rev. Rob Gieselmann is the rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Belvedere, Calif. Before entering the ministry, Rob practiced law for ten years, he is the author of The Episcopal Call to Love (Apocryphile Press, 2008), and is the father of two wonderful children.

Wisdom, understanding, and mystery, Trinity Sunday (C) – 2010

[RCL] Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out

 

That passage from today’s reading in Proverbs invites us to consider wisdom, understanding, and mystery.

In 1968, the crew of the Apollo 8 circled the moon time and again, scanning its surface for possible future landing sites. Needing to gather their bearings and recalibrate, they lifted their view (and their camera) to catch what has become an iconic image: Earthrise. A crystal blue drop, hovering in the blackness of space, it peaks over the horizon of a desolate and grey lunar landscape, its leading edge flooded in light, glinting off the surface of the water, the lower half disappearing, seemingly melting away into the blackness that surrounds it. With the snap of a shutter, our image of the world would never be the same.

Groundbreaking images of our world: like this one they come from time to time, seeming to shake the very earth on which we stand, to move it significantly. The soil and streets beneath our feet, the societies, habits and bodies in which we live become foreign and unfamiliar. The world no longer is what it once was. Or at least what we believed it to be.

Bill McKibben recently released a book called Eaarth, with an extra “a.” McKibben is the same author who wrote The End of Nature, the first book for a general audience on climate change. In that early work, published in 1989, he warned us that in order to save the world we inhabited we must act, and act swiftly, to curb our consumption of fossil fuels.

In his latest book, McKibben relays a different message: It is too late.

It is too late to save the planet. Scientists have agreed that 350 parts per million carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the maximum level that will sustain the conditions that created the world we now inhabit. For the 10,000 years of human history, the atmosphere has maintained nearly constant levels around 275. We have been raising that number by just around 2 points every year since the industrial revolution began, putting us now at right about 390. At current levels, the coral reefs become unsustainable due to the rising acidity of the oceans. At current levels, oysters have trouble forming their shells. At current levels, the arid subtropics push outward, spreading wildfire and drought while the expanded tropics bring more insect-borne illness. Two years ago the northwest and northeast passages opened for the first time in human history, and in a decade or two, a summertime spacecraft will see only open water at the north pole.

It is too late to save the world we knew or thought we knew.

McKibben continues to say that having glimpsed the world as it truly is, it is not only foolish but damning to pretend we live on the world we once knew, no matter how safe and comfortable that fiction may be. He writes:

“We need now to understand the world we’ve created, and consider – urgently – how to live in it. … Which doesn’t mean that the change we must make – or the world on the other side – will be without its comforts or beauties. Reality always comes with beauty, sometimes more than fantasy. … But hope has to be real. It can’t be hope that scientists will turn out to be wrong, or that President Barack Obama can somehow fix everything. Obama can help – but precisely to the degree he’s willing to embrace reality, to understand that we live on the world we live on, not the one we might wish for. Maturity is not the opposite of hope; it’s what makes hope possible.”

We call today Trinity Sunday. It is a day that strikes fear into the heart of many a preacher, their pulpits becoming platforms for their particular Trinitarian theology. Endowed with weight they have not asked for, they approach the mystery of the Trinity with fear, trembling, and perhaps a bit of frustration.

We often are encouraged to see mystery as antithetical to knowledge, or wisdom. In fact, the very roots of the words “wisdom” and “mystery” are opposed; the one “to see,” the other, “to close” or “to shut,” as in the lips or the eyes.

And yet, today we are invited to enter the mystery within wisdom, to the possibility that like maturity and hope, there is something cyclical to their relationship, wisdom begetting mystery begetting wisdom.

In today’s reading from Proverbs, Wisdom cries to us, her “cry to all who live.” She claims to underlie the foundation of the earth, bearing witness to the limits of the sea, rejoicing before the Lord, delighting in humankind from their creation and yet unknown to them. Wisdom in herself represents a mystery whose revelation is slow, cyclical, process-driven. Wisdom is not birthed of easy answers, it is uncovered little by little through sight, through searching, through peering into the eternally unfolding world of creation.

A young woman in the Pacific Northwest left the church for several years after having endured the judgment and self-righteousness of a particular congregation. As her children entered pre-school, her husband said to her, “Well, I know very well what it is you don’t want in a church, but tell me, what do you want from a community of faith?”

She responded, “I want help finding the mystery in all things, embracing that mystery, not trying to explain the mystery out of it.”

Our human tendency is toward categorization, toward hyperbole and absolutism, not out of narrowness of thought, but often out of distraction and exhaustion. The ability to embrace mystery is not the rejection of wisdom, but the opening of a space for a slow, unraveling, ever-incomplete revelation, the willingness to sit with the reality of a world more complex in each revelation, more detailed and ever new.

Paul explains that the life of faith is also a slow and laborious process and that hope is born of character, character is born of endurance, and endurance is born of suffering. At each moment the world must be understood in its momentary revelation in order for the greater truth to emerge. Unless we allow ourselves to experience suffering, not shying away, we will not know endurance. Only by giving ourselves over to a self that values endurance will we be of character, and only for those of character does hope endure, allowing us to live with and through suffering. The cycle begins again.

Jesus, likewise, invites us to a life of faith built on slow growth, on timely revelation, saying, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot hear them now.” Wisdom in God also is revealed according to the concreteness of our experience, its place in time, inviting us to see clearly the age and the faith we inhabit, to witness its limits, knowing that only in that full knowledge does continued and renewed revelation emerge.

The disciples look on in bewilderment. “We cannot hear?” they wonder, examining themselves for their own unreadiness. What is it in us that cannot hear, what in us prevents us from looking at our faith with open eyes, stepping into its mystery, its slow unfolding, patiently examining its details so that when God reveals himself anew we might know the difference?

Mystery presents us with the opportunity to glimpse the world recreated in every moment, the possibility that, like Bill McKibben’s new “Eaarth,” with two “a”s, we live more fully when we give ourselves over to the experience of embracing the world as it reveals itself to us, not as we “know” it to be. In mystery we give ourselves over to the possibility that a world, fragile and interconnected as we now understand our own to be, held in the mystery of climate change and global warming, can be life-giving. It calls us to look, truly look upon that incarnational reality, that sacramental life: this world, this table, invites us into unending wisdom.

This day we are invited to stand in faith, to stand precisely where we are, in the mystery of the Trinity, in the mystery of a God revealed to us in this moment, this age, this life and this faith, a mystery that we explore, unravel and receive together, knowing that in seeing more truly, with each new revelation, we step into greater hope, greater joy, greater love, greater knowledge and communion with the three, the one.

Written by Jason Sierra
Jason Sierra is a member of the Office for Young Adult and Campus Ministries at the Episcopal Church Center. He resides in Seattle, WA, and holds a BA in American Studies from Stanford University.

A place for the Trinity, Trinity Sunday (C) – 2007

June 3, 2007

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

According to those who study such things, there are well over five hundred parishes in the Episcopal Church named after the Trinity, making it, along with Christ Church and Saint John’s, one of the all-time favorite names for our parish communities.

Episcopalians seem to know instinctively the importance of the Trinity in defining their faith as Christians, and they are proud to bear its name. They proclaim the Trinity week after week in the Nicene Creed, and they often begin what they do and pray “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” After all, that is how they were baptized. Belief in the Trinity is the main thing that sets Christians apart from others – such as our Jewish and Muslim friends and neighbors – who also believe in one God.

The word “Trinity” does not appear in scripture, although it can be inferred in many passages, such as in today’s readings, which speak respectively of creation, grace, and spirit. Down through the ages, the Trinity has often been the source of confusion and dissension. Its actual formulation as a distinct belief came only with time as heresies were suppressed and eminent scholars wrestled with its significance. The Creed of Saint Athanasius – found in the Book of Common Prayer on page 864 – describes in fine theological detail and precision the authoritative meaning of the Trinity for all time, although few Christians today would turn to its words for insight or spiritual solace.

But it does tell us, among other things, that it is the Trinity that defines our common, or universal, faith. “The Catholic faith is this,” the Athanasian Creed begins, “that we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.”

We might well ask: What is it about the Trinity that puts it at the very center of our Christian faith but yet remains so elusive to our everyday understanding? Does the Trinity have any spiritual meaning for us today?

We live in a world in which scholars and scientists question the very existence of God, much less the Trinity. Noted zoologist Richard Dawkins, for example, writes of a “God delusion,” in his recent book of the same name, calling the God of the Bible, “a petty, unjust … capriciously malevolent bully” who should have no place in the contemporary consciousness. Journalist Sam Harris, citing terrorist acts committed in the name of God, argues that the time has come for “the end of faith.” And decades ago, Time magazine created a sensation with its provocative headline question, “Is God dead?”

What is a believer to make of this? Is it finally time to write God’s obituary and mourn his passing? Or are reports of God’s demise, like those of humorist Mark Twain over a century ago, “greatly exaggerated”? Perhaps critics of contemporary religious practice and belief have a point. God is too often blamed for what his followers say about him and do in his name. Perhaps what must die are false notions of who and what God is. As Anglican bishop and scholar J. B. Phillips wrote way back in 1952, “Your God Is Too Small!” Our notions of God are always too small, almost by definition. But that does not mean that God is dead. In fact, he is not even sick.

Of course, just referring to God as “he” and “him” in itself reflects one of the cultural limitations and prejudices that unavoidably make our God too small. There is always the temptation among believers to keep God under lock and key or on a shelf where we can keep an eye on him. But God – the real God – will have none of it. What some, like Dawkins, might see as God’s capriciousness is simply his unwillingness to stick to the script we have written for him. You cannot put God under the scientist’s microscope any more than you can grow a Shakespeare drama in a petrie dish.

But back to the Trinity. Medieval scholars, influenced by late classical philosophy, explain the Trinity in terms of an emanation – a kind of loving radiance that leads God as creator and Father to the divine Other, the “only begotten Son” of the Creeds. And from this relationship comes the order of nature that is sanctified and returned to the Father in the Spirit, completing the great cycle of creation, redemption, and renewal.

Some might again object to the male imagery of such ancient formularies. But nearly all believers can agree that God is not only alive and well but busily at work in our world and our lives today. As scripture tells it, “God is love.” That is the essence of the Trinity.

God creates being where there is none and at once transcends it. In breathing life into this world and redeeming it, God gives us a glimpse into divine life itself and into the meaning of our own lives. Because God loves us, we exist. Yet for all his care and intimacy with the world and humankind, God is never consumed or overwhelmed by the many loose ends of our untidy existence. God simply loves: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is a fact of life. More than that, it is the fact of life. As paradoxical as it may seem, God is both unchanging and eternal and at the same time ever-changing and deeply involved in time and history. God can have it both ways because God is God.

Dame Julian of Norwich, a saint and a mystic of uncommon depth and insight, never approached the demonstration of God’s existence or the meaning of the Trinity in structured argument like the great theologians of her age. Yet in her visions and writings she came as close as anyone to understanding the God of love – the God of the Trinity.

Toward the end of her life, she penned this short but profound exchange: “Would you know your Lord’s meaning?” she asks. “Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love.”

It all comes back down to love.

So who is God today? And is there a place for the Trinity in our world? Dame Julian, in her day, found God in love, pure and simple. For all the complexity of our modern-day life, that is still where God – creator, redeemer, sanctifier – is to be found. God is as God loves. As Paul tells us in our second reading today, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” In God’s eternal love, our own frail nature is finally and inextricably bound up in the very life of God, “as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.”

 

— The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedus is priest-in-charge of Saint Alban’s (the twenty-first most common church name) Episcopal Church in El Cajon, Calif. 

Trinity Sunday (C) – 2004

The rhythm of the Trinity

June 6, 2004

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8 or Canticle 2 or 13; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

Today we find ourselves at a midway point in our travel through the Christian Year. Since Advent, our focus has been largely on major events in the story of Jesus: his coming and manifestation, his suffering and triumph, and his gift of the Spirit. Until Advent comes again, our focus will be largely on what Jesus taught by word and action. Thus, we will learn how to live in the power the Spirit has given to us.

Today, at this midway point, we look for a moment beyond what Jesus teaches us and beyond major events in his story to something that encompasses all of us. Today we look, not so much at what God does, as we look at who God is: the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit.

Even committed Christians find this hard. Because God as Trinity appears in every aspect of our faith, the truth of the Trinity seems almost too big, too omnipresent, for us to appreciate. The Trinity is for us something like the roundness—or near roundness—of the earth. We accept that the earth is round, but we tend not to experience the earth as round. Most of the time we behave as though the earth were flat. To experience the earth as round requires us to have a larger perspective. We need to look at a globe, or see a photo of our planet taken from space, or even go out into space ourselves. Otherwise, the earth is so large, and we are so small, that we cannot deeply appreciate the true shape of this planet.

To experience the truth of the Trinity, we need the equivalent of a globe, or a satellite photo, or a trip into space. We require something more than technical language, the symphony of words that through the centuries the church has constructed in response to the self-disclosure of God. We need these words because they set forth the truth with accuracy and precision; yet we also need an image, something that can engage the heart.

Various images are available but today seems a good time to examine a particular image that has a special appeal: God the Trinity as God the Dance. The dance in question is not a ballroom dance where couples travel the floor with arms around each other. It is not a rock dance, where the partnership of couples is not apparent, and each dancer has great freedom to perform. The dance that offers this image of divine Trinity is a circle dance—Father, Son, and Spirit with hands joined in a circle, engaged in that dance which is their life together, a dance without beginning and without end, a dance which is joy beyond all telling.

In this holy dance called Trinity, the partners do not predate the dance, nor does the dance predate the partners; but both the partners and the dance are eternal. In this holy dance called Trinity each partner cannot be confused with the others, nor is one partner of greater worth than another. Instead, each partner plays a specific role, and the three of them move in rhythm, showing the utmost courtesy and affection and grace.

The music of this eternal dance echoes in the vast reaches between the stars, and pulses in worlds inside of atoms, and travels on every breeze across the earth, and surges with the blood through our veins. From time to time, we hear the music of this eternal dance. During the silences when everything makes sense; during the celebrations when we taste a bit of heaven; during the transitions when we graduate from one phase of life and are ready to start another. When we are thankful for what we’ve been given, proud of what we’ve done, hopeful about what the future holds. It is on these great and good occasions that we hear the music of the eternal dance, the rhythm of the Trinity.

We hear this music also during the hours of dark tragedy, when the ordinary supports of life have been kicked out from beneath us, and we feel without place and without purpose, yet we know that beyond our current death, life awaits us again, for the music we hear is unceasing: the rhythm of the Trinity.

Since Advent, our focus has been largely on major events in the story of Jesus. The story’s point is this: all of us are invited to join in the dance. Until Advent comes again, our focus will be largely on what Jesus taught by word and action. That teaching’s point is this: all of us are invited to join in the dance.

The Trinity is unending, joyous dance, yet the miracle is that the circle breaks open, and the Son and Spirit, still holding hands with the Father, extend their other hands to us, inviting us into the circle, drawing us into the dance, that we may become their partners, participants in their life.

When you go to wedding receptions and observe the dancers, you usually find that they show different degrees of proficiency. Some glide along with flawless form. Others move with small, timid steps. A few of them are downright clumsy. What is saddest of all are not the dancers who lack skill, but the many who never get up at all, people who could dance but decide they will not.

Our life works the same way. A dance is going on. That dance is the living God, the holy Trinity. We are invited to join that dance. The Spirit is eager to help us move. The Son reaches out his wounded hand. The Father wants us to see his face.

No hesitancy should hold us back. The problem with human life is not bad dancing, but that some of us choose not to dance at all. What finally matters is not how well we dance, but that we take a risk, get up, and go out on the floor; that we join the circle and move to the music, the rhythm of the Trinity.

 

— The Very Rev. Charles Hoffacker is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Port Huron, Michigan, and author of  ”A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications, 2003).