The First Rule of the Holy Trinity is: You do not talk about the Holy Trinity. The Second Rule of the Holy Trinity is: You do not talk about the Holy Trinity. These two rules ought to be imprinted on every preacher’s consciousness. It would save you people in the pews a lot of grief. It would also make a lot of sense, since the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – that God is three persons in one, undivided unity of Being – is the definitive teaching of the church on the subject of a mystery beyond our knowing. Much discussion of the mystery of the trinitarian nature of God is either drivel (think of shamrocks) or mind-numbing (see page 864 of the Prayer Book and read through the Athanasian Creed).
A good alternative is not to try to speak of the mystery of the Holy Trinity at all, but instead to follow the ancient tradition and just sing about it: Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty! This is not a bad idea, since we don’t need to know the meaning of the song of angels and archangels in order to join in. And in fact this is our daily practice at Saint Mark’s and throughout the church: simply to enunciate in speech or song the thrice-holy nature of God, confident that if it’s good enough for the choirs of heaven, it’s good enough for us. “Holy, holy, holy,” we say, and more or less leave it at that.
There is at least one good reason, however, to pause briefly and speak of the mystery of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is worth stopping to ask whether or not this mystery has any good news to convey to us, God’s people. And I contend that there are at least two very powerful strands of good news to be gleaned from even a brief consideration of the mystery of God’s nature.
The first bit of good news is that Jesus is to be found within that mystery. That is to say, that within and throughout the incomprehensible nature of the creator of the universe, the animator of all life, the redeemer of our souls is to be found the One who is God’s own ceaseless desire to make himself known to us on our own terms: Jesus, the Christ. Let me put that another way. When we try to look into the total and complete mysteriousness of God, utterly beyond our knowing, we inevitably encounter the One who daily makes himself known to us in the flesh as our savior and our friend: Jesus. This is one of the many paradoxes of God, and it strikes me as good news that every time we try to gaze, so to speak, into the complete un-knowability of God, we see One whom we already know.
The second bit of good news is this: that in a society that believes we can become the Masters of everything around us, and in which we strive to do that in order to gain power over others, God remains far beyond our mastery. Put that another way: in a society that has harnessed the power of nuclear fission, and that uses that power to dominate and to kill, God remains yet more powerful than we are. I see it as unavoidably good news that God remains far more powerful than the awful power we have accrued to ourselves, almost always at another’s expense. Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!
Having broken the first and second rules of the Holy Trinity, let me reach for another cinematic reference point, this time from the Woody Allen film, Bullets Over Broadway, in which John Cusack plays a young playwright who is enamored of the aging diva, Helen Sinclair, played brilliantly by Diane Wiest. Cusack’s character is full of words, and always has something to say, including a need to articulate his deepening and overwhelming love for the aging star.
The great woman knows with every ounce of her being that she is far beyond this young man’s league, no matter how drastically her star may have fallen since its distant zenith. On the one hand, she is reassured by his fawning attention, which, on the other hand, she finds intolerable. Whenever the young suitor tries to profess his love for her (which is often), the diva stops up his mouth with her hands and urges him insistently, “Don’t speak; don’t speak!” Much as she wants the attention, she frankly cannot bear it since the words of the un-known and as yet unsuccessful writer can only be counted cheap in her star economy. (Don’t speak; don’t speak!)
On Trinity Sunday, perhaps there is an element of this dynamic in our relationship with God, whose fullness is beyond our comprehension or our ability to describe. We want, of course, maybe even desperately, to say something about God, out of a sense of faithfulness and love. We are earnest in our desire to use our words and say something. On the one hand, I expect God loves us for the desire. But on the other hand, I imagine it is almost unbearable for God to have to listen to us try to say something about that for which there are no words.
And I suspect that in the economy of the Sacred and Holy Trinity – that mystery of undivided love that knows no boundaries nor any human definition - any words that we might pour forth would be counted as cheap by comparison to the immense truth, beauty, and potential of the whole universe, bound up or un-bound in the unitive being of the three-personed God.
And I delight in the small irony that such good theological advice should come from Woody Allen, which nevertheless, I suspect should be followed at this point, as I join with the prophet to proclaim that, “Woe is me! I am lost! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!”
And I feel God’s hand on my mouth as I try, in all my inadequacy, in a sort of mirror image of the prophet Isaiah, who at least has seen the Lord in his temple.
And I hear those words, in this simulacrum of the heavenly courts, delivered not by tong-wielding seraphim, or even from scripture, but from a script, and they seem right to me: “Don’t speak; don’t speak!”
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
Trinity Sunday 2015
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia