Trinity 2013

Fr Alec
Sunday, May 26, 2013 - 9:30am

Trinity 2013

All that the Father has is mine


Historically, artists have not done well at representing the Holy Trinity. Though there are many beautiful and perceptive works of art that approach the subject, all of the attempts fall down in one way or another. It was common in the Renaissance to show Jesus flanked my an elderly bearded man , the pair accompanied by a hovering dove…it has to be said, this is rather lazy to say the least.

Another approach has been to use shapes rather like a diagram: triangles, for example, or interlocking circles, but these are a rather pale and cold, not to say incomplete representation.

Perhaps the best presentation can be found in the famous Orthodox icons which, though often referred to as the Trinity, represent a scene from the Old Testament in which God visits Abraham at Mamre in the form of three mysterious angelic strangers. Precisely because the iconographer takes an allegorical approach it leaves him free to explore the interrelationship between the three figures. The delicate composition guides the onlooker’s eye from figure to figure in a way that is mirrored by the gazes that share with each other.

Yet all of these attempts con only be allusions. When we talk about the Holy Trinity, we are talking about an idea that doesn’t make sense in physical terms. That God could be three and one is a paradox which inevitably throws us off-balance. Why is it there at the centre of our faith, and why do we find ourselves today celebrating Trinity Sunday?

Perhaps a good place to start is with Quicunque Vult, the Athanasian Creed: A long and rarely used statement of faith of ancient but uncertain origin, which you will find near the beginning of your Book of Common Prayer. It gives a resounding and confident affirmation, both of the Trinity, and of Christ’s human and divine nature. So confident in fact that it begins, rather alarmingly, like this:

Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Substance.

‘Really?!’ we might panickingly say ‘Perish Everlastingly?! But I’m not sure I really understood what you just said…’ Nothing is mentioned about love, or forgiveness, how we live or behave. There is a danger here that when we talk about the Holy Trinity it can come to feel rather bloodless, clinical and academic. Why should our salvation be so closely linked to our belief in these rather abstruse propositions?

Well, I think the Church calendar rather helps us here. Last week, you will remember, we celebrated Whitsunday, and the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples was the culmination of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ. Whitsun is the end of the journey we begin at Advent and Christmas as our salvation unfolds before us in the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And all of these wonderful and beautiful celebrations should lead us to ask ‘What is the God like who does these things?’ How does the way God saves us tell us about the way God is?

Let us begin, then, with Jesus. How is our relationship with this man Jesus going to end in our Salvation- our closer union with God? Because the Jesus who walked amongst us, who was born of Mary, who died on the cross, and rose from the dead, was the Son of God. He was God made Man. God with us.

Likewise, how can we claim to be involved in the life of this man? Because we have received his Spirit. We are baptised with the same Spirit that settled on the disciples at Pentecost. A Spirit given to us by Jesus from his Father, by which we share in the life of God. If we believe in these things then we believe in the Holy Trinity. A God who expresses Himself in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And because they all are God, none is first or last, none is pre-eminent, none does or thinks anything the others do not, for God is one in Himself- he is perfect, not divided or separated in any way.

But what does this mean, if God is Trinity? Well in this life, we can only hope to kiss the surface of the fathomless mystery of God, but it means a great deal. It means that ours is not a lonely God, remote and isolated. God is active, and dynamic, in his very being. The three persons are united in mutual love, a love that spills over and includes us in its embrace. It means that God is involved in his creation. Though He infinitely transcends heaven and earth, nevertheless he is infinitely concerned with the fate of every last detail of what he has made. It means also that if we, the Church of God, are to reflect something of the divine nature to the rest of the world then we will do it most perfectly through unity based on equality, respect, and love.