+ Most of you know that I am a pretty compassionate priest. I really do feel sorry for people and try to soothe people’s pains—at least as much as I am able to do. But one thing I have very little pity for is whiny preachers. And, let me tell you, I have never heard preacher’s whine more than they do when they have to preach on this Sunday—Trinity Sunday.
Last night on Facebook, I heard many of my clergy friends lamenting the fact that they were still struggling over their Trinity Sunday sermons.
“Boo hoo,” these preachers whine. “I have to preach on an obscure theological doctrine that has almost no scriptural basis.”
Boo hoo indeed!
I actually LOVE to preach about the Trinity. Now, I don’t claim to know anything more about the Trinity than any other preacher. I am no more profound than anyone else on trying to describe what the Trinity is or how it works. But I also don’t find it to be such a stumbling block. Yes, I know the word “Trinity” never appears in scripture. But I do enjoy exploring the different aspects of how the Trinity is made known to us. And…I very unashamedly believe that God does manifest God’s self in Trinitarian terms.
But that doesn’t mean I am not confused but it some times. And doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally doubt it all sometimes.
In our Gospel reading for today, we find that some worshipped Jesus when they saw him resurrected. And we find that “some doubted.” I think that is a normal reaction for those people, who were still struggling to understand who Jesus was, especially this resurrected Jesus. And the fact that we too doubt things like the Trinity is normal as well.It IS difficult to wrap our minds around such a thing. It’s complicated and it’s complex. And, speaking for myself, sometimes the more I think about it, the more complicated it seems to get. Especially when we try to think in the so-called correct (or orthodox) way about it all.
But the doubts, the complications and intricacies of the concept of the Trinity are all part of belief. Belief is not meant to be easy. It is meant to be something we struggle with and carry around with us. And doubt isn’t always a bad thing. We all doubt at times. Without doubt we would be nothing but mindless robots.
Still, I do find some headstrong Episcopalians among us. Of course, I am not headstrong in any way shape or form. I am very humble and complacent kind of guy. (I don’t know why you don’t believe that!!!!) I occasionally will encounter one of these headstrong Episcopalians, especially when it comes to the Creed.
“I have issues with the Creed,” I hear people say every so often. “I don’t believe some of it.”
I usually shrug when I hear that. Like those whiny preachers, I really sort of nod and smile politely. I certainly understand when people have issues with certain aspects of the Creed. Depending on the day, or the phase I am in in my life, I sometimes struggle with some aspects of the Creed myself.
But…the fact remains: it not my own personal Creed. If it were, it might be somewhat different. The Creed we stand up and profess every Sunday—a Creed that lays out belief in the Trinity very clearly—is not the private, personal creed of any one of us. It is OUR Creed. It is our collective Creed. It what WE believe, not necessarily what I personally believe. And while I may doubt and struggle with belief personally, together, we do find strength and purpose in professing a creed we, together, believe in. Sometimes that collective faith upholds us when we doubt or downright disbelieve.
Still, there are moments when the Trinity does confuse me and I am filled with doubts. I am one of those people who occasionally just wants something simple in my faith life. I just want to believe in God—the mystery of God, the fact that God is God and any complexity about God is more than I can fathom. I sometimes don’t want to solve the mystery of God. I don’t want God defined for me. I sometimes don’t want theology. I sometimes just want spirituality. I sometimes just want God.
But, as a Christian, I can’t get around the Trinity. And so I struggle on, just like the rest of us.
One of the best things that has helped me in my faith in God as Trinity is the famous icon of the Trinity, written (that’s the proper way to say an icon is painted or drawn) by the great Russian iconographer, Andrei Rubelev. You will see a version of Rublev’s icon on the cover of your bulletin this morning. I have placed a modernized, even clearer version of the icon on the votive stand in the narthex. After Mass today, I encourage you to go and take a look at it and see how truly beautiful it is. Many scholars consider Rublev's Trinity the most perfect of all Russian icons and perhaps the most perfect of all the icons ever painted.
One description of the icon goes like this: “Rublev's Trinity icon is considered to be void of any noticeable energy of earthly life, of corporeality of forms and external manifestations of love, equally absent from it is that cold soaring of the spirit, so remote from humans.
“The image determines the subtle struck balance between soul and spirit, the corporeal and the imponderable, endless and immortal sojourn in the heavens. When speaking of Rublev's work, different authors describe the Trinity's Angels as quiet, gentle, anxious, sorrowful, and the mood permeating the icon as detached, meditative, contemplative, intimate.”
The subject of this icon is the story in Genesis about the visit by three Angels to the Prophet Abraham and his wife Sarah. According to some theological interpretations, these three Angels represent the three Persons of the Trinity.
In the icon we can see that all the three Angels shown as equals to each other. In a sense, this icon is able to show in a very clear and straightforward way what all our weighty, intellectual theologies don’t. What I especially love about the image is that, in showing the three angels seated around the table, you’ll notice that there is one space at the table left open. That is the space for us. In a sense, we are, in this icon, being invited to the table with the Trinity. We are being invited to join into the work of the Trinity. And I think that is why this icon is so important to me.
Yes, I have my doubts. Yes, my rational, intellectual mind prevents me to understand fully what this Trinity could possibly be and, as a result, doubts creep in. But the icon does what nothing else can. It simply allows me to come to the table and BE with God as Trinity. It allows me to sit there with them and be one with them.
Last week, on the Feast of Pentecost, I shared some thoughts from Scot McKnight from his wonderful book One.Life, which I have read lately. Well, McKnight actually has a few thing to say about the Trinity as well in One.Life, that I’d like to share.
McKnight writes: “There are very few ideas that move me so deeply they create silence, and this may be because I think I’ve landed on one of the deep secrets of life. The one silencing idea is the Trinity, the Christian belief that God is One and Three, Three and One, at the same time, always and forever. My soul goes silent when I meander in thought to pre-creation, when all that existed was this Three-in-One God, and I ask this question: Before it all begin, before the stars and sun and sky and earth, before what Genesis 1 calls the…’formless void,” what was God doing?’”
The answer, according to McKnight is found in one Greek word, perichoresis, (which derive from the Greek words Peri or “Around” or “chorein” which means “contain).
McKnight defines perichoresis as the “interpenetrating and mutual indwelling of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
Don’t worry if you don’t quite get it.
He goes on: “The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit were in an endless dance of endless love and surging joy and delightful play as they enjoyed the depth of their love for One Another. They were doing this forever and are doing this now and will do this for eternity. At the core of life, in God’s own life, is this throbbing joy of mutual indwelling.”
I am really taken with this concept of perichrosis, especially with it being a kind of dance. And what I like most about this is the fact that we are being invited to be a part of this dance as well. We are being invited into this dance, much as we are being invited to sit at that table in Rublev’s icon. We are invited to join in this dance that has gone on form before time and will go on long after time has ceased.
This dance of the Trinity is what we do here. This table that we sit at is this table here—this altar. This dance we do with the Trinity is the ministries we are all called to do. We don’t need to rationalize everything out about our faith in God. We don’t need to sit around and make it a personal issue. It’s not all about me. Or you. Or any one of us.
No matter how much we might doubt the Trinity, the Trinity still exists. It still goes on, in its eternal dance. And no matter how much we might doubt in our rational minds, we are still being called to the dance. No matter how much we might doubt, we are still being called to sit down at the table.
So, let us do just that. Let us sit down at that table. Let us bring our doubts and uncertainties with us. And let us leave them there. Let us let God be God. And let us go out form this table to do the work each of us has been called to do.
Jesus today, in our Gospel reading, commands us to go and make disciples of all the nations. By doing so, we are joining in that dance of the Trinity. And by doing so, we know, despite our doubts, despite our uncertainties, that the Trinity will be with us always, even to the end of the age.