Click hereOur two short readings today for Trinity Sunday, from 1 Corinthians and from Matthew, seem to have been chosen because they refer to Father, Son and Holy Spirit: that is to the Trinity.
But we must be careful not to read back, because, while the early church it seems used the formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in its liturgy, the doctrine of the Trinity was not born until much later: The first use of the word we have is from the late 2nd Century, in the writings of Theophilius of Antioch. The doctrine of the Trinity was then hammered out in the great councils of the church, starting in Nicea in 325.
There is something gloriously free-flowing about the New Testament writings on the subject – it feels to me that they are so intent on passing on the living truths, powerful and fresh, that problems of codification, of defining the precise nature of relationships between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are of no concern. They are poets and storytellers.
But with the growth of the church in numbers and as an institution, codification becomes necessary, just as in our own day young entrepreneurial organisations become big and need policy manuals and HR departments. And so the great councils carefully picked their way through the arguments, trying to filter out heresies in which they saw the danger that the people might be diverted into error.
This coalition between poets and officials is a thread through the history of the church. The poets, like St Francis, inspire greater affection, but both have their value.
The poetic imagination over the centuries has seen in the Trinity a living metaphor of relationship, the creative interplay at the heart of God. So God is not only “love” but more than that, God is “loving” – a continuing active reaching out, within the Trinity but also encompassing each one of us and the whole of creation, by identity and also by invitation. This is what we find in the discourses in John’s gospel, the echoing back and forth of “you in me and me in you and them in me and me in them.” We see this also in the famous icon by Andrei Rublev – the three at a common meal, with a space at the table, for you the observer of his painting.
Relationship as a channel for love in times of joy and equally in times of grief, when we are welcomed in by Christ as wounded healer, the spirit as comforter, and the Father’s everlasting arms enfolding all.
When we look around us, at the world God has made, we can also see reflected that flowing dynamic, that infinite improvisation and variety, the dance of loving relationship.
For me, however, dance is perhaps not the most accessible of images of God in relationship. There are others, such as eating around the common table, the collective making and listening to music, the telling and listening to stories and also, and more resonant for me, there is the connection we make through humour.
I recall 30 years ago, not long after moving to Manchester, one dark January morning, trudging with the crowd along a damp street into the office, yawning as I went, and a woman, walking the other way, and as we cross, she catches my eye and, with a smile and a raised finger, she whispers, “Less of them late nights!” And then she’s gone. But a huge grin breaks out on my face, and my heart, as Isaiah says, soars with wings like eagles, and I tell everyone I meet that day. Such a brief, random encounter, but an immediate connection.
Or I think of my Uncle Tommy, who, when I was seven would make me laugh with his funny accents until my tummy hurt. And to this day whenever I phone him, we swap jokes. He used to love Humphrey Lyttleton in the Radio show, “I’m sorry I haven’t a clue”. So I remind him of Humph in a supermarket, picking up a packet of sausages with a picture of a celebrity chef on the front, and in the small print the words, “prick with a fork”; and he comes back with his favourite: Humph driving on the motorway, noticing the advice on the back of a lorry: “Brake and clutch parts.” And we laugh together, as we have been doing for 50 years now. My family by the way, can’t understand how a joke can still be funny when told over and over again.
Would it be irreverent to imagine that heaven includes all these different strands of creative connection? That as others make music together, there will be me and my uncle, endlessly chuckling at our old jokes? And that somehow we will all be within and expressing the flow of God’s infinite loving?
Perhaps I am getting carried away. For metaphors about the Trinity are attempts to grasp the mystery of God, who is beyond our words and our thinking. And this brings me back to Isaiah:
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable…..
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
I pray that, in this time of isolation, we may open our hearts to the unsearchable mysteries of the one God in all and over all, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit and then, in due time, as we rediscover the joys of fuller social contact, we may find in them also God’s sacred presence.