Trinity Sunday – George Yandell
Preaching on Trinity Sunday makes me feel like the heart attack victim that called for a priest. The priest arrived and moved the gathering crowd aside. He knelt beside her and saw she was too weak to handle confession and absolution, so he asked, “Do you believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” With great effort, the stricken woman raised herself onto her elbows in the bed and addressed those surrounding her, “Here I lie dying, and the Father is asking me riddles!” (Adapted from a sermon by Lane Denson on Trinity Sunday, 2010.)
Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday each year whose content is theology and doctrine. It was first celebrated on the Sunday after Pentecost in the Church of England by Thomas a Becket in the late 12th century. Many of us become dazed and confused when correct belief about the Trinity is overblown in importance to many of our fellow Christians. ‘Correct belief’ is no longer relevant to many Christians. I believe they’re right. Believing pales in contrast to doing- doing what Jesus did- being transformed more and more into God’s self.
The Holy Trinity only appears once fully formulated in the NT- in the next-to-last verse of Matthew, called the Great Commission: “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.” In Hebrew usage, in the name of means ‘in the possession and protection of’.
The Trinity is alluded to in 2 Corin.1:21-22, and Paul uses this benediction at the end of that letter: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” I Peter 1:2 addressing disciples in exile in present-day Turkey: “destined by God the father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ.” Jude 20ff: “beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; Keep yourselves in the love of God; look forward to the mercy our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” These are the closest our scriptures come to a formulation of God as three in one. They suggest God presents God’s self to believers in three manifestations, three persons.
In ancient times, the Hebrew people feared seeing God face to face. They were even afraid of seeing Moses with his face unveiled, because his face glowed from being in God’s very presence. Three centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, Church leaders began to wrestle publicly with the nature of God- is God three in one, and if so, how to describe that mystery? The Greek word for ‘face’ (prōsōpon) was front and center in their discussions and arguments. That word means face, presence, person, appearance.
At an early stage in its existence, the Church had to face the question whether the simple expression ‘God’ was sufficient for the new understanding of God that had come about through the revelation of Jesus Christ. The uncertain and hesitant ascribing of the name of ‘God’ to Jesus in the NT may be taken as evidence of the extent to which thinking about God had been influenced by the new revelation in Christ. When the Christians spoke of God, they were thinking of Christ at the same time. (John Macquarrie, In Search of Deity: An Essay in Dialectical Theism, 1984, p. 230)
Paul was earliest in Christian scripture to say, ‘For us there is one God, the Father, through whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.’ This is one of the earliest attempts to specify the Christian God and to distinguish [the one God] from the many ‘gods’ and ‘lords’ worshipped in other cults..… Jesus is brought into very close relationship to God the Father, [even as co-creator]. This is because [Jesus] had brought to Christians a new understanding of God so profound that from then on they were determined not to speak of God without reference to Christ, or of Christ without reference to God. (ibid) For me, Jesus is the fullest revealing of God’s nature.
Knowing God face to face is a mystical experience for anyone. Seeing the face of God transforms us. This is what the early disciples of Jesus began to know- after his resurrection, seeing Jesus alive after death, looking into his face, they were forever changed.
Gerald May says being transformed by God is like this: “Closer to us, the mystics say, than our breath. Closer than we are to ourselves, St. John of the Cross says, “We are in God like a stone is in the earth…already in the Center.” There is no way to get any closer to God than we already are. The spiritual life, then, is not about coming closer to God but rather realizing the communion and union that already exists, and always has, and always will, forever.”
If Church-people can become more concerned with encountering the living God face to face, rather than defending their understandings of God, we will have gotten the real importance of the Trinity. God appears to us as God will- the breath/ the spirit of God breathes over and into us, the Creator God gives us life and envelopes us in love, and Jesus leads us into new life, now.
I want to close with what may be the most profound mystical vision in all of the Bible- a vision of God’s intent for all of us. From the second letter of Paul to the Corinthian followers of Jesus.
(2 Corin.3:17 ff). “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”
God wants to transform you and me from one degree of glory to another, led by God’s Spirit. That’s the Way of Jesus.