Father Nicholas Lang
Trinity Sunday. That’s today’s headliner. Who made it so for us Anglicans? Thomas Becket was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost in the twelfth century, and his first act was to decree that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honor of the Holy Trinity. This observance spread from Canterbury throughout the whole of western Christendom. To put this all in some perspective, that was roughly eight hundred years after the concept of the Trinity as a doctrine of the Christian faith was defined by two councils of the Church and it took four hundred years after the Resurrection of Jesus for the Church to figure it out.
Well, they had this dilemma. The disciples and most members of the first Christian communities were faithful Jews whose experience of God was Yahweh, a name too sacred to be spoken, the creator of the cosmos and true God of all the world. The Hebrew people had a long, complicated history with their God.
Then comes Jesus who shows us the face of God and is revealed in scripture as God’s Son. Jesus is the incarnation of God, God-in-flesh, who comes down to earth to teach us how to live as God’s beloved ones. Before he leaves this earth, Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit who will come with great power to lead us in truth.
Those first Christians then had to make sense of all this. They had to wrap their head around the idea that God whom they had known through revelation in the Hebrew Scripture and the Prophets was now manifested in diversity—the God of their experience as Jews, in Jesus and also in a powerful Spirit, the ruach or creative breath of God. And there is no mention of the Trinity in the Bible so they probably scratched their heads for the first hundred years or so trying to figure it all out. It took a lot of debating, arguing, and praying to come up with the doctrine of the Trinity and it took four hundred years!
So we should not worry if we’re a little unclear as to what it all means. In a few minutes, we’ll be naming those three persons of the Trinity: Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—in that ancient profession of the Christian faith, the Nicene Creed, and making certain statements of belief about each of them. Even so, it may still give us pause. We may still not “get it” and it may still make us scratch our head in puzzlement.
And, while the theologians of those first four or so centuries did the best they could to pin all this down for us, we should recognize that what they have left us with is the product of their time and culture culture. We even refer to these crafters of the Creed as ‘the Fathers of the Church.” Simply put, our theology comes from the minds and wills of those who were in power at the time. Martin Luther once said, “To try to deny the Trinity endangers one’s salvation; to try to comprehend the Trinity endangers one’s sanity!
Here is a place where the Celtic understanding of faith can inform our belief. Those ancient people long devoted their creative energies not so much to laying out a clearly articulated theology of the Trinity, but rather to calling upon the triune God in the rhythms and rituals, relationships and routines of daily living—including art, poetry, and music. For the earliest believers in places like Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, the Trinity was not an idea to be grasped but a mystery to be experienced and a relationship into which they might enter.
The promise of the Gospel is that the Spirit is always busy, in your life and mine, in our congregation, in our worship, in our life together, unfolding more and more of the mystery of God. God’s revelation about the mysteries of our faith is an ongoing process and will continue throughout our lives. If we take just one thing away with us today about the Holy Trinity may it be this: The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely a teaching about who God is but is also about relationship. Yes, it is about the relationship between God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But more than that it is about God’s life with us and our life with each other.
The life of the Trinity is life lived in community. This community. Right here. Right now. In every word we share with one another, everything we do for one another, every way we are Christ for one another. Beyond that, all I can say about the Trinity is that there are some things we just cannot fully explain. And maybe we’re not supposed to and I think I’ll just leave it at that.