The Trinity – a perfect unity of love
Mary Copping, 27 May 2018
Isaiah 6: 1–8; John 3: 1–17
Trinity Sunday is the day when we celebrate the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three persons, one God. This is the one festival in the Christian year that doesn’t relate to events that have happened, or that will happen. Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Passiontide, Easter, Ascension, and last week Pentecost – all these, leading up to this Sunday, relate to specific events in Christ’s life on earth. But Trinity Sunday is different; it refers to a reality that has no date, no specific event – something that’s difficult to imagine, impossible to explain, needing faith to believe.
When Jesus was baptised, we’re told that, as he came out of the water, the heavens were opened and people saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and then they heard a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’. Here we have the Holy Trinity at the beginning of Christ’s ministry: the voice of the Father, the Son being baptised and the Holy Spirit as a dove.
The early Christians worshipped God, and they knew that Jesus was God and that Jesus sent the Holy Spirit – God to be with them always – therefore having the essence of the Trinity. And yet it is not a word that Jesus used, and it’s not found in the Bible. But it’s used to describe what we know about God; it doesn’t explain God but it describes what we experience. It is mystery.
So where then does this word come from? Tertullian was a Latin theologian who wrote in the early third century, and he is credited as being the first to use the words ‘Trinity’, ‘person’ and ‘substance’ to explain that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are ‘three people and one substance’.
When trying to explain the Trinity to children, and adults, various visual aids are used. For example, the three attributes of water – steam, liquid and ice – are all the same substance. Or another example, an egg – shell, yolk and albumen, with all parts making up the whole. Good but limited illustrations for something difficult/impossible to understand.
The Trinity means more than anything we could explain. Michael Sadgrove, former Dean of Durham, says, ‘For how can we speak about the God who is both high and deep, beyond us yet within, encompassing all that has been, and is, and is yet to come?’ The prophet Isaiah wrote, ‘To whom then will you liken God?’ It’s difficult to find the words to describe the Trinity … impossible.
The Trinity is something we can never fully understand, yet in it we see a pattern of relationship that speaks of how we are to be towards others and towards the world. The threeness of Trinity means community: a group of people relating to one another in loving, self-giving and living.
The threeness of Trinity means community: a group of people relating to one another in loving, self-giving and living.
In our post-Communion prayer we will soon say, ‘Almighty and eternal God, you have revealed yourself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and live and reign in the perfect unity of love’. The Trinity is a unity of love. The icon that for me best gives a sense of this unity is Andrei Rublev’s Trinity, which shows the persons of the Holy Trinity all looking at and pointing to each other, making a perfect circle of communion and community.
Community is so vital to people’s welfare and good. The community of the church is a special one: one where all ages, gifts and different interests meet together. This is quite unusual for groups or communities, which are often all of similar age and interest. The church community is one where each other’s needs are taken into consideration, where we care about each other in practical as well as spiritual and emotional ways.
The Community Day was an example of us sharing our community, sharing with others what we have here. Many people worked together to bring something to fruition in a combined church-community effort, with people using their many gifts to bless others (over 700 others!).
Think of a mosaic picture. It is often made up of bright pieces that attract attention, surrounded by many not-so-obvious pieces that are vital for the making of the whole picture. If a single piece is missing it is very noticeable. So with us in this church community, every person is important; every person has things to bring to the community, whether it is quiet prayer, as those meditating every Tuesday night, people arranging the flowers during the week, polishing the brass, or doing a reading or intercessions on Sunday morning. Every person is special to God and to this church community, and to the other communities that we each belong to.
So how does the story of Nicodemus, as chosen for this Trinity Sunday, demonstrate facets of the Trinity? Nicodemus was a member of the prestigious Sanhedrin (the supreme religious body in ancient Israel), and was not prepared to be seen with Jesus, therefore coming by night. We know that he came out of professional curiosity, wanting to learn, perhaps starting from the idea that Jesus must be genuine or he wouldn’t be preaching and healing as he did.
It was a good start and obviously the meeting meant a lot to him because we read later on, during Jesus’ second trip to Jerusalem, that the Sanhedrin wanted the guards to arrest Jesus but Nicodemus came to his defence. Then, at the end, Nicodemus helped Joseph of Arimathea prepare Jesus’ body for burial. In this secret meeting with Jesus, he realised that he could be born again, given a new life with God; it was a free gift, to him as it is to us. So Nicodemus went to Jesus the Son and was told the good news about entering the kingdom of God, the kingdom of the Father, by the work of the Holy Spirit, three in one.
The Holy Trinity is bound together in love, as shown on Rublev’s icon. As Bishop Michael Curry at the royal wedding so powerfully pronounced, ‘When love is the way, we actually treat each other, well, like we are actually family’.
The Trinity is a bond of love, centred on love, filled with love, with no room for anything else.
The Trinity is a bond of love, centred on love, filled with love, with no room for anything else. We are to be full of that same love, sent from the Father, shown by the Son and enabled by the Holy Spirit. As we will sing in a moment, ‘Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven to earth come down’.
The love we find in this community of the church is vital for us and we thank God for all that we have here where we help, bless and support each other. But even more so, we thank God for his love and for the community of his Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to sustain and bless us. Amen.