Three’s More Than Company
Trinity Sunday 2023
As we do each year, after Pentecost,
after recalling the original manifest outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
and beseeching a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit,
we gather to encounter God in a particular way--
God-Big, God-Mysterious: Trinity Sunday.
It follows Pentecost because the Holy Spirit leads us to the heart of God:
Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus—Holy, Holy, Holy.
The mystery of God in Three Persons: ridiculously overwhelming.
Which is why preachers often try to toss this one like a hot potato.
Indeed, in his treatise on the Trinity, St. Augustine (d. 430) says,
There is no subject where error is more dangerous,
research more laborious,
and discovery more fruitful than the oneness of the Trinity.
Today’s opening prayer eloquently addresses this God-Big, God-Mysterious:
Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given to us, your servants, grace…
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,
and, in the power of your divine Majesty, to worship the Unity…
God: Trinity—Unity, Triune—One.
Relationally: oh my—home, home-sweet-home.
The Church has wrestled with the Trinity, come into “faith focus” over time:
Councils of Nicaea (323), Constantinople (381), Ephesus (431),
Chalcedon (451) and more—more prayer, more pondering, more ink.
These doctrines, however, are not nice, neat packages, easy definitions.
Which is why, be honest, we wrestle with the Trinity!
Indeed, you will notice in the gospels that
Jesus does not define but rather opens the mystery to us.
To reveal is to open experientially.
The Son becomes human to share the secret of God,
i.e., to reveal, to open the inner life of God to us.
The mystery of God in Three Persons is ridiculously overwhelming,
far beyond all imagining.
And yet, over the centuries, artists have sought to imagine,
to provide small stepping-stones for us.
One of these is the triquetra—found on the cover of your bulletin,
from the Latin adjective triquetrus, for “three-cornered”,
of Celtic origin, recalling Saint Patrick’s three-leafed shamrock.
Another of these: Russian artist Andrei Rublev’s three angels
(Rublev was canonized, btw, in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1988).
Painted in 1410, we have a print here.
Inspired by the story of the 3 visitors to Abraham (Genesis 18),
believed to foreshadow and thus reveal the Trinity.
Allow me to read this ever-so-briefly with you, leaning on
an 82-year-old Swiss Orthodox priest-monk, Fr. Gabriel Bunge.
Rublev depicts these 3 figures as angels: with some variation,
same in form and size, same wooden stick, a stave,
same type of throne, same garments.
From left to right: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Father alone sits upright; the other two incline towards Him.
The hidden Source in the Source that is God, we catch only
a glimpse of the blue of His tunic (the blue symbolizes divinity).
We hope to see Him through the beauty and wisdom of His creation represented by His tunic of gold and red, greenish reflection, symbol of life.
Both hands firmly gripping the stave, suggesting authority.
A house rises immediately behind him:
in my Father’s house are many dwelling places (Jn 14:2).
The Son’s tunic is striped with gold: “anointed of God,” king and prophet.
The reddish brown represents the earth and thus His humanity:
fully God and fully man.
The blue of His tunic prevails: He reveals the glory of God.
The tree behind Him: the Tree of Life (from Genesis) and the Cross.
The Holy Spirit: more mysterious.
Everything we know is through relationship to the Father and the Son.
towards Whom He is inclined.
The pale green, here: the liturgical color of Pentecost--
new life in the Spirit, even for the whole earth represented by the rock.
The rock, also, the mountain: privileged encounter with God, in the Spirit.
The cup, a point of convergence between the three: love poured forth. Moreover, although salvation is the work of the Trinity,
notice the middle angel contained in the shape of a cup
whose contours are formed by the other two angels.
Finally, their communion opens and offers space for another.
We are invited into the Trinitarian circle of love:
from observing to participating.
We believe (and thus cannot prove) that God has revealed Himself
to be One luminous, loving Being
in Whom there is an eternal procession of Persons,
all Three perfectly one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
God-big, God-mysterious, God-personal.
Personal means invited into the embrace—which is more than a group hug!
Let us accept the invitation, letting ourselves be loved by the Triune God.
St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-cetury Italian mystic, prays:
O eternal Trinity, You are a deep sea
in which, the more I seek, the more I find,
and the more I find, the more I seek to know You.