THE MOST HOLY AND UNDIVIDED TRINITY
Sermon preached at Sung Mass at the Church of S. Chad, Dunloe Road, Haggerston, London, E
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
Sunday, May 26th, 2013
There is something very – comforting – in today’s celebration of the Trinity. I don’t mean that it’s nice and cosy: rather I use the word in its proper sense – it’s strengthening. And the reason why I say that is because this is the day we affirm that we have been embraced, totally and without reserve, into the love of God.
Now if most of us were asked to draw a picture of God my guess is that some would attempt to draw a venerable old man with people bowing before him. However today's feast draws quite a different picture. For we don’t believe in a God who is solitary and venerable, but in a God who is a community of persons. And a messy community at that! For many people the best illustration of the Trinity is to be found in the famous icon by the great Russian icon writer, Andre Rublev. It shows three figures – whether they are male or female, human or divine it’s difficult to tell – seated round a small table regarding each other with a compelling, loving gaze that embraces the one who looks upon them.
But it’s impossible to tell who the figures are. We know it’s the Trinity, yet just which is meant to be Father, Son or Spirit is impossible to know. And another thing becomes apparent to those who look into the icon: one comes to realise that their relationship to each other isn’t complete without you, the person who stands before them and seeks to join in their contemplation. In a way it’s an expression of what we heard Jesus say in the gospel: “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason … he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
None of us are complete except in and through relationship. It is madness to believe that we can exist without the other. Nor is it possible for any one person to understand all the mysteries of creation. We live in a world of immense beauty and complexity but often grasp for simplicity and certainty so that when a voice is heard which offers straightforward answers; many will look to them for ‘truth’ – for salvation. Simple solutions to complex problems. That is the appeal of the demagogue – the one who appeals to popular prejudices, fears and expectations with impassioned speech and propaganda.
THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
And religion, of course, can be used as a prop by such people. We had a terrible example of the way that happens in the brutal murder, last Wednesday, of a soldier in Woolwich where I live. And what disturbed me most was a picture of one of the attackers brandishing knives with the caption: “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” claiming the act was done as a reprisal for the deaths of Muslims. And into my mind came the only solution to that primitive urge: “You have heard that it was said, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. … You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matt. 5:38-39, 43-44)
Our hearts may be capable of the worst atrocities but also of the most sublime acts of love. Violence feeds all that leads to hatred and death and needs to be resisted. Religious faith springs from the depths of our humanity and the Church needs to proclaim, loudly and clearly, the message of Christ at times such as this. To counter the violence that calls for the heart’s attention by directing us to the call to what will bring us to the fullness of life. We need to question why people feel called to commit such gross acts of violence against a fellow human-being, but we also need to be reminded that the heart needs to be converted to that compassionate love which Christ showed by his love and taught his disciples. This is why our belief in God as a Trinity of equal persons is so important.
MADE IN THE IMAGE OF THE TRINITY
Standing outside Tesco’s the other day I wondered at the variety of humanity which ebbed and flowed around me. The God in whom we believe reflects that same variety and complexity. God is One yet Three; one yet existing as community. Each person unique and valued for who they are – Father, Son and Spirit. None are of greater importance than the other. Standing there in the rain, I wondered if I valued each person I saw pass me by in the same way. Whether each could share the same importance, or whether I would rate some more highly than others. Of course, I knew the answer – some would be more important to me than others, some of greater worth and value. After all, I am only human.
Perhaps that’s one reason why the doctrine of the Trinity is of such importance, for it holds out to us a core meaning. For if, as we believe, all human beings – Christian and Muslim, Jew and Hindu, agnostic and atheist – are made in the image of God and, in some way, reveal that image in their very being, then such a doctrine affirms belief in the utter worth and dignity on each person. And so we should react with outrage if anyone is vilified, abused, mistreated or attacked. That is why Christianity values human life so highly and why, for example, we place an enormous importance on Human Rights.
So much of our understanding of the Trinity comes from contemplating the person of Jesus and seeing in Him the glory of the Father and the creativeness of the Spirit. “All that the Father has is mine”, John has Jesus say. In the centuries that followed Christians believed they were being “guided into all the truth” by the “Spirit of truth”. Holy Wisdom.
St. Paul speaks of Christ as ‘the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ (I Cor. 1: 24) and in the passage we heard from the Book of Proverbs the writer speaks of Divine Wisdom as the Creator of all things, a Master Worker delighting in the Lord, rejoicing always in God and in humanity. It is a beautiful poem on the relationship between God and creation, affirming that our God is not aloof from his creation, but ‘delights’ in it. And we are invited to be at one in the loving embrace of the Trinity, as we realise in gazing into Rublev’s icon. For the God in whom we believe is incomplete without us and, therefore, loves us with a love beyond our understanding. This is a mystery upon which each of us needs to dwell, that we are eternally and unreservedly loved by that Holy and Undivided Trinity. As the great Jesuit, Henri Nouwen, said: ‘The movement from the Father toward the Son and the movement of both Son and Spirit toward the Father is a movement in which the one who prays is lifted up and held secure. . . Through contemplation of this icon we come to see with our inner eyes that all engagements in this world can bear fruit only when they take place within this divine circle"
Wednesday’s atrocity leaves us shocked at how depraved we humans can become when faith in anger and violence blinds us to the simple fact that we are invited to participate in that Divine circle of compassionate love. Nothing and no one excluded but all invited to live in divine harmony. That is the glory of the Trinity – something so transcendent, yet intensely immanent. Amen.