The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Trinity Sunday A/23
June 4th 2023
One God: One Love
This morning I’d like to begin by backing our first reading from Genesis—to the beginning—when the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep; when the ruach, the spirit-wind of God swept across the waters and God breathed the word, let their be light, and there was. When God breathes, we come alive.
Jesus himself came alive on this earth by the breath of God; that he breathed in his body as we all do bears witness to his humanity. But when Jesus gave his first disciples the life of the Holy Spirit by breathing the breath of God upon them, this attests to his divinity. So too, the descent of the Holy Spirit upon us at baptism, Pentecost, and any time attests to the divinity of our own nature, and to the share we have in the divine life, which brings me to today: Trinity Sunday, and the celebration of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; a trinitarian unity that is relational, reciprocal, and responsive; interconnected, interdependent, and participatory—that we are part of, that is shared with us—because God is a Self-sharing of his/her/their creative and revelatory love. These three “persons” are the one God in whose dynamic image and likeness we are made.
Though today has been especially set aside to celebrate the Trinity, truly every Sunday is a celebration of the One who is Three. It couldn’t be any other way because belief in the triune God is at the heart of the Christian faith. Foundational to this understanding is that first and foremost God is one, and as we read in Genesis, the one source of all that is. This is our Jewish inheritance from which Christianity sprang: Hear O Israel: the Lord your God is one God (Deuteronomy 6:4).
But then Jesus enters into history, and with that, so too does a new way of perceiving our one God; from God primarily as Creator of the universe to God primarily as Father; a father who loves his son, Jesus, who is an equal, and relation by love. To quote Herbert McCabe, Dominican priest and theologian (1926-2001), and from whom I’ve taken much inspiration for this sermon, the life of God, within the Godhead, is ultimately the life of love between Father and Son, and this life of love . . . we call the Holy Spirit.
This means that we too are relations of God by love, and a member of the divine family. We are not determined by “mutual negation”—I am me by not being you—but by mutual affirmation—I am me and you are also-me; or I am self and you are also-self. As Jesus teaches, we are “one” as he is with the Father and the Spirit. Their unity is life abundant, and in all of its astonishing diversity.
Now, your head might be spinning a bit, but as Celtic Christianity particularly embraces, the trinitarian life need not be a philosophical or theological struggle or conundrum, but rather natural accessible, and down to earth. The Trinity is invoked in all manner of daily activities, such as when making a meal, writing a poem, tending to a garden or relationship; when we are imaginative and generative, our Father, the Creator, is moving and breathing. When we love another, ourselves, and most especially those who are difficult to love and accept, Jesus, the Son, is present, blessing and healing. The Spirit is most assuredly walking along side of us when we let go, forgive and trust, when we speak the truth, or when we delight! Whenever we pray, Jesus is praying in us through the Spirit to the Father, and we are taking part in the eternal and ongoing prayer and conversation of the Trinity, as if at the family table and gathering.
The mystery of the Triune God—and it is a mystery—has long been envisioned and talked about in the language of triangles and trefoils; circles, spirals, and shamrocks; angels and hares, as in rabbits; beams of light, and the familiar old-man-father with lamb and dove. St. Augustine conceptualized the Trinity as Lover, Beloved, and Love; St. Bernard of Clairvaux spoke of the Holy Spirit as the kiss between the Father and Son; Meister Eckhart conceived the Trinity as peals of generative laughter; Hildegard of Bingen envisioned the Trinity as a unity of brightness, flashing, and fire; for Julian of Norwich the Trinity was Father, Mother, and Grace. McCabe envisioned the Trinity as God the eternal parent, God the eternal child, and God of eternal joy and delight.
How might you think of and imagine the Trinity? As Wisdom, Love, and Might, as we sang in the gradual hymn (371)? Perhaps Life, Peace, and Joy resonate with you; or the image of Light, Earth, and Fire. As in our opening hymn (372) perhaps the Trinity is most simply understood as the Holy, Holy, Holy; or as in Canticle 13 most simply expressed as the Glory, Glory, Glory.
We think, envision, and know through a plurality of partial insights, which is only as it can be. Our understanding of God will never add up to God; and as all mystics attest, the more we come to grasp God, the more we lose our grip. But what a marvelous gift we are given—this effort of discernment and thought, learning and contemplation—in trying to express an absolute that is ultimately beyond expression. If we were never to grapple with God and reflect upon the mystery of the Holy One and life itself, we would unwittingly become reductionists; in the sense that we would suppress our most basic human need for meaning.
The doctrine of the Trinity, that God the Father is the creator of all that is seen, and unseen; that God the Son reveals the nature of God which is love; and God the Holy Spirit is the giver of life and revelation of truth—is at the heart of the gospel. And while it is the good news that we are forgiven and redeemed through no merit of our own, and that we are saved from sin and death by the sheer graciousness of God, there is more—which is that we are raised beyond humanity—even beyond sinless humanity—into God’s divine life (McCabe). We are taken up into the Holy Three and into the circle and dance of their love—or to use a fancy word, into the perichoresis or mutual indwelling of the persons of the Trinity. We have a share in the Holy One’s life of dynamic, relational, intimate, yielding, and expansive love, which indeed is the good great news of the Gospel.
In the name of the blessed and undivided Trinity: One God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.