TRINITY SUNDAY Matthew 28 16-20
How does a preacher take an apparently contradictory and paradoxical doctrine that has caused more controversy than any other in the church’s history and explain it in a concise way, give some vivid and creative analogies and examples, make it accessible to people of all ages, and make it about then minutes long? And then if that wasn’t enough of a challenge -How does a preacher do all that without fully understanding the subject matter with anything approaching comprehension?
I will in these few lines attempt at least to unwrap some of the mystery and abandon any attempt at the opening paragraph!
On this Trinity Sunday it is salutary to recall that many millions of believers in God see the doctrine of the Trinity as a mistake. Muslims passionately defend the oneness of God. Jehovah’s Witnesses also reject Trinitarian faith, Orthodox Jews reject the Trinity and other religious groups also believe in God as one. Many Christians reject it because they don’t understand it, but it shouldn’t be such a problem for us. Jesus starts us off with his statement at the end of Matthew’s gospel which has become known as the great commission. Jesus tells the eleven disciples to make disciples of all nations ‘baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.’ This is a pivotal moment in the Christian story; Jesus is saying that his own relationship with God is now to be opened up to all people; they are to be baptised or immersed into the life of God the Trinity.
These are not beautiful phrases, or comforting sentiments, or vague aspirations to comfort and uplift, nor are they the promise of something nice for us after death. The Trinity is the assertion that the same God who made the world, lived in the world and passed through death, the grave and into heaven, sent his Spirit back again to live with us on earth. God who created the world also created humankind. We know and easily accept that we are three in one as Body, Mind and Spirit.
If we look at Jesus’ relationship with God throughout the gospels we can see that he is constantly referring to himself as the Son of God, and calls God his Father. Jesus doesn’t speak only of the Father; he knows the love of the Father with him through a presence the Holy Spirit.
Think back to the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan. As Jesus comes up out of the water the Holy Spirit comes upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Then Jesus hears the words of the Father – ‘You are my beloved Son’. This is his commissioning for the work ahead. The love of the Father, poured out through the Spirit onto the Son and returned in the obedience of the Son to the Father by the spirit. Richard Ruhr calls this the ‘Divine Dance of the Trinity.’ We are in danger of getting bogged down in the maths, trying to explain one being three, but the reality is that from eternity three has always been one God. God is Trinity. We see this wonderfully worked out in the life of Jesus and his relationship with God his Father.
The exciting thing is that this relationship has been opened up for us. We are invited to join in the relationship of love that flows within the life of God, that has been from eternity and shown to us in the life of Jesus. Today Jesus takes us by the hand and says ‘Come with me and be led by the Holy Spirit into the presence of God our Father’ in other words ‘Come and join in the Dance.’
It is complex, it is mystery, it is like the first time you step onto the dance floor and are not sure what to do with your feet. There will be a time when all the clues to the Trinity will make sense, when we see in full, though for now as St. Paul puts so eloquently we see only in part, through a glass, darkly.
But for now we have to accept that mystery is God’s essential nature. Each one of us at our baptism became part of that mystery. Each one of us when we partake of Holy Communion share in that mystery which is the love of God. So today, once more we are invited to step out by faith, and in faith, to fulfil our part of the commission given by Jesus so long ago and invite others to join in the Divine Dance.