Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity 2019
16th Jun 2019
Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity
Holy Cross Church Cromer Street
The doctrine of the Trinity calls to attention to the fact that God lives in relation to Himself and to us. The three Persons of the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, ever loving each other, ever sustaining and being sustained, constantly circling and moving around each other, are three persons inseparable and mutually sustaining. The Trinity is what community looks like. Genuine community, which exists for the flourishing of all parts in relation to the whole.
Equality and co-operation lie at the heart of the Trinity, and the flourishing of human society will only come through a combination of equality and diversity, a society in which all people can give from their diversity and share the riches of the common life. The doctrine of the Trinity compels us to work for such a flourishing. This is the call to ‘search out and know’ what makes up our own society even as we are ‘searched out and known’ by God. That ‘searching and knowing’ will lead us to examine those parts of the whole which are sick and in need of healing, and for the police forces an ever more sustained and determined searching out of pockets of extremism and blind violence where they are being harbored. Knife killings have shocked us all and torn away at our natural sense of things. The hope for the Church is that we may renew our life and witness in the light of the God whose love is not coercive or dictatorial but relational and kind. This message will remain unheeded unless it is expressed in churches like this one in the maintenance of a communal life which is radically inclusive, compassionate and spiritual. We must never neglect the Christian gift nor underestimate its needfulness and significance in a pressure cooker society straining under the stress of its complexity and living, as it were without God,
Conrad Noel, known as the ‘Red’ Vicar of Thaxted in Essex was infamous for raising the red flag over his church. He had certain extreme views as a communist but was also the second son of an Earl and a rabble rouser. But he could write powerfully and sets the Holy Trinity within our very own human being:
Let us consider the Blessed Trinity as the source of our own personal lives, and of the world. Each one of us is a trinity in unity – body, mind, spirit: the disunity between these is not according to the original intention of the Triune God. The world has in it plenty of variety, but the variety is not always healthy, is often antagonistic and discordant, because it is not a variety in unity, and does not express the ‘Three in One and One in Three’. It cannot be said of the world as at present constituted that it contains no differences or inequalities, or that within it ‘none is afore or after other; none is greater or lesser than another’. We look forward to a world of infinite variety in harmony, of living unity, not of dead uniformity; if man is to create so delightful a world he must ‘thus think of the Trinity’, for it is the will of the Trine God to inspire us all to renew the world in such a way as to make it a perfect expression of his Being.
The hymn “I bind unto myself today”, better known as ‘St Patrick’s Breastplate’ contains is a statement of Trinitarian faith, coming out of the Celtic tradition. Its text is attributed to St Patrick, and the wonderful hymn has sweeping Gaelic cadences and is difficult to sing. Yet it has its own natural exuberance and is a song which joys in the entire created order set in within its Trinitarian context. It’s a celebration both of life and of the author of life, of God. All life has a divine source. Humans may flourish within the divinely created order in a kind of dance, which draws all together in the recognition of the one humanity. John 15 “…for cut off from me you can do nothing”. The source of this harmony lies in the Triune God, the ‘Three-in-One’ who know and love and are intimate with one other.
The mutual intimacy between the three persons of the Trinity is best captured in the classical icon by Andrei Rublev (c.1360-1430). The original title for the icon is, “Three angels at Mamre.” Early Christian writers saw the story of Abraham welcoming the three angels under the tree at Mamre (Gen 18:1-15) as the precursor to the revelation of the Trinity. It is interesting to note that though the story begins with the mention of three men, actually Abraham speaks to ‘them’ as if to the one Lord God – Yahweh. In the course of the story the number also changes again from the plural to the singular. In any case, the reference of the icon to the story of Abraham welcoming Yahweh, reminds us that our belief in the Trinity is about hospitality which calls for faith and personal sacrifice.
The second aspect to focus on in the icon is that the three figures are enclosed within a perfect circle, the centre of the circle falls where the two fingers of the central figure lay on the table. Representation of the Trinity in a circle, rather than as a triangle or the leaf of the shamrock, is very interesting. The unbroken band of a ring, without beginning or end, is the perfect symbol of the love that exists between the persons of the Trinity. In a sense, we ourselves cannot grasp the mystery of the Trinity without entering into that circle of love.
Among the three figures, our attention first falls on the figure on the right of the icon – the Holy Spirit – dressed in blue and green: the symbols of water and vegetation – the symbols of life. The inclining posture of the Holy Spirit moves our attention to the two others in the icon. That is the action of the Spirit: He directs us and draws us to the Father and the Son in a dynamic yet graceful movement.
The second figure, seated in the middle, dominates the centre of the icon. His voluminous robes – covered in royal blue – gives Him an irresistible prominence among the figures. The second person of the Trinity has His two fingers at the centre of the circle suggesting the two natures of Christ, the divine and the human. Yes, without incarnation there would be no human knowledge of the Trinity. The two fingers might also suggest the two roles of the Messiah: the priest and the king. Yet, despite his majestic posture the glance of the Son are so tenderly and intimately focussed on the Father. Christ the king is our mediator and the way to the Father.
The Father is seated in a receptive, welcoming posture, as if accepting the attention of the other two persons. However, the father is not cast in the role of an authoritative figure but as an anxious Father who waits and longs for our home coming. One cannot avoid being reminded of the father in the story of the prodigal son (Lk 15:20).
At the foreground of the picture, there is an empty stool. A space that is ready to be filled. Now if you had a second look at the three persons, you might notice that somehow the three persons are also expectantly looking at that empty space. The more one sits meditatively before the icon the more one feels attracted to occupy that empty place at table and be part of the communion of and with God. This then is the depth of the mystery that we contemplate today: God, who is a communion of three persons, invites me to be part of that communion. Am I ready to take that seat? Am I ready to trust the God whose gentle and understanding agency stands against the forces of self-destruction?
Now is as good a time as any to realize these things.