Trinity Sunday (16th June) 2019
St Laurence, Northfield
Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15
I wonder how you picture the Trinity? I wonder what images you have tucked away in your imagination that help you to understand what it means to say that God is both 3 and 1? Perhaps the old Sunday School illustration of water, ice and steam, or the more recent youth work favourite, stripy Aquafresh toothpaste. Or perhaps there is a particular painting or sculpture or poem that has helped you to understand more about the mystery of the Trinity. Or maybe even a particularly memorable sermon. Whatever images we may have of the Trinity, and however they may help us, they are bound to be imperfect. All images of God are imperfect, because they are created by us fallible human beings.
I have brought along an image of the Trinity which has helped me over the years. It’s quite a famous icon by Rublev. Perhaps some of you may have seen it before. This too is an imperfect image of the trinity. But it can perhaps draw our attention to some important aspects of what God the holy and undivided Trinity is like.
As has been pointed out many times, by people far wiser than me, this is an image of community and relationship. The three figures look and point to one another. But this is not a closed community – there is room for us too. The fourth side of the table is empty, as if waiting for us to pull up a chair.
This is an image of God who is inherently relational, inherently communal. Community exists and always has existed between the three persons of the trinity. We hear in our first reading about the relationship between God the creator and Wisdom, who is often interpreted as representing the second person of the trinity. It is a relationship which has existed since “before the beginning of the earth”, which is characterised by mutual “delight” and “rejoicing”. This is the relationship into which we too are invited, to participate in the life and community of God.
In our gospel reading, too, the emphasis is on the relationships within the Trinity. “All that the Father has is mine,” says Jesus, and the Spirit “will take what is mine and declare it to you.” There is frustratingly little about the Trinity in scripture, but what there is gives us an image of mutual, interdependent community – God in community with Godself.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not dry or irrelevant theory, or an intellectual puzzle. It is a fundamental statement of who God is. God is love. God is eternally in relationship and community with Godself, with humanity, with the whole creation. Loving community is at the heart of who God is.
So what about us? Let’s return to the icon, and the space at the table. God calls and welcomes us into the community that already exists within the Trinity. Every time we come to share in communion, we are reminded that God makes space at God’s table for us.
I am reminded of another table which always had space for one more. When I was a child, my Granny had a huge, round dining table. We would all gather around it for meals together – cousins, aunts and uncles – and it would be a real squeeze. Someone would always have to sit on the camping chairs, and two of us kids would share the piano stool. But somehow we’d all squidge in, and it would be quite cosy. But then the doorbell would go, and someone else would turn up – a cousin we weren’t expecting to see, or one of those aunts I was never quite sure was actually related to me, or a neighbour from over the road. And my Granny would always say “come on in, there’s plenty of room!” Another round of squashing and squeezing would ensue, and somehow they would be fitted in. It seemed like an almost infinite number of people could fit around that table, and there was always enough food to go round.
Now, this too is an imperfect image, and there are several important differences between my Granny’s table and God’s table. Firstly, my Granny’s table only seemed infinite, while God’s table really is. Secondly, when more people arrived at my Granny’s table, those of us who were already there had to give up a bit of our space to make room for others. Or perhaps we got one less potato so that there was enough to go round. But God’s provision isn’t like that. God’s resources are infinite. None of us looses out by making space for others. None of us receives less because others are invited to share the feast.
Let’s look at the icon again. What if, instead of taking our seat at the fourth side of the table, and closing the circle, we are called instead to imitate the open circle, to sit as the figures in the icon do, facing outward to welcome others to the table? God invites us not only to take our place at the table, but to join in the work and life of the Trinity by inviting others to do likewise. Becoming more Christ-like requires us to take our place at God’s table in ways which always leave space for others to pull up a seat. We are called to be in community not only with God, but with others – our neighbour, the stranger, and even our enemy.
So what does all this mean for us here, today? The image of the Trinity as community may perhaps help us re-frame how we think about community. The ‘Know Your Church, Know Your Neighbourhood’ process is already helping us to think more deeply about the community of which we are part, and our place as church within that community. I know that those who have been prayer walking have found that it has helped them to see the community in new ways.
So perhaps God might be calling us, the people of St Laurence Church, into new ways of being community, new ways of seeing our place in our local community, new ways of inviting and welcoming others into the community of the church. Perhaps the idea of new ways of seeing or doing or being seems a little daunting. But be encouraged – Jesus in our gospel reading speaks of the Holy Spirit who will “guide you into all truth”. That is a process of revelation which is still ongoing. Behold, God is still doing a new thing. When God calls us into something new, individually or as a community, it is not a break with how things have been before, but the continual unfolding of God’s faithfulness, the continual outworking of the unchanging nature of God the Trinity.
God is as God has always been, the loving community of the Trinity, formed before the foundation of the world, facing outward to embrace us. We must be open and attentive to how God is calling us to be, here and now, a loving community shaped and formed by the love we see in the Trinity, facing outward to embrace whoever God sends to us. What that looks like in this time and place is still unfolding, as it always will be, and it is up to us all – guided and empowered by “God’s love… poured into our hearts” – to discern and shape it together.