Updated: Aug 2
This Sunday, the First Sunday after Pentecost is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. It is the only Feast of the Church that celebrates a doctrine of the Church rather than an event of Jesus’ life done for our salvation. But how do we define the Holy Trinity? Well, we state our concept in both the Nicene and Apostles creeds. The Church also has a very lengthy credal statement that the Anglican and Episcopal Church has placed in our Prayer Book’s historical documents the Quicunque Vult or the Creed of Saint Athanasius (probably not written by him). It starts:
We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Now, does not that make crystal clear the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, to wrap our heads around it? I think NOT! Or is it WHAT?
Now, I understand tht the concept of the Holy Trinity is beyond human understanding and those like Bishop Pike, who in the 1960s proclaimed the Holy Trinity as “excess baggage” that the Church carries. But I believe that the Covid – 19 pandemic and the tragic events in Minneapolis and the civil unrest occurring around the country are weighing heavy on our hearts and minds, that comprehending the essence of the nature of God is critical and vital. How might an abstract sounding church doctrine matter to us now? Holy Scripture, revelation, and Church teaching tells us that the essential nature of the God Head is connectedness and relationality.
How can three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist as one God? The New Testament demonstrates that God brings Glory to himself. John’s Gospel is essential in understanding how Jesus and the Father relate; a key passage for the understanding of the binding of the Trinity of God’s Glory is John 17:1, where Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” We see that the Son brings Glory to the Father, the Father brings Glory to the Son, and the Spirit brings Glory to the Son (cf. John 16:14). Such an understanding of Glory exhibits the love expressed within the Godhead by Father, Son, and Spirit as they give Glory to each other.
A perfect metaphor for the relationship Jesus prays about is perichoresis. Perichoresis, roughly translated, means to make space around. More specifically, it refers to how someone or something makes space around itself for others or something else. Perichoresis theologically is to call it the idea of God’s mutual indwelling. God can be both in Godself and in us, for example. In a more active sense, it is the idea of God moving in and through someone or something, like a dance. Perichoresis describes the divine dance of the three Persons of the Trinity theologically. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make room for each other, move in and through one another, and dance with one another, in such a way that creates a mutual indwelling while still maintaining space for each individually.
To say that God is triune is to mean that God is social, and to say that those made in the image of God are likewise intrinsically social. There is one God, and the unity of this one God is absolute; yet this God described in Scripture as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scripture speaks primarily of the roles that each Person plays concerning human salvation: the Father sends the Son to redeem the God-created world, the Son lives and dies for the world, the Spirit draws people to salvation and into community.
The Persons of the Trinity exist in one another. Their love dissolves all boundaries, and when we allow our individualism to dissolve, we are filled with God’s steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. God in us and we in each other.
Catherine La Cugna wrote: The life of God is not something that belongs to God alone. Trinitarian life is also our life. There is one life of the triune God, a life in which we graciously have been included as partners. Followers of Christ are made sharers in the very life of God, partakers of divinity as they are transformed and perfected by the Spirit of God. The doctrine of the Trinity is not ultimately teaching about God but a teaching about God’s life with us and our life with each other.
If God is a Trinity of persons, and “the whole purpose for which we exist is to be taken into the life of God,” then our lives must be a dance. When the world says freedom is each self exerting its independence and autonomy, the Church says real life isn’t self-focused, it’s other-focused.
God Said in Jeremiah:
“But let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord.”
In the Gospel today, Jesus, before His Ascension, gave the eleven his commission to make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is our, the Church’s commission. We are to carry love, Justice, and righteousness to the world. Our Baptismal promise is to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.
The world TODAY cries out for justice, and we demand God’s Justice for the very least of our brothers and sisters. Justice for people of color who, by lack of privilege, are disadvantaged. Justice and equal protection under the law because Black Lives Matter. Justice that guarantees the common welfare by sharing what God has created. Justice that everyone has a right to a fair say in society. Justice for people of color and poor who suffer disproportionately poor health and death from the coronavirus. Justice involves making individuals, communities, and the cosmos whole, by upholding both goodness and impartiality. It stands at the center of true religion, according to James, the kind of “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Earlier, Scripture says, “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.”
We by our Baptismal Covenant and voice of the Holy Spirit demand in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
Bartlett, David L.; Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 3, Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16) (Kindle Locations 1473-1476). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.
McGrath, Christian Theology:__An Introduction, 3rd ed. (Blackwell, 2001), p. 325.