Trinity Sunday, Year B
The Rev. Bingham Powell
Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17
What we talk about when we talk about the Trinity
For my birthday this past week, I received a book called What I talk about when I talk about running by the Japanese author Haruki Murakami. The idea of the title is that when the author talks about running, he isn’t actually talking about running; he’s talking about something much deeper. So the book is not a running manual per se, but rather a memoir, and a reflection upon the weightier matters of life that happen to be seen through the lens of training for a marathon. Running isn’t about running, therefore, but about perseverance, persistence, self-control, strength, weakness, humility, sacrifice, solitude, and so on. Now, I haven’t actually finished the book – I’ve only really just started it – so I don’t have any idea if the book actually holds up to the high expectations of the title, but the title itself has grabbed me this week. There is truth in that book title, isn’t there? That when we talk about certain things, we’re really talking about other things. When we talk about college football, for instance, we’re not only talking about the sport, are we? Sure, to some degree we are, but we’re also talking about the importance of challenge and risk; and about loyalty and pride in our school or community; and about belonging to something bigger than ourselves. And when we talk about the weather, unless we’re trying to figure out what clothes to wear that morning, we’re not usually just talking about temperature and humidity. In grumbling about the rain, we’re just as likely to be talking about monotony or sorrow; and in chatting about a sunny day, we’re just as likely to be talking about energy, excitement, or hope.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is one of seven major feasts of the year, right up there with Christmas and Easter – I hope you got some presents this morning. And as we celebrate this Feast of the Trinity, I think we can ask ourselves the same question that this book title raises: What are we talking about when we talk about the Trinity? Trinity Sunday is one of my favorite Sundays of the year; the Trinity is one of my favorite theological concepts. And that is because when we talk about the Trinity, we are not really just talking about the Trinity, about how we can violate the laws of mathematics by claiming that three equals one, or about Greek philosophical categories that thousands of years ago helped explain this Trinitarian theology. When we talk about the Trinity, we are talking about more than just the Trinity: we are talking about the weighty matters of mystery, glory, relationship, and love.
The Trinity seems to either confound or appeal, often doing both at the same time. It seems vast and complex. For many of us, the complexity of the idea takes deep thought to even just begin to wrap our head around it. And just when we feel like we have a grasp of it, it slips through our fingers. It remains an eternal mystery: a mystery not waiting to be solved, but a mystery that draws us in to its very glory. A mystery that probably is not best approached by reason, but by art. Art like the great icon of the Holy Trinity by Rublev found on the front of your bulletin (below here on the website). Or art like our opening hymn this morning – a song of praise to the Holy Trinity - that began with a trinity of holies: Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee. The hymn goes on to say that this Holy Trinity causes the saints to cast down their golden crowns, and all of the angels to bow down. This Trinity is perfect in the trinity of power, love, and purity, and in the trinity of time: past, present, and future. Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity! This hymn echoes our first lesson this morning from Isaiah with the seraphim flying around and calling to one another “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory.”
How glorious is this mysterious and blessed Trinity: three persons, one God. Not three Gods, but one God whose very nature is to be in relationship. Rublev Icon of the Holy TrinityAnd we who are made in the image of God as Genesis teaches us can only therefore reach the fullness of our humanity when we are in relationship with others, and with God. And when we reflect on this relationship that each person of the Trinity has with the other persons of that same Trinity, we see that the relationship is a relationship of love. Look at that Rublev icon again and look at their eyes. There is a longing in those eyes, a longing that is the love they have for one another, a deep and abiding love that is simply greater than we can imagine. It is a love that overflows into the world: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” The love we feel in this world is but a reflection of the love that the members of the Three-in-One God have for one another. But even that mere reflection is so powerful that we strive for it every day, we strive for the love that flows out of the Trinity. To become who we were created to be, we strive for loving relationships that reflect the loving relationship that is intrinsic to the very nature of God.
And so, on this Feast of the Holy Trinity, when we talk about the Trinity, we are not talking just talking about the Trinity, but we are also talking about what we need to fully be who God made us to be. We are talking about our need for love and relationships, relationships with other people - whether partner, parent, child, or friend – and our relationship with God – in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And when we talk about the Trinity, we are talking about our need to enter into the mystery of God that draws us ever deeper, seeking the wonder and grandeur – even if just for a split second - of God’s immensity and complexity that pulls us up into God’s glory, where we were made to be. Amen.