The pattern is the same every year.
We celebrate Easter and God’s victory over death in the resurrection of Jesus, the son of God. Then 50 days later we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Pentecost.
And then the next Sunday, before we launch into that long stretch of weeks known as “ordinary time,” we have one last special celebration – Trinity Sunday.
Trinity Sunday is different from other special days on the Church calendar. Most of our Christian feasts celebrate an event – the annunciation, or the angel’s announcement to Mary of Jesus’ impending birth, the birth itself, Jesus’ death and resurrection, his departure for heaven, the arrival of the Spirit.
Other feast days on our calendar celebrate the lives of specific individuals who have led exemplary lives and made contributions to the Church.
And then there is Trinity Sunday. No event to remember, no biography to emulate or from which to learn. On this day we celebrate something more abstract – an idea or understanding of God.
That understanding is central to the Christian faith – God as Father, God as Son, and God as Holy Spirit.
We say those words, or some more inclusive form of them, every time we are in church. They are so familiar that most of the time we probably don’t even think about what they mean.
But today we are called upon to do just that – to reflect on what it means to profess belief in the one God who is, as we sing today, “three persons, blessed Trinity.”
The seemingly paradoxical belief that we have one God who is three persons has confounded Chrisitians throughout the ages. That may be why a seminary professor once advised us to never preach on the Trinity, even on this Sunday that bears its name.
“It’s just too complicated to preach about,” he said, “and the people in the pews don’t care about it anyway.”
But I have a higher regard for both the Trinity and you in the pews, or in your kitchens or dining rooms, than that. If a central doctrine of the church is too complicated and irrelevant to preach about, then it shouldn’t be at the core of the faith.
Certainly there is mystery surrounding the Trinity, as there is mystery in most questions and issues of faith. All of our attempts to know God and articulate that knowledge are incomplete at best.
But there are two dangers here. One is to imagine that we can know nothing of God. The other is to imagine that we can fully capture the character of God and contain our understanding in some formula or flow chart.
So although we will never fully understand the mysteries of the Trinity, we should not dismiss it as too complicated or irrelevant. The Trinity tells us something about the nature of the God we worship, and about our relationship with that God and with one another.
The beginning seeds of the Trinity make their first appearance in the opening three verses of Genesis.
First comes God the Father, or Creator, who was there before anything else. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and earth, the earth was a formless void,” scripture begins.
Then “a wind from God,” God’s spirit, swept over the face of the waters. And then the Word went out from God and said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
As the Gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word,” the word that later takes on flesh and blood in Christ.
God as Father or Creator, God as the Word or Son, God as Wind or Spirit. Think about how our faith would be diminished if we did not understand that the one God is revealed to us in these three different ways.
God the Father or Creator is the God who can do mysterious, powerful and wonderful things; the God who has only to speak to create life. God the Creator delights in creation, blesses it and proclaims it good.
This God is sometimes seen as the transcendent God, who can seem distant, remote, and difficult to approach. But the Trinity tells us that God does not stay remote in the heavens, but also comes to be with us in person as the Christ, God’s own son, who walked the earth with and for us.
This God is with us, a personal God who cares about us deeply, so deeply that God is willing to die for us. Through Christ’s teaching and life, he shows us how we are to live, and how we are to die – as redeemed and beloved sons and daughters of God.
But the Trinity doesn’t stop there; leaving us only with a 2,000-year-old memory of God’s son who once walked the earth. The Trinity means that God is not just with us in history, in a remote and distant past.
God as Holy Spirit is with us now, present with us always, sustaining us, guiding and teaching us, and giving us comfort and strength.
This is the Spirit who comes to us from the Creator and the Son as our advocate and sustainer, in all that we are and all that we do.
The fullness of God was present at the creation of the world. The fullness of God lived, died, and rose again in the midst of the disciples. And the fullness of God is with us today.
This fullness of God’s presence with us we name as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a divine and holy communion in which we are all called to participate.
The Trinity shows us that we have at the core of our faith not a solitary, self-centered and unapproachable God, but a God who desires community from the beginning of time, a God who goes forth and reaches out to embrace, a God who is in love with and delights in the divinely-created universe.
In fact, one of Christianity’s greatest theologians, Augustine, describes the Trinity as “love going forth.”
Theologian Catherine Lacugna says that “the point of Trinitarian theology is to convey that it is the essence or heart of God to be in relationship to other persons; that there is no room for division or inequality or hierarchy in God.”
Love going forth, community, radical equality. These characteristics are at the core of our understanding of God.
I once heard it suggested that we become like the God we worship.
If the Trinity is indeed the God we worship, then it has clear implications for how we are to treat one another.
If the God of the Trinity is at the heart of our faith, then loving relationships among people who are radically equal must be at the heart of our communities.
Just as there is a holy communion among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there should be the same holy communion among the people God has created. All are equal, and all are necessary.
If the Church is to be reflective of the Trinity we worship, then it must be an icon of inclusiveness, compassion, forgiveness and love.
That is why the Church, and we as Christians, are obligated to speak out against injustice, to take to the streets if necessary to stand up for the vulnerable, the outcast, the marginalized.
The Trinity calls the Church – calls us – to make God’s love visible in the world, to work always for justice and peace and healing for all of God’s people and all of God’s creation, to never be satisfied with a status quo that treats any of God’s children as lesser human beings.