I stand before you as a man who clearly is a poor planner. I asked Fr. Palmer to preach last week on Pentecost, forgetting that the week after Pentecost is always Trinity Sunday. Now it is left up to me to try to explain the unexplainable and I have no one else to blame but myself.
Actually it is a privilege to address this sacred topic and I use the word “address” intentionally because it is not my goal to explain it. I am not smart enough to explain the Trinity and I am not convinced that we should even try. The Trinity is a truth that we accept by faith, not a riddle to be solved.
What makes the Trinity a mystery for us is that it defies logical explanation. We could understand it if the Father was 1/3rd God and the Son was 1/3rd God and the Spirit was 1/3rd God and together they make One God. But as you know, that is not what the Church teaches.
Here is how the ancients put it. Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding….
So the Father is fully and completely God and the Son is fully and completely God and the Spirit is fully and completely God but there is only One God. It is not One Person playing three roles but Three Persons as One God.
Someone might object that it makes no sense to believe in something that sounds so contradictory, but I would argue that just because something sounds contradictory does not mean it is not true. Let me give you this example.
If I was to get a radar gun (like the ones the police use regularly to detect how fast my wife is driving) and I pointed at the congregation right now, how fast would it say that you are going. It would record a zero and that would be the truth. You are sitting relatively still. But if I were on another planet and was able to clock you with my radar gun it would say that you are going about 30,000 miles an hour because that is roughly how fast our planet orbits the sun. And that would be the truth also. It seems contradictory but both are true. You are at the same time sitting still and traveling about 30,000 miles per hour. Try explaining that one to someone from the Middle Ages (or Arkansas).
What we must not do is allow the fact that the Trinity is a mystery to have us categorize it as irrelevant, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. As Christians our entire spiritual journey is from beginning to end a Trinitarian experience. We are baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We pray to the Father in Jesus’ Name through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our marriages, our homes and all that is sanctified and set apart for God are done so in the Name of the Blessed Trinity. Each week we invoke the Father to send the Spirit to make the bread and wine to be for us the Body and Blood of the Son. And on our dying bed a priest will pray over us, “Depart, O Christian soul, out of this world; In the Name of God the Father who created you; In the Name of Jesus Christ who redeemed you; In the Name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you…” We are cradle to grave a Trinitarian people but it is only when we stand before God that we will know, even as we are known.
And while we can never in this life fully wrap our minds around the mystery of the Trinity, it does not mean there is nothing to learn from this truth. God who has always been in Trinity of Persons and Unity of Being said, “Let us make man in our image.” (In case you missed it, that was a pretty good hint right there about the Trinity in Genesis 1). And God made male and female in His image. Therefore to better understand the nature of God helps us understand what we have been created to be.
First, God exists in communion or intimate fellowship. The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have always been. God did not have to make man so that He had a way to express love, or because He was in need of fellowship. The Trinity has been in perfect love and unity since before time.
Because we are in God’s image we too exist in communion. We long for it. We seek intimacy through marriage, we seek fellowship in friendships, and we seek unity in spiritual relationships. The desire is so powerful that we even seek it in sinful and superficial ways like when sports fans start fights and set fires out of loyalty to their team. We all want to belong. As John Donne, an Anglican priest and poet put it, “No man is an island. Entire to itself. Each is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
This Trinitarian echo in us of living in communion is why the Church will always be. Over the centuries various voices of philosophers and atheists and despots have prophesied the end of the Church but they underestimate the Bride of Christ. We are in the Son as the Son is in the Father. The unity of the Spirit fulfills this God implanted longing to belong and it is stronger than our political differences and even many of our doctrinal differences. We are even one with parts of the Body of Christ that have their doubts about us. Because God exists in communion we experience the communion of the saints.
Second, observing the Trinity is a lesson in love. Love has given them an inseparable unity. When Philip asked to see the Father, Jesus said that if you have seen Him then you have seen the Father. They are one. Jesus said that as the Father has loved Him, so He has loved us. Now just let that sink in for a moment. Jesus loves you in the same way that the Father loves Him? How much does the Father love the Son? Does the Father pity Him and barely tolerate Him; or does the Father delight in the Son? Does the Father give and withdraw His love from the Son so that the Son can never be certain of His love; or does He love the Son with an everlasting love? Is the Father an absentee Father or is He one with the Son, intimately involved in His life? As the Father loves the Son, so the Son loves us. Jesus delights in us, He loves us with an everlasting love and He seeks to be intimately involved in our lives.
After Jesus says that He loves us as the Father has loved Him, He tells us to love one another and then goes on to say that there is no greater love than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. He of course did not just say this, He did it and His example of love has inspired millions. Tomorrow is Memorial Day when we remember those who have laid down their lives for their friends and we worship in freedom today because of their sacrifice. We must never forget them. And we must not let their sacrifice be wasted by being cavalier about the freedoms they died to defend.
Third, and this is amazing to me, the Trinity models for us how to be subject to one another. You have to piece the story together but the Bible describes how Satan was once an angel, but because he who wanted to be God, he and his legion were ejected from heaven. By contrast we see the Son of God, who is God, but rather than demanding His rights of power and privilege, He humbles Himself and takes on flesh and is obedient to the Father, even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus said that He had come to do the Father’s will; that He only says what the Father says and does what the Father does. Out of love Jesus did not put His own need before that of the will of the Father or even His own needs before ours. And how does the Father respond? At Jesus’ baptism the Father announces to the world that this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Because the Son has glorified the Father, the Father glorifies the Son and gives Him a Name that is above every name.
We see more lessons in humility when we consider the Holy Spirit. He is God and yet He did not come on His own. He waited until the Son ascended to heaven and sent Him to the Church. And when He came to the Church He did not come drawing attention to Himself. He came to convict men of sin and inspire faith in the Son. The Spirit inspired men to write the Holy Scriptures and Jesus Himself tells us that the book is about Him. When the Spirit indwells us, He does not make us Spiritans, He makes us Christians, one with Christ.
The reason I said earlier that this quality of the Trinity amazes me is because left to our own imagination, man does not look for this kind of humility in a God. We do not expect a God to say “I have not come to be served but to serve and give my life as a ransom for many.” We don’t expect a God to wash the feet of His disciples. We don’t expect a God to say, “Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done.” And yet these are the examples that the Trinity has set for us. Knowing this is how our God is, it makes human pride even more ridiculous and despicable. There is a reason that we feel so fulfilled when we serve others, when we put the needs of others before our own, when we share with others the love of God. It is what we, as image bearers of God, were created to do. It feels right because it is right.
I remind you of the famous quote by Augustine about the Trinity. If you try to understand it, you will lose your mind but if you don’t believe it you will lose your soul. We do not come here today to figure it out. We come here to filled with gratitude that God loves enough to reveal Himself to us. We come worship and adore God, who has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.