Today is Trinity Sunday. The Sunday after Pentecost that celebrates the inner life of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A few years back there was a book that circulated, largely in Protestant circles, called The Shack. It was creatively written and tried to help explain how God is three…but one. The value of the book for me was that the Mystery of the Holy Trinity was explained through relationship and experience. The Trinity has never been an easy thing to understand, of course. Christians gloss over it rather quickly as though it makes perfect sense. “Yes, we believe in one God–Yahweh, Jesus, and the Spirit. See, one God! Easy enough!” we say and on our way we go!
But it really is quite complicated. So complicated, in fact, there were two great councils of the Church that would give us the precise language we need to explain our understanding of God. No sooner had the Edict of Tolerance been signed in 313 AD, did the Christian Community gather first in Nicaea in 325, and then again at the Council of Constantinople, in 381, to agree on the language Christians would use to explain the mystery of the inner life of God. We know it simply as “The Creed,” our statement of faith. We say variations of it at baptisms, at confirmation, before we pray the rosary, and we say it each Sunday right after the homily. It is the faith that we, and countless generations before us, believed. We’ve heard it so many times that we may have forgotten just what a shocking thing this must have been for those followers of Jesus in the first century.
A wonderful variety of attempts to find earthly examples to employ to better understand, each of them helpful, and yet still failing to grasp the mystery. The triangle–three sides, one triangle. The shamrock–three leave, one clover. H2O–one substance that manifests itself as either steam, water, ice. It’s this last one that I find most moving because it speaks of not just the thing, H2O, but rather the way that we experience it demands a new term to capture the experience.
Jesus was Jewish, his disciples were Jews, as were others who followed him. They believed in God, their Father in Heaven. Moses told the Israelites, “The LORD is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and that there is no other.” (DT 4) But Jesus of Nazareth came along, and revealed the power of God, called God his father, and said the Father and He were one. And after the resurrection it became perfectly clear to the disciples that whatever made God God, God’s Goddedness, well that’s what Jesus had. There was no denying it. The Greek word they used at the council was homoousius (same in essence). You know, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father.” So God is one, the Father and Jesus are obviously of the same stuff, namely, God, but yet they are distinct in person. When the disciples experienced Jesus, they experienced the God they knew since their youth, right in their midst.
And then no sooner had they wrapped their minds around God the father and son, did Pentecost arrive! We celebrated that last week. The Spirit descends into the hearts of those faithful that day, and everyday since. God is Father, Son, and Spirit! Whaaat?! But wait, that makes sense because Jesus said in MT 28, “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.” And they believed it. And they did. And we are here because of it. Not because they totally understood it, but because they believed it and shared it. The disciples, “Worshiped but they doubted it.”
The takeaway for us, however, is that images are important, and language is important, but all the words that have ever been said and all the images ever used have but one end, to invite us to wrap our mind around the experience of the heart. It’s not about words or pictures, it’s about love; it’s about relationship. It’s the reason for the Incarnation and then for Pentecost. God does not want to be far off, far and away. He came to earth to dwell among us. And his desire was not to be with but one generation sitting around the campfire, but instead entering into each person sharing the most intimate movements of God, igniting a fire within their heart for love of God.
God is love. All of creation is God’s beloved–the object of his immeasurable love. And love desire’s intimacy; not desiring to be far off but very close. sharing the thoughts and desires of the heart. That’s what Trinity Sunday is all about. It’s about God holding nothing back, giving every part of Himself to his beloved. And the only response that is required is to love in return. Love God. In our heart, in our prayers, in our worship, in our life, in our families, and in our friendships, love Him. He’s right there in the very center of our being calling to us in the Spirit, through the Son, that we might be forever united to the Father. That’s Trinitarian love.