The collect and readings for the Feast of the Holy Trinity may be found here. The appointed gospel is Matthew 28:16-20.
The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
When it comes time to speak of God, especially God as Trinity, three persons and one essence, we always risk saying more than we really know or can ever know. That is the risk today on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is the temptation before every preacher. More often than not our analogies for the Trinity give way to heresies, the three and the one become a nonsensical math problem, and the Blessed Trinity is left holding little meaning for our day to day life. That is not because the Trinity is unimportant or irrelevant. It is because the deepest and the most important things of our life can rarely, if ever, be talked about. They can only ever be experienced.
Define love and list the reasons why you love that one person above all others. Count the ways and you’ll find that words fail. No list is long enough and after a while the reasons begin to sound hollow, empty. Describe for me the most beautiful day of your life. Maybe it was sitting in the silence of a sunset or the day your child was born. The colors and feelings, though real, sound trite compared to the reality of that beauty. Tell me about the deepest joy or tragedy of your life. Tell me the story. The facts may be accurate but words can never contain the fullness of that joy or tragedy. At most they point to it.
When it comes to speaking about the most profound, meaningful, and life-changing things or events of our lives words fall flat. They only seem to trivialize. So it is with God. Perhaps that is why in today’s gospel Jesus does not explain or define the Trinity. Instead he speaks of relationship and participation. Human beings, all nations, the entire world, are to be baptized, plunged, washed, immersed in the name, that is, the qualities and characteristics, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul describes these as grace, love, and communion. At the end of his second letter he entrusts the Corinthians not so much to what God does but to how God is. God’s being is the eternal Trinity. That being is the basis for God’s doing. This is true for us as well.
We were created to participate in and share the life of the Holy Trinity. It is our spiritual DNA. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’” (Gen. 1:26). Trinitarian life is the pattern from which we were created. It is both the basis and destination of our lives. The Trinitarian life is a choreography of love; three equal persons, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, each one dwelling in the other by virtue of an unceasing movement of mutual love.
Our lives, marriages, families, schools, workplaces, parishes, are to become images, icons, of the Triunity of God. We are invited to join this dance of mutuality and love. Whenever we see the world through another’s eyes, whenever the joys and sorrows of another become our own, whenever we completely give our selves to another holding nothing back, whenever we open our selves to receive without condition the life of another, whenever we both lose and find our life in the life of another then we are most like God. Then we have moved from being created in the image, the pattern, of God and we have begun living like God.
You see this in those rare married couples who live and love as one without ever losing their distinct uniqueness as two persons. Together they manifest divine love and reveal God’s life in this world. Ultimately, Trinitarian life is not about numbers. It’s not a quantity but, rather, a quality, a way of being. It’s that kind of relationship with another that allows us to say, “I love, therefore I am.”
This way of life is one of practical service and active compassion. There is no subordination within Trinitarian relationships. The Triunity of God is manifest in our struggles against injustice, oppression, and exploitation. It is the basis for living sacrificially in and for the life of another. A child who cares for an aging parent with love, compassion, and self-giving demonstrates Triune love. Similarly the Trinity reveals what true parenthood looks like. The Triunity of God shows the way to find unity with others, not in spite of our diversity and multiplicity, but through and because of our diversity and multiplicity.
The image of God in humanity is Trinitarian. It is in every one of you. The divine image offers a life with God and others that is relational, personal, participatory, communal, and loving. This is the life for which we were created. It is the truest pattern of who we are and how we are to live. To turn away from another, to withdraw our life from another, to live in isolation, to exclude another declaring that we have no need of them are the most unnatural and un-godlike things we do.
Our love for one another and our faith in the Holy Trinity are integrally related. You cannot have one without the other. A genuine confession of faith in the Triune God can only be made by those who show mutual love to one another. Our love for one another is the precondition for a Trinitarian faith and a Trinitarian faith is what completes and gives meaning to our love for another.
Beware, however. This is not easy. It’s dangerous to live a Trinitarian faith. It means love, vulnerability, openness to another, self-giving, sharing and participating in one another’s lives such that we become one. That is how Christ lived and died. That is the resurrected, ascended, and “pentecosted” life Christ reveals and offers us. It is how we are to be and live. Our culture neither recognizes nor rewards this kind of life. To the world it looks like weakness and dependency. In God’s world, however, it looks like holiness. Humanity is most authentically itself when it participates in and manifests the divine life. “The glory of God is man fully alive,” said St. Irenaeus in the second century.
Every Sunday in the Nicene Creed we confess our belief in God who is Trinity. We confess the oneness of God as well as the uniqueness of the three persons. This may be what we believe but is it how we live? If our belief in God as three and one is not manifested in and determinative of our relationships can we really claim belief in the Triune God?
Every moment, every circumstance, every relationship is one in which we can make real and visible the divine life and love of the Holy Trinity. That is the human vocation. It is what we were created to do. It is the most natural and godlike thing we ever do.
“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27).
And then, “God blessed them” (Gen. 1:28).
Wow, Mike! Another poignant and challenging sermon. I am moved and inspired by your challenge to live into the experience of the Holy Trinity through truly loving another (or others). Thank you. I agree and desire to live more fully aware of the Holy Trinity-life on a daily basis.
Thanks for this, Mike. Fine sermon. Good job countering the impression that the Trinity is esoteric and irrelevant. Stil, more, you evoked what makes understanding God this way so attractive. And challenging.
wow. This is deep and touching. Thanks so much and keep it up.
Thank you. God’s peace be with you.