Trinity Sunday 2020
Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-end; Mt 28:16-20
St Barbara’s 7.6.2020
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Children like to ask questions.
A survey a few years ago of 1,000 mothers of young children found that on average they were asked almost 300 questions a day. That’s more per hour than Boris Johnson at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Four year old girls are apparently the most inquisitive, asking a question less than every two minutes of their waking day.
Some of the questions children ask can be pretty difficult to answer: How much does the sky weigh? Why is water wet?
What are shadows made of? Why are mums and dads so old?
Some questions verge on questions of theology: Where will my pet rabbit go when it dies? Why can’t I see God? And one that my children once asked: “If Jesus is God and the Father is God, why do we say we believe in one God?”
Its not just my children that have wrestled with this question, or just me that has struggled to give an answer. Its a question that has been wrestled with throughout the centuries. Ever since Christ commissioned the disciples to go in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Christians have sought to unwrap what it means to worship God as trinity.
Well, today is Trinity Sunday, so let’s try and wrestle with the question again. And not because it will be a fun academic exercise but because in doing so we may find that the very nature of who God is, this God of might and grandeur that the prophet Isaiah speaks of, is relevant to us in these times.
Scripture affirms from beginning to end that there is but one God. The words of the Old Testament that the Lord our God is one God are words repeated by Jesus himself.
Scripture also affirms that within God there are three persons: God the Father, who creates the world; God the Son, who saves the world; and God the Holy Spirit, who sustains and transforms our lives and world. Jesus points to this in his words of commissioning.
So how do we begin to make sense of this in a way that is anything more than a mathematical problem (1+1+1=3, surely not 1), or in a way that doesn’t just feel like a grammatical conundrum (one God, three persons).
Down through the ages, different images have been used but the famous icon by Rublev remains for me one of the best ways of opening up the significance and meaning of God as Trinity, in ways that words alone can’t do. (I know some of you still have this picture from when I shared it with you six years ago.)
Rublev drew this icon as a way of showing the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sat round a table, the picture points to the self-giving, other-affirming, hospitality of God. Not one of the three dominates the others, expecting servitude. Not one is left vulnerable and isolated, by the closer fellowship of the other two. There is a symmetry, a harmony, an openness of relationship.
That is the picture we gain from Scripture and Christian experience through the centuries. Father, Son and Holy Spirit act in different ways, but always in harmony and co-operation with the other two. Whether its in the work of creation, or the work of bringing salvation to the world, or the work of transforming the church and the world, Father, Son and Holy Spirit work together, intimately supporting and enabling one another.
We, who are made in the image of God, become fully human, when we do the same, when we value and support the ministry of one another. What does that look like at the moment? For members of our church making a real difference through their work – whether in the NHS, schools, education, industry, charities – we can all still take an active part in supporting them, through prayer and encouragement. When the church building is finally allowed to re-open, there will be a big cleaning job required to start off with, and then probably before and after every service. Let’s not assume that someone else will do that – when the time comes, lets work together on this. And at the moment, let us not assume that someone else will be making that phone call, getting in touch, thinking that “they know so and so. I don’t need to ring as well”. Even while physically separate from one another, we can still encourage one another, we can still work together.
But the picture tells us something more. There is an empty space at the table. This is not a meal of an exclusive club. There is room for someone else. For us. It is the remarkable truth of God that he welcomes us into community with him.
About ten years ago, Sarah and I and the children went on holiday with some friends. We stayed in a converted one-room barn, while our friends stayed in the adjoining cottage. Our friends insisted on keeping the inter-connecting door open so that we could come and go at all times, enjoying the spaciousness and comfort of their cottage, sitting down for meals with them whenever we wanted, but having our own space when we wanted it too. The generosity of their hospitality overwhelmed us. They put up with our family idiosyncracies and genuinely enjoyed our company.
That holiday gave me an insight into the Trinity. If our friends had related to each other as if they were “one”, totally wrapped up in each other, the space for us to participate would have been minimal. We would have felt excluded, unwelcome. On the other hand, if our friends had been totally isolated from one another, living apart and not communicating with one another, the invitation to pop through the door would have been much less attractive. There would have been no relationship to join in with. What they modelled was a wonderfully open and hospitable relationship which was a delight and privilege to be part of.
God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, invites us to his table, to be part of the relationship of love between them.
So what does this mean for us today?
Well, firstly, we can take hold of the truth that the Christian Scriptures and Christian tradition has taught us through the ages, that God, at his core, at his very essence, is a relational Being. Before the creation of the world, God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – were in community, in relationship with one another. And we are created to be in relationship with him.
God is not some distant, detached, unknowable God, but a God who longs for us to accept his invitation to his meal table. The God who is relationship, who is Love, to the very core and essence of his Being, is the God who welcomes us into meaningful relationship with him. If you feel like you have never sat down at his table before, today is a good day to accept his invitation.
The message of the Trinity points us to a further truth too. For we are made in God’s image. If God is at the deepest of all levels, a God of love and relationship, then that is true for us too. At the core of our being, the purpose of our existence, is relationship, is love.
Its in part why the death of George Floyd has rightly caused such outrage around the world. Its the seeming denial that as a black man he was worthy of relationship, of respect. He was treated as less than human. And there is righteous anger that for so long that kind of attitude has been tolerated, even fostered, by those in authority. It goes against the very nature of who God is, and who we as humans are.
And I know from talking with many of you, that the biggest challenges of the lockdown for many have not been the practical – getting food, the irritation of not being able to get to the hairdressers, looking after children at home – but the social – not being able to see friends or family, not being able to have normal conversation with acquaintances in the street or in the cafe.
We were made for relationship, we were made for love. For the God who made us, the God in whose image we are, is Love. No wonder, for so many, this has been a difficult time. We have struggled to receive love, and to express love, in the ways we are most used to. Can I encourage you this week to find new ways of expressing love, expressing community and relationship. Pick up the phone to someone you haven’t talked to for a while. Invite a friend over for a socially distanced chat in your garden. Stop and give thanks for the extra time you may have had with those you have shared lockdown with. As we do so, we become more fully human, we become more the people we were created to be.
God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – calls us into relationship with Him and into relationship with one another. Let us respond to his call today.