Trinity Sunday, Year C, 2019
Kevin Gore, St. Andrew’s Mountain Home
Last Sunday I talked about the Holy Spirit descending, at Pentecost, to continue inspiring the work that Jesus left for his disciples to do. I mentioned briefly that the coming of the Holy Spirit is the movement of God amongst us now, in contrast to the ways God has been in different ages, either with the Jews in the desert, or as Jesus walking amongst humanity. Today we celebrate the fullness of the Trinity, and as is tradition, try to avoid reciting any number of heresies that fail to explain the Trinity and also incorrectly describe Christian doctrine.
Trinity Sunday is notoriously a day where priests try to wrangle someone else into preaching. That’s probably why Annie is conveniently unable to be here yet. Usually this is done because a wise and discerning person knows that no matter how many metaphors one attempts to use, they will never fully convey a complete explanation of the Trinity. Worse, they may unintentionally limit it. This is the reason why language matters so much in our liturgy. We proclaim our faith and doctrine through the words that we use. We say, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” because that is the language we have from the Bible, and other perhaps saying Mother instead of Father as it suits some, there aren’t better ways to describe the Trinity.
For example, you may have heard before someone say ‘Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer’. That is, unfortunately, what we call Modalism, a heresy condemned in the Third Century. By using such language, we deny that God is three and one by saying instead that each person of the Trinity has a particular function. God the Father is sole creator, God the Son is sole redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit is sole sustainer. The problem is that’s not what we are told of the Trinity in Scripture. The Son and the Holy Spirit were there at creation. All three are co-equal in redemption, and all three are co-equal in continuing to guide the church. Now, there are many types of heresies that have to do with trying to explain the Holy Trinity, or using other language to name the Trinity, and I will not bore you with an exposition of each type and how they are wrong. The point of this is to say that as we contemplate the Trinity today, we must also remember to be mindful of the language we use to name it.
At times I know I have heard sermons trying to explain the Trinity by metaphor. I have heard that the Trinity is like an egg, yolk, white, and shell. Except a yolk is not fully an egg, nor does the shell contain all of what it means to be an egg. Or perhaps the old adages of saying the Trinity is like water, frozen solid, liquid, and steam, or the Trinity is like a person being a child, spouse, and parent. Again, these fail to fully encompass that God’s being as Trinity is more relational between its persons, yet also one. So what are we left to do in the face of this inexplicable God?
God is worthy of praise in part because God is inexplicable. Who would want to worship a God that is full of the limitations of mortal beings? Understanding God’s full nature is beyond our ability and that is a good thing. How could we honestly believe that God has conquered sin and death or the promise of what is to come at the end of all things if God was as understandable as you or me? When heresies occur, it’s really not because some evil villain is trying to lead astray. People are just trying to wrap their heads around this God we worship. It feels good to be able to know a thing, because then you can control it. Otherwise, we have to admit that God has ultimate control.
If you look in the Book of Common Prayer, on page 864, you will find an entry under the section known as ‘Historical Documents’ entitled ‘The Creed of Saint Athanasius’. There are many churches which recite this creed in place of the Nicene Creed on the Feast of the Trinity because it spends a lot of time trying to explain the basics of the Trinity. You can exhale a sigh of relief, as we won’t be doing that; but this creed is worth reading. The author, which historians now believe to be someone other than Saint Athanasius, uses a repetitive style to underscore the simultaneous oneness and threeness of the Trinity. The author writes, “The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible. So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty. And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.”
So, lest we get lost deeply in the weeds of Trinitarian Theology, the point is this: unique to Christianity is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. We believe that God is three, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and that all three have been three from the beginning, and will be through all eternity. It is a mystery greater than any metaphor and certainly greater than any of us can fully comprehend. I am grateful that God is greater, bigger, more complicated than my mortal brain can grasp. That is a God worthy of honor and praise, and one in whom we can find solace.