“Trinity Sunday: A Turning Point”
Trinity Sunday,Year A
18 May 2008
Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler
We stand (or sit) at a turning point —a hinge— in the Church year. Now, I love the Church and Church traditions. I especially love the calendar: saints’ days, ember days, rogation days, feasts, fasts, and observances of all kinds. By no means do I keep all of them, but I love that they are there.
To me, these various days and customs that have come together over centuries to make up the Church year are invitations to commemoration, conversation, and contemplation. Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer happens on the day of his martyrdom: April 9. Talking about the Visitation might happen on May 31. After all, I’m not sure what it means that Mary, around 14 years old and 2½ months pregnant, goes to visit and help her elderly cousin Elizabeth in the last weeks of her pregnancy. And some days invite me to contemplation, like Trinity Sunday and the Transfiguration.
Now, the Transfiguration is traditionally remembered on August 6th, but it is also observed on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. You see, the Transfiguration is also one of those hinges or pivots. We turn from Advent-Christmas-Epiphany and toward Lent-Easter-Pentecost. At that point the Transfiguration reminds us that the ultimate destination is glory, that no matter what seems to happen during Holy Week, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Laws and the Prophets, that while Lent is a penitential season and a period of examination, the point is not punishment but transformation —Transfiguration— into our true selves. The Tranfiguration serves as a milestone or a roadsign orienting us for what is to come.
What, then, does Trinity Sunday do? If it is just that kind of pivot or roadsign, what does it signal? I would suggest that it is an invitation to both action and contemplation, to conversation and silence, and even obedience and humility.
Action because the first we learn of the Trinity, in the Christian tradition, God is doing things, making things, and even paying visits. The “us” of “Let us make humankind” in the first reading is a holdover from polytheistic traditions Biblical scholars tell us and the Jewish Midrash, an extrabiblical, interpretive tradition, says that the “us” is God talking to the angels. Christians, however, have interpreted to mean the Trinity —Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer or Giver of New Life— acting in love to make the world.
We, too, like the Trinity must participate in the making and the re-making of the world by bringing about the Kingdom of God.
Action, too, in acts of radical hospitality. This icon of the Trinity references Abraham’s hospitality towards the three who appeared to him in Mamre, Here we see a right relationship with the Trinity—a faithful expression of Trinitarian faith: stewardship of the world and the practice of radical hospitality.
Trinity Sunday is also an invitation to contemplation. The Trinity is indeed a mystery, and as such it should be contemplated. The Trinity is not a sound, but a great silence, a great stillness, the essence of Being. As this icon shows, the Trinity is Three, but it is Three-and-One, One-and-Three. We can not understand this truth of the faith intellectually although we might seek out figures and metaphors. Yet that would be fruitless as the Trinity is a metaphor. The truth of the trinity can only be comprehended in love and in silence both, in action and contemplation both.
I do not know all that the Trinity means or what its implications are, but it is one of the more elusive Christian ideas, and I think it deserves more of our attention.
Trinity Sunday is also an invitation to humility and obedience.
By humility, I mean an honest recognition of the true nature of things. So often, when confronted with our own success, our own efficacy, we are impressed. We accomplish this or that, and we think, “I did it.” This is true and not true. Just as the Trinity is Three-and-One, our actions are both our doing and not our doing, since the actions of God and others enable us to do what we do.
On the other hand, humility is not humiliation or throwing ourselves down so others may praise us.
Humility is not beating ourselves up because of a mistake or holding on to guilt or shame once we’ve done what we can to make things right.
This is not the common understanding of humility. Usually we think of abasement or extreme modesty. True humility is not a state but a dynamic, and so it is with the Trinity. The Three-and-One is a perfect harmony, a perfect recognition of how things are in all its baffling clarity.
And by obedience, I mean something similar. Most often we think of obedience as submission, and perfect obedience as total, blind submission, but it is not so. It cannot be quite so simple, as the Trinity suggests. Obedience requires of us a triple commitment to the reality of a situation, to what we want and need, and to what others’ want and need. That is obedience. In the same way that the three Persons of the Trinity anthropomorphize three aspects of God’s being or represent three distinct ways in which God relates to Godself, true obedience begins with the absolutely honest recognitions of humility, a contemplative thing, and translates these recognitions into actions, allowing us to act in a new way.
And so we return to where we began, Trinity Sunday as a call to action and contemplation, conversation and silence, to humility and obedience. And this is the nature of the Trinity: communion, harmony, continuity, truth, and love.
We stand (or sit) today at a hinge, a pivot, a turning point in the Church year. We began at the end of last Fall waiting for God the Father’s act of love, willing the Incarnation of Jesus through the Holy Spirit and Mary, proceeding through to the Epiphany, and then after Epiphanytide, that time of God’s manifestation, we enter Lent, that time of introspection and repentance, culminating in the events of Holy Week and the magnificent 50-day Feast of Easter, which itself culminated with the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, just last week. This succession of seasons is a profound cycle of memory recalling the work of the Trinity as revealed in the Person of Christ.
We stand today at the beginning of that long green season, Ordinary Time, also known as the Time of the Church, which will stretch on until November when we celebrate All Saints’ and the Feast of Christ the King.
As we begin the Time of the Church, let us imitate the dynamic harmony and balance of the Trinity, and all we do, think, and say, in our moments of activity and in our moments of silence.
While Christ and the Incarnation are certainly central to our Christian lives, let us not neglect the contemplation and fruitful silence of the life of the Trinity.
In a few minutes, we will celebrate the Divine Mysteries, the Eucharist, a celebration of communion not only between us but also with the Trinity by the power of the Holy Spirit. May the Eucharist send us forth to live the life of the Trinity.