LECTIONARY REFLECTION for May 30, 2010
TRINITY SUNDAY, Year C
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
This Sunday we once again celebrate that festival that preachers love to hate–well, maybe hate is too strong a word. It is, however, a vexing prospect to find appropriate images and metaphors that convey the essence and mystery of the triune God in a way that makes some sort of sense.
This is not a new dilemma; folks have been wrestling with the concept for years. St. Patrick used a shamrock for his visual aid. Others have alluded to H2O in its various states of being–water, vapor, and ice. St. Augustine recalled a walk on the beach where he saw a young boy digging a hole. He saw that the hole was filling with water and asked the child about the depth of the hole. The child is purported to have said immeasurable and fathomless, just like mystery of the Trinity that Augustine was struggling to comprehend and put into words. Pretty smart child, don’t you think?
The Celtic trinity knot attempts to visualize the unending and ever-connected nature of God in three persons. Some of you no doubt remember this particular Sunday in association with that LONG creed attributed to Athanasius (or Ambrose) that says in part:
We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity,
Neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Holy Spirit is another.
But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one:
the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
I’ve even heard reference to cloverleaf rolls (Not a bad option for Sunday school–I’m all for edible examples). My favorite image, however, was created by Andrei Rublev. This artist was inspired to paint an amazing icon (c. 1410) depicting the three angels that visited Abraham, also sometimes referred to as the icon of the Old Testament Trinity. Click here for a detailed discussion from Wellsprings, and you’ll see why I’m so enthralled with Rublev’s work.
The sad truth is that all images we humans conjure will fall woefully short of the majesty and mystery of the triune God. These images and metaphors are but poor attempts to explain what our limited minds cannot fully comprehend. So then, should we simply give up, call it a mystery, and move on with our day? No way!
Part of being good stewards of the faith, especially the mysteries of faith, is in always trying to provide fresh and faithful ways of glimpsing our amazing God. If we really are to go out into the world as the hands and feet of Christ, in the presence of the Spirit, and dearly loved by our Creator God, then we sure enough ought to keep trying, reaching, and deepening our understanding, continually equipping one another with words and images to assist in communicating the good news.
For me, this year, that means thinking of Holy Trinity Sunday as “Divine Ensemble Sunday.” Yes, I’m going to borrow a concept/image from the actor’s toolkit. The musicians out there should easily be able to translate this into their context, too. Ensemble acting is an approach to the craft where everyone works on behalf of the play or film rather than on highlighting individual performances. At its best, an ensemble performance is seamless, powerful, and memorable; every part lifts the whole.
For some readers this may sound like a bit of a stretch, but if you enjoy acting, good theatre and cinema, or good television you’ll probably be able to understand where I’m headed with this analogy. Remember the late director John Hughes’ films like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, both of which are solid examples of ensemble acting, or Spike Lee’s classic Do the Right Thing, or almost anything involving Monty Python. Think of Broadway productions like Rent, Hair, and Guys and Dolls, or television ensembles such as the casts of Glee, The Office, and Saturday Night Live.
Still wondering how this might be like the Trinity? Take a good long look at Rublev’s icon again. Really study it. If you’ve read William Paul Young’s novel The Shack, recall how the Trinity is manifested in that novel: an African-American woman calling herself Papa, a Middle-Eastern carpenter, and an Asian woman named Sarayu. Do you see how all of these examples are communal in nature; not one person of the Trinity is elevated above the other? The work of all three persons of God is necessary–creating, redeeming, and sanctifying, and loving this beautiful, broken world.
Perhaps the reason we have so much trouble with these imperfect analogies, metaphors, and images is that we humans are still trying to “master” God. We dissect the Trinity, even elevating one person of the Trinity above the others or completely discounting one of the three-in-one and one-in-three. Ration and logic prevent us from fully embracing the mystery.
Now here’s the really cool part; even though we’re not in control, we’re all connected, all part of this divine ensemble as beloved children of God and co-workers in this eternal “production.” What we do matters because we are all in this together (whether we choose to realize and/or acknowledge it). True, we won’t ever be able to fully understand and concretize the mystery of the Holy Trinity, but we can work at being the best members of the ensemble that we possibly can be–disciples, stewards, followers, ministers, and neighbors–all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.