The Holy Trinity is…what? How would you finish that sentence? The Holy Trinity is a great and profound mystery. The Holy Trinity is an unfathomable and eternal truth. The Holy Trinity is that thing that makes us Christians, the inspiration for some really great hymn writing, the subject of a sermon we have to listen to every year in June. The Holy Trinity is confusing as all heck, mind-blowingly complex, something to do with substance and self-giving and the serious answer to the question of which came first the Father or the Son. (The answer, of course, being both.) But I have a suggestion today for another phrase to describe the Holy Trinity, one that is somewhat counterintuitive. And that suggestion is this: the Holy Trinity is absolutely hilarious. Now I don’t mean the Trinity is laughable or silly – I just mean that our discussions of the Trinity can actually be quite funny.
Case in point: this past week, the verger, the rector, the organist and the associate rector were sitting around the office. Sounds like the most boring joke you’ve ever heard, but this is actually a true story. The verger, in his infinite attentiveness, asked the group if we should get flowers for today’s Mass, seeing as Trinity Sunday is kind of a special thing. I, in my infinite goofiness, suggested that if we were going to get flowers, we should purchase only three. And then the jokes started coming. Well, we should get three, but they should be the exact same kind of flowers so as to be made of the same substance. The rector suggested that they needed to be three flowers with one stem rather than three separate flowers, at which point the organist chimed with his request that the flowers needed to be exactly the same size and in precisely the same moment of bloom so as not to have any whiff of the Arian heresy. All the while, of course, the verger was sitting patiently by, waiting for us to exhaust our ridiculous flower/Trinity metaphors so that he could get the answer to his original question. Which was, as you can see, no.
So, you see, while the Trinity itself isn’t exactly hilarious, our explanations of the Trinity can be. The sentence “The Holy Trinity is like a (dot, dot, dot)” can lead to some really silly analogies, and once you start picking those analogies apart, things can get pretty giggly pretty fast. Don’t believe me? Go home and google “Saint Patrick’s Bad Analogies,” click on the cartoon that pops up, and enjoy. No, the Holy Trinity isn’t really like a shamrock, and it really isn’t like any of the other terrible ideas other people have come up with for what the Trinity is or how it works. But since we’re all just giving this unfathomable mystery our best shot, I think we might as well go ahead and laugh at ourselves a little when we get it really wrong.
Of all of the things that we often get really, really wrong about the Trinity, there is one thing I’ve never seen any jokes about. I think that this is because this error is so subtle that we can’t even see it to poke fun at it. The error is this: that the Holy Trinity is insider information. This is the idea we sometimes have that people outside the Church don’t know the Trinity, can’t see it, because the only way to really know the Trinity is to come to church, get baptized, then confirmed, go to Schola or adult forums, read some books, google “Arian heresy” and “modalism,” ask your priests impossible questions, and be sure to listen to endless sermons about the nature of the Trinity on Trinity Sunday. Then, and only then, you might begin to know the Trinity. Then and only then you might be able to see it, to notice it, to begin to learn what it is all about and what this great mystery actually accomplishes in the world.
Now at some level, of course, this makes sense. After all, if those of us in the Church have a difficult time seeing the Trinity clearly, how can we expect anyone else to? Of course those people out there have only the vaguest idea that we believe that God is three persons but also one, at which point they give up because who in the world knows what that actually means, and frankly, who cares. Of course they don’t know the Trinity – how could they without ever having heard any of those brilliant Trinity Sunday sermons?
But this idea, reasonable as it might sound, is actually quite wrong. The Holy Trinity is not insider information. The Holy Trinity is not something that we can know only when we’re baptized into this holy club and get our secret Jesus decoder ring. Because the Trinity is not just something we find in forums and classes and academic journals and tomes of systematic theology: the Trinity is something we find right here in our liturgy. The Trinity is something that shapes our worship, something we invoke from beginning to end of this public work of praise and prayer. Here, today, in this worship, we see that the Trinity is not just an intellectual puzzle. We Christians don’t just think about the Trinity; we actually put it to work.
We use the name of the Trinity to bless, the name of the Trinity to baptize, the name of the Trinity to proclaim forgiveness. It is the creative workings of the three persons of the Trinity that enable us to confess our faith. It is the majesty of the Trinity that stops us in our tracks and reminds us to bow down and take off our shoes, for this is holy ground. These actions are lived out publicly here in this liturgy – these blessings and baptisms, this forgiveness and confession, this bowing down before the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, this binding unto ourselves today the strong name of this Trinity. But it is not just the public nature of this worship that makes the Trinity more than just insider information. It is also the fact that what we do here is what we walk out into the world. The actions of our worship color everything we do when we leave this place. And so nothing about our faith can be insider information. Every time we offer a blessing, the world sees the Trinity. Every time we speak of our baptisms, the world sees the Trinity. Every time we confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share in his eternal priesthood, the world sees the Trinity. Every time we offer our forgiveness, the world sees the Trinity. And every time we stop in our tracks to acknowledge the presence of the holy – in the profound gift that is the created world around us, in the beauty of a cantata or a collage or a carefully crafted word, in the pain and the joy we hear in another’s story, in the generosity we see in those who offer their lives to the service of others, in the bravery we see in those who speak TRUTH in a world that seems to reward only prevarication and posturing, in the seeming foolishness of those who proclaim hope in the face of death and despair, in the obedience we see in those continue to proclaim the Gospel, come whence it may, cost what it will – every time we stop and acknowledge that holiness by bowing down in the face of its wonder and mystery, the world sees the Trinity.
The world always sees the Trinity when you and I act like the disciples we’re called to be. And thanks be to The Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Because it is the Trinity that the world most desperately needs. The world needs a God who knows within God’s very being what it is to love and to be loved, to give and to receive. The world needs a God who both knows what it is to be human and what it is to raise that human from the dead. The world needs a God who both remains constant and righteous and also who sends the Spirit to move about amongst us, bringing new ideas of how we can live together in faith. And most of all, the world needs a God who defies our understanding, our limitations, and our expectations, who is and knows and can offer much more than we could ever ask or imagine.
That is the gift of what the world sees, the first thing they see, when you and I walk out from these doors today and live a life of self-giving love, of creation and redemption, of humility and openness. We cannot hide it, and why would we ever want to? The idea is simply laughable. So go, live out this wondrous mystery, show the world what it means to be shaped the power of the Trinity. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, and all the world, now and forever more.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
11 June 2017
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia