The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
Living the Trinity
If one did desire to understand the doctrine of the Trinity, and went to our treasured Book of Common Prayer, and found their way to An Outline of the Faith, commonly called the Catechism, they would end the search in the section entitled, “The Creeds”. The final question in the section reads: What is the Trinity? The question is followed by the answer: The Trinity is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
That answer is not wrong. It is, however, a bit basic – like answering the question, “What is the ocean?” by saying “the ocean is a lot of water”. That's true but hardly comprehensive. A lot has been said about the Trinity over the centuries. Almost all of it more complicated than what you will find in the catechism. And probably most of what has been said has been declared heretical by someone or many, many someones. So it is understandable that the Prayer Book would take safe and simple route.
But what the catechism neglects is why this doctrine is central to the Christian life and faith. Why do we block out a Sunday each year to consider the Trinity? Why do I greet you and bless you most every Sunday in the name of the Trinity? Why does this doctrine shape our creeds? Why does it matter?
Or does it matter? Does the doctrine of the Trinity still matter to Christians in the 21st century – some seventeen hundred years after its formal formulation in the Nicene Creed?
I think it does – but not as a paradoxical math equation. And not as an affirmation of patriarchal hierarchy. Not to create a distinction between our understanding of God and the theologies of other monotheistic religions. Not even as a justification of our worship of Jesus.
The continuing value of the doctrine of the Trinity is rooted in its openness. The symbol continues to speak; it is not frozen in the fourth century. Through the doctrine of the Trinity we are invited to explore the complexities of God and all of the relationships that spring forth from God. The symbol of the Trinity becomes a doorway into the infinite mystery that is God. And that is infinitely valuable.
The Trinity is deeply mysterious. But not a mystery of numbers – more like the mystery into which we are called – the mystery that is meant to transform our lives. The mystery is for us a model. We are meant to live and reflect the nature of our Triune God.
Today our exploration of the Trinity goes back to the beginning. In the beginning: God. That is how our story begins. Before there was, there was God. Before there was time. Before there was space. Before there was us. There was God.
But God existed not in loneliness – as a single entity in the vast expanse of emptiness. God existed, pre-existed actually, as community, as relationship, as love. Before there was, there was the Trinity. Before we talked of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God was named Creator, Word, and Spirit. And God was one divine community – not three separate entities but one community bound together in a dynamic loving relationship.
A relationship that was self-contained and self-sufficient but also incomprehensibly generative. The internal relationship of the Trinity becomes the ground of being – out of divine love springs all creation – through the Word, by the Spirit, the Creator created all things.
And so, of course God sees the intrinsic value of every object in the created order. God ends each day in the creation story by declare everything good – because the creation is filled with the fruits of divine love. What we see and what we are, what surrounds and sustains us is a result of the love that exists between the three persons of the Trinity. The creation story is that Love creates worlds.
And once we realize that, once ours eyes are opened to the traces of God all around us, the picture changes. Elizabeth Johnson says, “[T]he Trinity provides a symbolic picture of the totally shared life at the heart of the universe. It subverts duality into multiplicity. Mutual relationship of different equals appears as the ultimate paradigm of personal and social life. The Trinity as pure relationality, moreover, epitomizes the connectedness of all that exists in the universe. Relation encompasses and constitutes the web of reality and, when rightly ordered, forms the matrix for the flourishing of all creatures, both human beings and the earth.”
It really is the case that we live and move and have our being within the mystery of God. And that primary relationship – the one found in the heart of the Trinity – becomes the foundation for all of our relationships: with each other, with creation, and with God. The Trinity then is more than just an ancient doctrine; it is a living symbol for all of life.
The Trinity is essentially relational, a divine community of persons. And we are created in the image of that God – created to love, created to be in relationship. God is community, so are we called into community – a community sustained by love, built on mutual respect, a community that creates peace. Our human relationships are transformed when we more deeply enter into the life of the Trinity, as our image becomes more like the image of God.
But not only are our human relationships transformed, so is our relationship with all of Creation. If we see the creation as the fruits of the divine relationship, as being generated by the Creator, Word, and Spirit, we can no longer live in an exploitive or abusive relationship with this planet. All that we see around us is a visual of the generative creativity that emanates from the divine life of the Trinity – similar to how children become living symbols of the generate love shared within a marriage.
The love that called the world into being, that called chaos into order, that called the Church to spread the Gospel, that called your name in the waters of baptism, continues to create. The divine community that we call God is still calling a new reality into being. Even now God is calling forth the kingdom of God – in us and through us. Love is still creating worlds.
I love how the lectionary orders the readings today: what begins in Genesis before the beginning, ends with Jesus' eternal promise – an ending beyond the end. “I will be with you always.” The very love that gave birth to creation never leaves and never ends. The one who is called Creator, Word, Spirit, our God, the holy Trinity, has opened the door for us. We are invited into an ancient mystery, into the divine community of the Trinity. And while we will never truly understand the mystery of God, we will be forever transformed by the relationship.