By the Rev. Elisabeth Hartwell
RCL Reflection, Trinity Sunday, Year A
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June 4, 2023
Key verse: 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. -Matthew 28:19
Christmas is magical and evokes feelings of nostalgia. Easter is hopeful and evokes feelings of joy. And Trinity Sunday … well, Trinity Sunday doesn’t really evoke much of anything. My fellow preachers, what do we do with a Sunday that’s devoted to an incredibly complex theological doctrine, one to which most congregants in our pews will have significant difficulty relating? What’s redemptive about trying to explain how God is one and three at the same time? Unless someone in your congregation is really into riddles, this feels as though it’s an uphill battle.
Ostensibly, Matthew 28:16-20 is the Gospel text for today because it invokes the Trinitarian formula we find in our sacrament of baptism. It helps to consider the context of this Scripture as we seek a deeper understanding of how the Trinity might possibly relate to our everyday lives of faith.
In this passage, we’ve reached the very end of Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus has been resurrected and he’s appearing to his disciples. Although it’s evident we’re in for a happy ending, the text answers the question of what exactly it is the disciples are supposed to do now. Quite frankly, what the resurrected Jesus asks them to do is a pretty tall order: he tells them to go out boldly into the world, make disciples, teach, and obey what he’s commanded them. This has to be pretty daunting stuff for the disciples who, at this point, are probably still trying to figure out which way is up following Jesus’ resurrection.
As a body of faith, we arrive at the so-called “great commission” and Trinity Sunday once we’ve celebrated Eastertide for several weeks, once Jesus has ascended to heaven, and once Pentecost has celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Church’s birthday. Jesus’ commission to us, and the invocation of the triune God, comes on a Sunday we can only hope to cling to all the amazing gifts of the past couple of months: resurrection, Eastertide, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the empowerment we have as a church.
Given this context, both of the scripture and of the Sunday in question, we’re left with the task of figuring out how we’ll be faithful stewards of the gifts with which we’ve been entrusted. How will we embody the great commission? This is where our reliance on our God, who is distinctly three-in-one and one-in-three, comes into play. Each person of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – speaks to the very nature and character of the God who urges us on, empowering us, redeeming us, and giving us hope. When we preach, we can consider our relationship to each person of the Trinity and ask how God as creator, God as redeemer, and God as sustainer help us to frame our lives of faith and the ministries to which we’re summoned.
My fellow preachers, the triune God whom we’ve come to know more intimately over the past several months, through the liturgical seasons of Lent and Eastertide is, above all else, an incredible mystery. The Trinity gives us the language and perspective we need to begin to unpack who God is and to discover how we move, and live, and have our being in the Almighty. As we go forth as a church, fresh from Eastertide and Pentecost, there is much work to be done. And, there is a mysterious, incredible God who fills us to overflowing as we seek to be the church.
Congregants will be able to relate more fully to the concept of the Trinity if they’re given tools to relate more intimately to each of the Trinity’s three persons. To help them do this, it seems important to balance two realities throughout the worship service: that God is a mystery and God is with us in a very intimate, real way. Encourage your congregation to internalize what it means that God is Father, God is Son, and God is Holy Spirit. Use imagery to describe God as creator, and redeemer, and sustainer. Invite them to find wonder in creation, to find meaning in the ways they’re redeemed, and to find strength through the presence of the Holy Spirit. When they’re able to relate more fully to each person of the Trinity, God as triune will become less of a convoluted abstract concept.
You might begin with the age-old riddle of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Explain that one response is that an infinite number of angels can dance on the head of a pin because they don’t take up any physical space. Compare this riddle to the Trinity, explaining that it’s very difficult to understand how the triune God is all at once three in one and one in three. You might suggest that it’s not so important that we understand exactly how this is possible. Talk about the three persons of the Trinity- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and ask youth how they might relate to each.
Bring a picture of an iceberg that shows how only the tip of the iceberg is visible upon the water (you should be able to find one by Googling it). Talk about how God is like an iceberg- what we know about God is only the tip of the iceberg. Suggest that one way we can explain who God is is to describe God as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Don’t try to unpack exactly what this means (after all, it’s very difficult even for we who are adults to wrap our minds around). Instead suggest that, even though we can’t know everything about God, we can always be grateful for how much God means to us.
The Rev. Elisabeth Hartwell serves as pastor of Hiland Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh, Pa.