In the name of the Trinity, Creator, Redeemer and Spirit may I speak in love.
As today is Trinity Sunday we're going to explore what many people find a difficult Christian doctrine. The Holy Trinity cansometimes confuse people so today's sermon is a bit meatier, slightly longer, a little voyage if you like. The Trinity is God - often described as three persons – “the Three in One and One in Three.” You could say it’s about aspects or parts of God. Most of all the Trinity is concerned with how we see God, how we perceive and then relate to the divine mystery which is God.
First I want us to quickly identify as many names for God we can think of. Call some out. As humans naming helps us to understand God.
(The names that were given included: Rock, Father, Christ, Lamb, Mother, Beloved, Spirit, Abba, Lord, Jesus, El Shaddai, Jehovah; later we added Wisdom)
So we have many names for God.
So what or who is the Trinity? Put simply, it is the one God, a single Being of love who created the universe, our world and us.
Traditionally the Trinity is about the three parts or persons of our divine Being - we often say Father, Son and Holy Spirit; we could equally say Creator, Redeemer, Spirit. Each of these aspects of God is equal to the others and all three relate to one another in a dynamic communion, a shared love. Love shared within the Trinity and then shared outwards to love our world and us. Try and think for a second or two of the Trinity as a whirling cosmic dance in which each part or person of God is relating in love to the other - not in power or in domination but in gentle divine love. Each is part of the others and all are equal, there is no hierarchy in the Divine Trinity. All parts or persons are God.
I want to read a couple of extracts. In our Gospel reading Jesus refers to the other parts of God, the Father and the Spirit of truth and Jesus in his human incarnation related most to God as the Father. I’ll read Genesis 1: verses 1-2
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formlessvoid and darkness covered the face of the deep,while the wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
This is also translated as “while the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.” The Spirit is God and was there when God created the world.
I’ll read Colossians 1:15-19. Paul is writing about Jesus Christ:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible - all things were created through him and for him”
And at the beginning of John's Gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God”
Creator, Christ Redeemer and Spirit -, three parts, one God of love.
Of course God is unknowable - God is divine mystery. You could say God is unnameable. As God says to Moses in the burning bush on the mountain “I am who I am”. As human beings trying to understand God we use names for God and related to the names we form analogies and metaphors for God. An analogy is when someone is similar to someone or something else. God the Father is an analogy - God’s characteristics are like the best of human fathers. Humans create metaphors for God but they are human ideas. Often inspired by God - but if God is an unknowable mystery, then our names and descriptions of God as I said before,can be fluid. I think here of CS. Lewis and Aslan in the Narnia stories - Aslan who stands for Creator, Christ (and when Aslan isn't there bodily in Narnia) the Spirit. Lewis’s fiction. But it helps some people to understand something of God, something of God is revealed by him as part of that person's relationship with him. So let's try to free our images of God a little, liberate our concepts of God in the Trinity.
I come now to the feminine aspects of God.Traditionally the Trinity has been seen as exclusively male, Father, Son and Holy Spirit but this wasn't always so. In the Old Testament Creator God is described as possessing feminine and maternal characteristics.
In Deuteronomy 32:
“You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you and you forgot the God that gave you birth”.
In Hosea Chapter 11:
“God the mother will never forget her children”
So because God mothers the universe - creates life, creates love and creativity and is intensely involved with her creation, it is just as correct inmy understanding, to speak about God the Creator as Mother.
Again - we speak in metaphors - no names or concepts we create about God can measure up to God’s incredible mystery. But the symbol of God the Father has been over-literalised as a descriptive metaphor. Over the centuries the feminine and the mother part of God was suppressed especially after the end of the first century A.D. when the Christian church squashed women's ministry in the church. At this time men began to dominate with an all-male hierarchy of priests. And feminine and maternal images of God were suppressed. Time to gently reclaim them. Images of the feminine and mother aspects of God can help us to form a new understanding of how God might relate within the Trinity and with us his children.
Now I want us to take a quick look again at our Old Testament reading from Proverbs 8. Here we meet the female person of Wisdom, in the Greek, Sofia. Wisdom was a frequent image of God in the Old Testament. In Hebrew thought she is simply God. Because she is seen as filling our world and is present with and in us Wisdom has been closely identified with the Holy Spirit. In parts of the early Christian church Christ was identified with Wisdom Sophia and is referred to as Wisdom in our modern Adventservice. When I read the start of our reading, to me Wisdom calling at the town gate sounds very like the Holy Spirit. And then further on Wisdom sounds like Christ the Word - there at the creation of all as part of God.
“When he established the heavens I was there”
“I was beside him like a master worker and I was daily his delight and I delighted in all his creation.”
So today I am saying that we have space to explore God in the Trinity -how we perceive Him or Her, the images and metaphors we use. Let's now take a little time together to explore. And we're going to do this using the icon of the Holy Trinity. It was painted by a Russian monk named Andrei Rublev, around 1411.
You probably know that an icon is an image - atool to understand God. We focus on it prayerfully, we don't worship the image. In a sense, as we contemplate the image, we look past it and perceive God. And this contemplation allows God to perceive us too. That’s how icons work. How were icons made? Usually by a monk who prayed continuously as he painted. The monk was in constant conversation or contemplation with God. Layers of paint, layers of prayer.
Rublev’s painting is known as the Holy Trinity icon. It is based on the story of the three visitors to Abraham and Sarah in the desert when the three visitors suddenly appear. The three beings are also referred to as “the Lord”. They tell Abraham that Sarah will have a child and eat the meal Abraham has quickly prepared for them, together, under a tree in the shade.Rublev omitted Abraham and Sarah because he wanted to focus the image on the visitors, the Trinity of God itself.
The figure here on the left is Creator God. In the middle is Jesus Christ and this figure on the right is the Holy Spirit. We can recognise them by the colours of their garments. They sit together around a low table with the chalice on it to symbolise the Eucharist. And it’s as if they’re in a circle with life and love passing from one to the other in a mutual sharing of divine love. Such gentleness – look at the hands – the gestures of one to another and look at the eyes – how they look at each other in such love. Note the faces – not masculine, but genderless or even with elements of the gentle feminine aspect of God.
Notice too, the circle of the figures isn’t closed -there’s space at the front of the table. Perhaps someone is missing maybe they're already part of the picture? There is space here for the observer, the one who perceives - the ones who makes up the Church, Christ’s body in our world. In other words – us - we are already part of the icon picture, part of this loving community of the Trinity of God. Me and you caught up in God's cosmic dance of divine love.
Just as Rublev was exploring the ideas of the Trinity so we can now sit quietly and gaze at his painting. Let's be silent and at peace for a few minutes. As we gaze at Andrei’s icon we ask God to encompass us, to enfold us in His great dance of divine mystery and divine love.
We thank you God for your mystery and for your many names. Reveal your being and your love to each one of us. Amen