• The Rector

Sermon for Trinity Sunday (Year C)

June 12th, 2022

“then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

At the end of the 8 days following Pentecost comes today, Trinity Sunday, in which we turn our hearts and minds towards the Holy Trinity: the Father, Son, and Spirit, three in one.

This is often not a day that preachers look very forward to. During seminary it was often a day that your training priests would get you preach on in your placement parish – partly for the challenge, partly (I am sure) to get out of it themselves.

It’s a day that too often has preachers making over-simplistic and in-the-end unhelpful comparisons like saying the Trinity is like a three-leaf clover, one plant but three leaves; or that it’s like water which can be ice, or steam, or liquid – three different experiences of the same substance; or that it’s like man who can at once time be a Father, a Brother, and a Son.

These aren’t entirely useless things to think about, but we mustn’t think that they explain the trinity, whose workings and nature is beyond our understanding. And the other reason they are unhelpful, I think, is that the Trinity is not so much something to be explained and understood (because we can’t) as something to be experienced. At the very least, it’s often best to leave the complex theological nuance to the parish study group rather than expounding it at length from the pulpit.

There is of course the doctrine of the Trinity – the official stance of the church through the ages on what the Trinity is, a nuanced theological way of talking and thinking about Father, Son, and Spirit. But even this doctrine wasn’t something written down at a table in some theological think-tank, it was a truth revealed to us through God’s encounters with us in the sacraments of the church and in the revelation of Holy Scripture.

It is perhaps a bit like love.

Imagine you met a person who never knew or heard of love before. Could you explain to them what love is?

Sure, you could tell them that love is in part a complex chemical interaction in our brains between dopamine, endorphins, vasopressin and other things – but that doesn’t tell someone what love is like, only how it manifests in our brains. You can’t tell someone what it's like to love someone, to know that you must love someone. You cannot describe what it is like to be loved, to know that you must receive someone’s love.

The Trinity, that relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is something we come to know through our experience of it or rather, of them. Knowing the love of the Father because of the sacrifice of the son, through the Holy Spirit in us opening our hearts to receive it. To quote a great theologian of the church, the Trinity isn’t some far-flung distant speculation, it is that blessed family into which we are adopted through our baptism, “God has asked us into his house, he has spread his table before us, he has set out bread and wine. We are made one body with the Son of God, and in him converse with the Eternal Father, through the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.” (Austin Farrer)

If you look on the cover of your bulletin today you will see a very famous piece of religious art, an icon – a piece of art through which we pray – you can see other icons here in the church already. This icon was painted – or written, as we say – by a man named Andrei Rublev around the year 1400. Some of you may have seen this icon before, but if not you have certainly seen other examples of icons.

Rublev’s icon is an icon of the trinity. He has placed around a table or altar three angels. It’s hard to make out at this size, but each angel is looking at the other with a loving gaze, all around the centrepiece of the altar, a chalice of Christ’s outpoured blood. The message is that in the midst of the love that exists between Father, Son, and Spirit – the love that is God – is the ultimate loving sacrifice of Jesus’ death for us.

The image reminds us that the Holy Trinity exists in a relationship of love: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are, as St. Augustine once said, “He who loves, He who is Loved, and Love itself.” And look in the middle of the three around the altar, in front of the chalice and what do we see there?

We see nothing – an empty place. A place for us.

There is an invitation, Rublev shows us, an invitation to participate in that life of the Trinity, to participate in that eternal and divine love – the love that created everything that is, the love that came down for us at Christmas, that died for us on the cross, and that came upon us at Pentecost.

We often refer to the Trinity as a mystery, we refer to many aspects of our faith as mysteries. What we don’t mean by that is that they are mysteries like we watch on TV or read in detective novels, they aren’t mysteries to be figured out by thinking really hard, they are mysteries that we must enter into and experience, truths that we know in our hearts and accept through faith though cannot yet fully understand nor experience.

If we want to live in that life of the Trinity, the life of love, we must receive love – hence the chalice on the open side of the altar, an invitation to receive the love of God through the Holy Eucharist.

But it also means that we are invited to share that love. We become like God and enter into the life of the trinity by loving others as we are commanded to love. By seeing that when we share in the life of God the Holy Trinity, the life of love, we share in the lives of our neighbours as well. We cannot be islands unto ourselves.

If we are united through love and the life of the Trinity, we are united in everything as Christ’s body: if you are the hand, I am the arm – when you are hurt, I feel it as well. The sadness of my neighbour is not His to bear alone, but mine as well. The neighbour’s cruelty is one for which I must also repent; her suffering is my suffering.

Yet we live in a world ravaged by anger, by indifference, by cruelty and mistrust turn – so often that’s the story of our own hearts. So where do we turn? Where do we look for hope?

The message of Rublev, the message of this day, is that there is a place at the table that can transform our hearts and ultimately the world to a new way of love and sacrifice and repentance – a way of healing.

It is not in solitude or in ourselves or by our own power that we will ever find what we are needing, but in seeking to enter more deeply into that mysterious life of God, the life of love, a life lived in that divine mystery, the relationship of love itself, the Holy Trinity: God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

“then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

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