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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

Trinity Sunday

A little boy riding his bike stopped in front of a church and noticed the open doors. The priest was just coming out of the church and invited the boy to come in and take a look. The boy said, “But what if somebody steals my bike?” The priest assured him, “No worries. The Holy Spirit will watch it for you.”


So, he followed the priest into the church and observed how the priest dipped his finger into the holy water font, made the sign of the cross, and said, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Ho-


“Can I do that?” the boy asked. “Sure,” said the priest. So, he dipped his fingers into the font and made a kind of cross-like motion on himself and said, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son. Amen” The priest looked at him and asked, “What happened to the Holy Spirit?” “Oh,” said the boy, “outside watching my bike.”


Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. The Holy Trinity, the Three in One. This core doctrine was defined by two councils of the early Church four hundred years after the Resurrection of Jesus. It took that long 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 heads 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 not 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!

 

Still, it is hard to explain the mystery of the Trinity and it’s easy to understand that people struggle with it. Perhaps a good metaphor is that as the church we are one, but are many individuals with many personalities and gifts. Yet we partake of one bread and one cup as the living body of Christ in the world. Just as there is diversity and unity in the church, so is there in the Trinity.

 

Then there was the question of how to teach this to the vast majority of people who might not read or for whom picturing this idea of three persons in one God would be difficult. Orthodox Christians developed Icons for this purpose.

One solution was to use the Old Testament image of the three angels who appeared to Abraham and for whom Abraham and Sarah prepared a table of hospitality and this is the famous Icon of the Trinity written in the 15th century by Andrei Rublev. This is much better imagery than the old man with a white beard, Jesus, and a bird.

 

The ancient Celts 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. From them we get the Icon logo of three circles, distinct and separate yet joined together.

 

The encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in the Gospel should be a relief to anyone who struggles with this or any other doctrine of the Christian faith. Nicodemus was a man of compassion with a legal and enquiring mind. He was used to weighing up evidence with a craving for truth and justice. This encounter with Jesus was one of mutual respect as we see from the fact that they each refer to the other as ‘Rabbi’. It was a meeting full of genuine concern with important issues.

 

Nicodemus was a man of utter integrity, yet he was still not able to make that final leap of faith, to accept the whole of Jesus’ person and teaching. Jesus never turned him away.

He loved him and what he wanted Nicodemus most to grasp—and us most to grasp—is the love of God, a love that claims us as God’s own and invites us into deep relationship. God so loved the world.

 

I love mystery stories, especially murder mysteries involving the clergy—sometimes as the sleuth, sometimes as the victim. As much as I enjoy the mystery and suspense of the “who done it,” by the end of the story I want an answer, a solution, an explanation that we can understand and accept. The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t really do that for us. It’s one of those mysteries we just cannot fully explain. And maybe we’re not supposed. And maybe that’s Ok.

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