On Trinity Sunday we do not remember some incident from Jesus’ life, a parable he told or some teaching. Instead we remember God as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We spend time just appreciating God as God. The doctrine is not easy to understand but it’s still worth the effort to at least make an attempt.
The readings were Psalm 8, Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15.
As some of you will know, I am studying theology. People who undertake this are warned that in studying theology many deeply held views will be challenged, potentially leaving the person’s faith quite shaken. There have been times when that has happened to me, I admit. Far more often I have been very shaken by realising just how much I have taken for granted in matters of faith without really giving the matter much thought.
Theology has been defined as ‘faith seeking understanding’ which makes sense to me. I’ve had faith since I was very young, I have taken various components of faith on face value, and only recently have I dug deep to try to understand. Often I have found that theology has been faith seeking a headache, but I am glad to be learning more.
I was amazed when I studied the early church to find out just how hard the Christians of the first few centuries after Jesus’ death had to work to find some kind of understanding. Much of this centred around what we are celebrating today, which is God as Trinity, one God but three persons. Those from the eastern, Greek speaking church began with the fact that Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist and asked how three could be one God. Those from western, Latin speaking church started from the fact that we worship one God and asked how he could then also be three, a Trinity.
When we say the Nicene Creed we are repeating an understanding of God which took centuries to work out and is no doubt still imperfect. In the process of working out just what was meant by the Trinity, many people were declared as heretics for various views they held. The church was split over the disagreements. Even today there is a division between the Western and Eastern churches as in the creed the west says that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, whereas the east says the Spirit only proceeds from the Father. One word in Latin, filioque, divides the churches to this day.
Anyone who claims to have the definitive view on the Trinity has to be mistaken. If a human mind could understand God, that god is an idol and not the God we worship. It is not necessary to understand all there is to know about God; in fact that is beyond human capacity. God is bigger than all our explanations; if he wasn’t he wouldn’t be God. Yet, though our faith is profound enough to occupy the most able theologians it is simple enough for a child to grasp and for that we should be grateful.
I cannot claim that you will go away from the service today as an expert on the Trinity. Perhaps it’s possible to at least take a look at what we can know about God on this special day when we celebrate all that he is, what he has been and what he always will be. God is unchanging.
The bible begins with God, ‘In the beginning God created’. Psalm 8 turns our hearts to God the creator also, he who created the world, the heavens, the moon and the stars. However, even thinking of God as creator in the very beginning there are hints of the Trinity. The early Christians added their understanding of Jesus the Son as the Word, the Logos, through whom all things were created. We are told that the Spirit was hovering over the waters.
Much of the Old Testament points forward to Jesus’ coming. We know from reading the Gospels that often the writers state that something happened to fulfil what was written in the Law or the Prophets. The disciples who spent three years with Jesus came to know that he was more than just a man; he was the Son of God. Jesus explained that he and the Father were one, not separate. On the road to Emmaus Jesus showed the disciples how he was pointed to in the scriptures. Those who have studied these things consider that Jesus fulfils over 300 prophecies. It is Jesus who came to show us how to live as we should. Instead of just the words of God in the Bible, he is the Word of God and demonstrates to us how we live out our faith. By his life, he shows us what God the Father wants us to be like because he and the Father are in perfect unity. By Jesus’ death, as the passage from Romans states, we are justified by faith in him and have peace through him.
The Spirit was there hovering at the beginning of all things. The passage from Proverbs is about Wisdom but has been thought of as referring to the Spirit. Notice that Wisdom was there before anything else was which is in keeping with what we know of the Spirit. Wisdom calls to people to draw them away from wrong and to help them on to the right road. Wisdom delights in the human race. In Romans we see that the Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts.
Jesus explained that the Spirit would come on the disciples to teach them, to carry on his work. There was too much for them to take in at once. There was so much to remember of what Jesus had taught. Without the Spirit reminding them there would have been no Gospels for us to read and learn from. There were complex ideas to unpack, as we can find out from the early history of the church. There is no way that humans could hope to manage that without help.
The Spirit is there to guide us into all truth, however complex. As the Spirit guided the church, he also guides each individual. We each meet difficulties in life, we struggle to know what is the right thing to do, what God would have us do. We need the strength to choose the right thing even when we know it.
Early theologians described the living, loving, active relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit as perichoresis which means ‘dancing around’. God is like a never ending dance of love, involving three equals, giving to one another. There is a mutual indwelling as Jesus indicated when he said that he was in the Father and the Father was in him. We may not understand this doctrine: God is eternally three person, each person is fully God, God is one. From a human point of view it makes no sense at all. God is a mystery as Isaiah says: ‘his understanding is unsearchable’. However, we know all that we need to know, that God is love and that he wants to involve us in the dance of love.
The purpose of being invited to join in this wonderful dance is our transformation until we attain our true value as described in the poem by Myra Brooks Welch ‘The Touch of the Master’s Hand’ http://www.barbados.org/poetry/masters.htm
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor