Some Thoughts on the Holy Trinity
Holy Trinity is not the most popular festival among preachers who, for all the other seasons and special days of the church year, normally get to dig into interesting gospel narratives.
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Most other festivals of the church celebrate an event. We commemorate happenings in the life of Christ: Mary’s visit from Gabriel announcing the miraculous child she was to bear into the world, God’s own word made flesh. We celebrate also the light bearing nature of your own patronal season of Epiphany, we celebrate the messy Baptism of our Lord, the confusing Transfiguration, and Jesus riding triumphant into Jerusalem amidst palms and cheers. We celebrate the empty tomb of Easter, the glorious Ascension, the chaotic coming of God’s spirit to the church at Pentecost all leading up to today, when we celebrate … a church doctrine.
Preachers dread this day because we see it as kind of a dry dusty theological topic after such the exciting and earthy part of the liturgical year that came before it. It’s like there’s this raucous party of Easter and Pentecost that comes to a screeching halt while an old crotchety man shuffles up to the pulpit, blows the dust off an enormous leather-bound book, clears his throat saying And now a celebration of church doctrine causing the music to fade, the last of the Pentecost streamers still floating to the ground. Church doctrine Sunday.
So let’s get right down to it, shall we? Here we go: God is three persons and one being. God is one and yet three. The father is not the son or the Spirit, the son is not the father or the Spirit, the spirit is not the Father or the Son. But the Father Son and Spirit all are God and God is one. … So to review. 1+1+1=1. That’s simple enough.
It’s no wonder that so many of the early church councils were called to try and make sense of the Trinitarian formula. The church took it’s time coming up with the doctrine of the trinity … much ink and much blood has been spilled on the matter, but it’s hard to see what there is to actually celebrate on this “Church Doctrine Sunday." Where’s the good news in that? God as bad math?
This confusing doctrinal issue seems a bit too dry and distant to actually celebrate. But here we all are waiting, myself included, to hear the good news of nearly unexplainable doctrine.
Perhaps it would be easier for everyone if God were a bit easier to peg down, but that’s not what is revealed in scripture. Here we have a hard to peg down God from the Beginning. Literally. The Genesis account does not say “Let me make humankind in my own image, but let us make humankind in our own image according to our likeness.” This is not a “me” God, but a “we” God. God from the beginning is, not God as bad math, but God as community. The triune nature of God assures that God is in fellowship with God’s self. In the Beginning is Creator, Word and Spirit all comingling to bring forth creation. Here God creates communally.
In the Trinitarian nature of God, individuality and communality are related in a beautiful life giving dance of creation. Whatever names we choose to use Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Holy Parent, Holy Child and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer and Advocate, the three aspects remain distinct while the identity remains one through mutual relatedness of giving and receiving. Back and forth together throughout time. Maybe this is not some dusty doctrine, but the holy fecundity of a God who pours out God’s own communal self into the creation.
This image of the relational dance of God with God’s self is wide enough to include us the created. Non-relational images of God do not allow room for us, but the mutual indewlling of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit offers us and all creation the divine space in which to live into the fullness of our identity as beloved children of God.
There is a beautiful artistic depiction of this welcome we have into the life of the Trinity in a Russian Orthodox icon originating from the 14th century. I encourage you to look at this Trinity icon – what you’ll see is an image inspired by the Abraham story of the three visitors of God whom he welcomed. The three figures in the icon are depicted as angels seated at an altar table. They have identical faces but their postures and clothing differ as though we are looking at the same figure shown in three different ways. But it is the way in which the figures relate to one another which is so compelling. The father looks to the son gesturing toward this Word made flesh, Christ gazes back at the Father but points to the Spirit, and the Spirit opens up the circle to receive the viewer. Between the Spirit and the Father in the Trinity icon is an open space at the table in which the viewer is brought to sit in communion with the God head. Here we see an image of God’s relational circle into which we are welcomed. The Father sends the Son the son sends the Spirit and the Spirit welcomes us to the table. It is a lush image of how God relates to God’s self and to us.
A triune image of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — Creator, Redeemer and Advocate is not “An Unknown God” like the statue Paul encounters in Athens, but is a God who is revealed in the Word and in the Meal shared among the beloved community through out the ages and in all places. This triune God made know through scripture and the prophets, the cross and the Gospel, the font and the table — this God is the one who welcomes us into this sacred life of mission commanded by Christ in the gospel reading for today. Perhaps it would be a lot easier for everyone if we had a God who was a bit easier to peg down, but luckily that is not the case
Instead we have a triune God who is impossible to explain yet reveals God’s self not in the minutia of doctrine, but in community, in bread, in wine and perhaps most wonderfully of all in water.
Because in the waters of baptism we swim in the crazy beautiful promises of the triune God who welcomes us into the swirling dance of God’s love poured out for the sake of the world, so maybe the Holy Trinity is not such a dry dusty doctrine after all, but is drenching wet with promise.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding Pastor at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado — an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Learn more atwww.houseforall.org. This post originally appeared on Nadia's blog, Sarcastic Lutheran.
Holy Trinity painting, Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com