TRINITY SUNDAY 2004
MOSTYN ROAD, 6 June 2004
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day on which we celebrate all the different aspects of God.† Itís actually a very difficult day to preach on, since itís very easy to get bogged down in the sort of theology which none of us understands, and which we can very easily get wrong.
The trouble is, of course, that the concept of the Trinity is trying to explain something that simply wonít go into words.† We are accustomed to thinking of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and most of the time we donít really stop and think about it.† Trinity Sunday is the day we are expected to stop and think!
The thing is, the first half of the Christian year, which begins way back before Christmas, is the time when we think about Jesus.† We prepare for the coming of the King, in Advent, and then we remember his birth, his being shown to the Gentiles, his presentation in the Temple as a baby.† Then we skip a few years and remember his ministry, his arrest, death and resurrection, and his ascension into heaven.† Then we remember the coming of the promised Holy Spirit, and today we celebrate God in all his Godness, as someone once put it.† The second half of the year, all those Sundays after Trinity, tend to focus on different aspects of our Christian life.† And today is the one day in the year when we are expected to stop and think about God as Three and God as One.
And it is difficult.† Itís a concept that doesnít really go into words, and so whatever we say about it is going to be in some way flawed.† It took the early Church a good 400 years to work out what it wanted to say about it, and even that is very obscure: †ďThat we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance. †For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. †But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal. †Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit. †The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.† The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.Ē† The whole thing incomprehensible, if you ask me!
We have all been to the sort of services where the preacher brings some kind of visual aid to try to explain the Trinity Ė an egg, perhaps, with shell, yolk and white, or an apple, with core, skin and flesh.† Or they talk about water Ė ice, steam and liquid waterÖ.† All of which are sort-of pictures, but only sort-of.† Nobody really understands it.† And, of course, that is as it should be.† If we could understand it, if we knew all the ins and outs and ramifications of it, then we would be equal to God.† And itís very good for us to know that there are things about God we donít really understand!† Itís called, in the jargon, a ďmysteryĒ.† That means something that we are never going to understand, even after a lifetime of study.† Lots of things to do with God are mysteries, in that sense.† Holy Communion, for one Ė we know what we mean when we take Communion, but we also know that it may very well mean something quite different, but equally valid, to the person standing next to us.† Or even the Atonement Ė none of us really understands exactly what happened when Jesus died on the Cross, only that some sort of change took place in the moral nature of the Universe.
Nevertheless, for all practical purposes, we live very happily with not understanding.† We synthesise some form of understanding that suits us, and, provided we know it is not the whole story, thatís fine.† And the same applies to the Trinity.† It doesnít matter if we donít really understand how God can be Three and One at the same time; what matters is that we love and trust him, whatever!
And if you turn to todayís readings, you will see something of the same sort of thing.† In our Gospel reading, Jesus talks of himself, the Father and the Spirit as equal: ďAll that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.Ē† He doesnít have the word ďTrinityĒ, but it is the kind of thing he means.
And so we turn to our first reading, from Proverbs.† What is that all about, and what relevance does it have to today?†
In the translation I used to prepare this sermon, it reads:
ďThe LORD brought me forth as the first of his works,
† before his deeds of old;
I was appointed from eternity,
† from the beginning, before the world began.
When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
when there were no springs abounding with water;Ē
and so on and so forth.† Wisdom, here, is personified as female.† The Greek word for Wisdom is Sophia.† And some commentators equate Sophia, here, and in other passages, with the Holy Spirit.†
Incidentally, some people find the image of God as Sophia, Wisdom, helpful and different.† Itís one of the many images of God we have, up there alongside the Shepherd, the Rock, the Strong Tower and so on.† If you donít find it helpful, then donít use it, but if it is something that appeals, then do.
But that is beside the point.† Seeing God as Wisdom is a very old tradition, but the real point is that even in the Old Testament we get glimpses of God as having more than One Person.† The Trinity might not be a Bible expression, but it is a Bible concept.
But really, the thing about today is that, no matter how much we donít understand God as Three but still One, today is a day for praising God in all his Godness.† It is not really a day for deep theological reflection, nor for self-examination, but a day for praise and wonder and love and adoration.
So Iím going to be quiet now, and letís spend a few moments in silent worship before we sing our next hymn.