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The Trinity: Entering a Mystery: June 4, 2023 (8:00 AM)

Trinity Sunday (8:00 AM service):
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Whether seriously or not, we often come to Trinity Sunday with some hesitation, or with some self-deprecating humour about preaching on the mystery of the Trinity, or about our understanding of it at all.

I’d hope that over the years there’s been something from whatever sermons that were preached that has been helpful in helping us overcome whatever inner-reticence we bring.

Occurring as it does the day after a large wedding in the parish, I wonder if that might be part of our lens for exploring the Trinity today, in a few different ways. When we think of two people committing to one another in marriage, we have two people who have — in most cases — come to know each other very well, at a deep level. And they commit to growing together, and continuing to get to know the other as deeply as possible. At the same time, it’s an ongoing process and implicit in it is that as much as one’s spouse is familiar and known, the spouse also remains something of a mystery. A mystery that we’re drawn deeper and deeper into. We don’t say ‘by our twenty-fifth anniversary, I’ll know everything there is to know about you,’ so much as ‘by our twenty-fifth anniversary, you will continue to present levels of depth that I yearn to explore.’ The doctrine of the Trinity is something like that. Our Christian forebears have passed along this teaching, because they experienced God as a Trinity of relationships: God as Father, as Son, and as Holy Spirit (relationships between God and the Church, and between God in God’s Self). But this growing knowledge of God didn’t just stop; they didn’t graduate to it, so they could rest contentedly and bask in its glow. No, instead they came to it, but it remains as a continual challenge (even, as I said, a sometimes uncomfortable one), in which the depth of this mystery is always before us.

One of the great early teachers on the Trinity from the early centuries of the Church, Gregory of Nazianzus, wrote “No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One…. Our thought must be in continuous motion, pursuing now the one, now the three, and returning again to the unity; it must swing ceaselessly between the two poles.”

That to me, brings us back to what I was saying about the depth and mystery of marriage. On one hand, you really get to know the person. On the other, you realize, as your life continues together, that there are always new layers to explore. Or to put it more plainly, that marriage is work to keep up. We need to tend the relationship. Just when we think we’ve gotten to a state of comfort and familiarity, there is some new surprise, or new challenge. That’s a bit of what Gregory’s saying: “No sooner do I distinguish them [the Three persons of the Trinity] than I am carried back to the One.” So if we’re never truly, 100% comfortable with the idea of God as Trinity, then maybe that’s just normal. God’s depth keeps us on our toes.

And perhaps that is enough for us on this today, or just about. Ours is, admittedly, not a simple conception of God. The doctrine of the Trinity gets in the way of easier, deeper dialogue with, say, the Jewish and Islamic faiths. But that’s what we have been given. The roots of the idea of God as Trinity start with the Church’s experience of Jesus, and we don’t want to jettison that. The early Church was in a place of wanting to continue to assert the Oneness of God that they got from their Judaism. But they also could not deny that what they experienced in the person of Jesus was nothing less than really God. The understanding of God is expanded in the Christ event. It’s also expanded when the Creator becomes the Creature (in what we call the Incarnation). And expanded when God goes to the Cross, and experiences humiliation and death.

And then in time, our forebears would experience God amongst them as an inner Spirit, inside and around them. Uniting them one to another. Spirit of God inside each one, and operating within the whole community. So God is not just known in thunderclap and lightning; in the clouds and mists of some foreboding mountain; but in the intimacy of human relationships, where there is love, joy, peace, patience, and so on.

Through these experiences the Church came to recognize that it was better to speak of God as a Unity of Three Persons (though not quite “persons” like we mean in everyday language), in a sort of ongoing dance, or flow and return. Like Love that is given and received. It’s less traditional and less simple than just talking about God as ‘out there’ or God as the ‘most powerful’ or ‘most different’ from us. But our Church says that it’s better to speak of God in this relational sort of way (within God’s very being) than to not. To speak of God as the great Lover. But also God as the Beloved, the receiver of that Love. And then also to affirm that that power of Love is all around, and within us. And drawing us into the mystery of that Love, that relationality. Into the heart of God.

© 2023 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter