Sermon: Trinity Sunday Year A 2020*
June 7, 2020
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Today is Trinity Sunday, when we ponder the concept of a Triune God—the great Three in One. For those of us in the Church, this is a concept we accept and a relationship in which we thrive, and yet we struggle to fully understand it. And this has been the case for even the most distinguished theologians of all times, so that today it is still a mystery.
For the unchurched, it is as strange as an alien from outer space, as illustrated in an article Ann Spivak wrote in Reader’s Digest some time ago: “While our friends from India traveled around California on business, they left their eleven-year old daughter with us. Curious about my going to church one Sunday morning, she decided to come along. When we returned home, my husband asked her what she thought of the service.
‘“I don’t understand why the West Coast isn’t included too,’ she replied. When we inquired what she meant, she added, ‘You know, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the whole East Coat.’”
Charming as this little girl was in her lack of understanding, I dare say that theologians down through the ages have struggled to fully understand and be able to express a comprehensive understanding of the Trinity. Nowhere in the scriptures will you find an explanation of Trinity. It is a theology that was pondered and established in the early development of the Church.
Preparing to preach about the mystery of the Holy Trinity—knowing what a tightrope it can be—makes one think about the experience of Thomas Aquinas, the unparalleled Dominican philosopher and theologian, whom Pope Pius V officially declared “Doctor of the Church” in 1567.
At the age of forty-eight, Aquinas completed what came to be known as one of the greatest intellectual milestones of Western civilization, the Summa Theologica, a tome including more than thirty-eight treatises, three thousand articles, and ten thousand objections. (I’ve put it on my bucket list to read before I die—it will probably take me the rest of my life to get through it.)
In his Summa, Aquinas set out to gather knowledge from the fields of anthropology, ethics, political theory, science, and theology—into one coherent whole. Imagine! His writings did this brilliantly, especially through their compact thought and expression. That is, until December 6, 1273, at which time Aquinas was celebrating the Mass in the Chapel of St. Thomas.
As he consecrated the elements, the great theologian caught a glimpse of the Beatific Vision or the Light of Glory. And in a flash, his whole life changed. Suddenly he knew that all his efforts to describe the reality of God fell so far short of the truth that had been revealed to him in the vision—that he decided never to write again.
Reginald, his secretary, undone by Thomas’s decision, tried to encourage the master thinker to continue his writings. However, Thomas answered, “Reginald, I can do no more. Such things have been revealed to me that all I have written seems as so much straw.”
Well, you could never convince a priest-to-be in seminary, who had to read Aquinas and write papers about his work, that his writings were “so much straw.” Yet every year, clergy pray to God for something new to say about Trinity. It is that huge and that mystical.
We might say, the three persons of the Trinity together express the completeness of God’s wonderful grace toward us. God the Father is the Creator of all. God’s Living Word, the Son, lived on earth as a human being to reveal God to us and to save us through his death on the cross. God is also present with us today in the work of the Holy Spirit. God is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer—One God in three Persons.
William Temple (1881-1944), the great Anglican visionary and Archbishop of Canterbury (1942-1944), said simply, “Revelation is never a matter of doctrines about God—although such doctrines may be drawn up later on the basis of revelation. Revelation itself is always direct knowledge of an experience of God.”
In other words, everyday people—from fisherman, to tax collectors, to women at the well—encountered a man named Jesus. They already knew of a “Creator God,” the Lord of Israel. Most likely they paid homage and worship to this God by reciting the Shema of Israel every day. But in this Jesus they came to find more than an “anointed carpenter,” or a man who was unswervingly open to God. The works that he did, the wisdom that fell from his lips, the aura of Spirit that enveloped him, suggested a being unlike any other they had ever met. He did the works that only God could do, and his wisdom and love came from a Source beyond. Was he the Christ of God?
Whatever “specialness” Jesus had as a teacher/healer/deliverer of Israel seemed to vanish with his death. Had he been no more than a false messiah, they wondered—ultimately cursed by God, as indicated by his death on a cross? And no monument was constructed to his memory as had been done in the case of other martyrs.
But then the community of faith had an Easter experience that was one of a kind. God raised this Jesus from the dead as Lord and Messiah. Furthermore, these people witnessed and touched and ate with Jesus, who was present in his “spiritual body” after the Resurrection. It was a state of being wholly new and unique to them—beyond anything they could have imagined was possible.
Jesus taught them many things in the forty days he remained with his friends and followers while in his Resurrection body. One important teaching was that the paraclete, or Divine Helper, what we call the Holy Spirit, was to come to them in his name.
Well, after the coming of the Spirit, the word “God” was simply not adequate to describe their experience. The basis of faith had to be widened. Faith seeking understanding had to be stretched. No longer would a strict monotheism work, as these people sought to describe a threefold activity of relationship with the One God. Let me repeat that phrase, threefold activity of relationship with the One God. Friends, this is worth remembering—it helps to make sense of Trinity!
Over time, the Apostolic community handed down—and mediated to the world—an experience of God under three aspects of the Divine Personality. This Undivided God could and did do the work that defines what we mean by Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: that is, the work of Creator, Revealer/Redeemer, and Abider/Empowerer.
Ultimately, the Trinity is not something that can be explained, but rather a mystery to be cherished. Only God knows God. God’s magnificent Self is incomprehensible. However, we have it on good authority that when we pass from this life to the next, all will be made clear. As we read in First Corinthians 13:12 (in the King James, which most people our age would remember): “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know, even as also I am known.”
Imagine, knowing all there is to know about the Triune God, even as God knows each and every one of us! In an instant! Or as Pascal wrote, “By faith we know God’s existence. In glory we shall know God’s nature.”
Until then, friends, let us affirm the Nicene Creed, make the sign of the Cross over ourselves, and bless everything in the Name of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
I hope this gives all of us confidence and encouragement, especially in the days we are facing at this time. It is empowering and uplifting to know that everything we can possibly experience in God is defined and made possible through the life of the Trinity. And God Triune will give us everything we need to get through, and be victorious, in these difficult times. Amen
*Sermon resource: Synthesis, Trinity Sunday—Year A, June 7, 2020.