Monday, May 19, 2008

RCL - Proper 2 A - 18 May 2008

Mount Calvary Monastery, Santa Barbara, CA
Brother James Michael Dowd, n/OHC
RCL - Trinity Sunday - Yr A - Sunday 18 May 2008

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

It Just Doesn’t Add Up

In the name of the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When I observed that I was on the rota to preach for Trinity Sunday, I could not help but think of the first priest who had a real impact on my life: Father Ron Sequin. Back in the later part of my high school years and the beginning of my college years, Ron was my parish priest and then, campus minister. I consider him the best preacher I have ever heard on a consistent basis. Ron had a way of making the Scripture readings actually come alive in a way that had genuine impact on my life.

So, it was surprising to me, one Trinity Sunday, having just complimented him on his sermon, that he said to me: “you know, every year around Ash Wednesday, I begin praying that I don’t have to preach on Trinity Sunday - it’s the one day of the year I never know what to say. But every year I seem to get stuck with it.” I’ll never forget his chuckle, when I responded that the other priests in the parish must have begun praying somewhere around Epiphany, and that he might want to consider taking up the discipline somewhere around the beginning of Advent. Well, Ron has crossed over to the other side now, and I am quite confident that he has been chuckling as he watched me struggle with this sermon all week.

It has not been lost on me that nowhere in the New Testament does anyone attempt to explain the nature of the Trinity. To be sure, as we just heard, there are Trinitarian formulas, but neither St. Paul, nor any of the Evangelists actually attempt to explain the nature of the Trinity. They write about characteristics of the Trinity, but never the actual nature of the Trinity. So, neither will I. Because when I add 1+1+1, I get three, I don’t get one. And yet, three is one. How can that be? It just doesn’t add up. And for that, I say, thanks be to God!

I thank God because one of the most important theological concepts in Christianity is steeped in mystery. A mystery that we simply cannot easily explain away. And that makes our minds, formed by modernity, just a little bit crazy. We twenty-first century folks have been conditioned to want facts and figures, we want to be able to prove something as verifiable, and, in the event we cannot prove it thus, it stands as untrue for lack of proof.

But I think a fact-based approach to faith is missing the point by a mile. We need a Truth-based approach to faith. And for that, we need mystery, we need wonder, we need imagination. This is not to denigrate science, or mathematics or even theological studies. Not at all. Each of those disciplines has taught us about some aspect of God’s awesome and wondrous creation, and therefore has taught us something about God, about the Trinity. But it seems to me that to be on this journey with God is to begin to get to know God. And to begin to get to know God, is to begin to fall in love with God. And when it comes to loving God, a little mystery can go a long way.

So, what I’d like to do today is to focus on our relationship with the Trinity. A good place to start is with our first reading - the very beginning of the book of Genesis. In this first account of Creation, we are told that “God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created them.”(1) So, if getting to know the Trinity is to begin to fall in love with the Trinity – and I mean this in the broadest sense of that expression – then love relationships between two people might give us an indication of what our relationship with the Trinity looks like.

Think about anyone you have ever loved. Maybe a spouse or partner, maybe a best friend, a sibling – anyone. I am quite sure that you would be able to list all kinds of qualities that this particular person has. They might be very caring, they might have a big heart, a great sense of humor, a particularly good intellect, real character, the best eyes on earth, whatever. But no matter how many of these great qualities your loved one has, it doesn’t add up to the amount of love that you feel for him or her. Love so far exceeds any particular set of qualities as to be rather, well, mysterious. You can’t actually explain in a factual way why you love a particular person. You just do. You can explain facts that are important in how you came to love this person, but not the Truth of your great love for them. And that is the glory of love.

A Christian lives the life of faith steeped in the mysterious. For to love is to accept that we live in a constant relationship with the other, that is beyond all characteristics, all shared history, all the facts. But the most important thing to remember about the mysterious is that it is an invitation. The mysterious is an invitation to love in a holy way, to explore more deeply, to enter more fully, into the wonder of God, the completeness of the Trinity.

That idea of completeness is central to the idea of the Trinity. In ancient cultures throughout the world, the symbolism of three often has something to do with completeness or perfection, total, whole, holy. In our own tradition, three certainly means that and can be found not only in references to the Trinity, but in so many other ways in the New Testament. The Holy Family is a threesome of Jesus, Mary and Joseph; there are Three Kings at Epiphany; Jesus public ministry is for three years; there are the three leaders of the Apostles: Peter, James and John; there are the three denials of Peter when Jesus is arrested; and Peter’s three affirmations of love after the Resurrection; Jesus is one of three who are crucified; he hangs on the cross for three hours; and is raised three days later. Well, I could go on and on, but you get the point. It’s not that there aren’t other numbers that have significance – seven, twelve and forty certainly come to mind, but three has a special place in our spirituality.

In Celtic Christianity, the Trinity holds a very prominent place in that expression of the faith. With a particular emphasis on the completeness of God and on our life being folded into that completeness. It has to do with oneness and with an experience of the holy that is both very mysterious and very palpable. The Celtic symbol for the Trinity is an intermeshing weave that has no beginning and no end. Clearly there are three aspects to the symbol, yet it is one. It goes on forever while at the same time inviting the viewer in as he or she looks at it. For me, somewhere in that weave, seems to be the mystery of the Trinity. It is eternal, it is complete, it is whole.

God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Spirit, are three separate beings, yet one. They are the perfect community: separate, yet one. Entering into that mystery is to take the position that I am going to live into this love affair. That I am going to enter into this relationship with the Trinity as part of the Body of Christ. Since I belong to Christ, I therefore belong as a member of that most holy community, the Trinity.

A trinitarian ceramic pavement in the woods of Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

And this is where the palpable nature of the Celtic Trinity is evident and which our Scriptures today support. To live into the mystery of the Trinity, is to live into the love of the Trinity. And living into the love of the Trinity demands certain things. For example, in that very brief passage from the Second Letter to the Corinthians how does St. Paul advise the Christian community to live? Well, among other things: they are to “agree with one another”, in other words, find a way to “live in peace” with one another so that the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit will be with all of [them].”(2)

And what does Jesus tell the disciples, and by extension us, just before he ascends to Heaven? Well, we are to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And we are to “teach them to obey everything that [Jesus has] commanded.”(3)

To do this, to invite all of God’s people into life with the mysterious, is to offer God’s people the possibilities that can only come when we are willing to embrace that which is mysterious. To do this, is to say to a broken and often terrified world, that we stand on the firm ground of the mysterious. We love, despite everything in the world around us that pleads with us to hate. We forgive, despite everything in the world around us that pleads with us for vengeance. We dare to imagine a Triune God, despite everything in the world around us that encourages us to doubt. We revel in the mysterious for that enables us to love, to forgive, to imagine. We rejoice in the Trinity, precisely because it just doesn’t add up.


[1].Genesis 1:27, NRSV

[2] 2 Corinthians 13:13, NRSV

[3] Matthew 28: 18-20, NRSV

No comments: