Saturday, June 2, 2012

Trinity Sunday

          Today we begin again with the Trinitarian acclamation, “Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” and the response “And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.”

          We all continually have to deal with questions of personal identity. “Who am I?” How we understand who we are makes a difference in how we think and what we do. Human beings seem to be alone among the animals in having a sense of self, in being self-conscious, in asking, “Who am I?”

That seems to go back to the creation story which was our long first lesson today. We read there that after creating the universe and the earth and the animals, and seeing that it was good, “God created humankind in his image, male and female, and God blessed them.” Self-awareness is part of the divine image in us; so is the ability and desire to love.

So every year we come to seek to understand God’s identity as it is revealed to us. We reason from what we know to what we don’t know. We are in relationship and we experience God in relationship to us. We are unique individuals and we experience God in our and his uniqueness.

So we pray to “Almighty and everlasting God” who has “given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity.” We pray that this God will “keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Special attention to the biblical teaching about one God in Trinity seems to begin in the Celtic church in Ireland and Britain. The prayer/hymn “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity” called St. Patrick’s breastplate has been used from the 700’s on. In the 1160’s Archbishop Thomas a Becket of Canterbury received papal permission to celebrate the Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost and about 150 years Pope John 22nd ordered Trinity Sunday observed in the whole western church. Just 100 years ago Pope Pius 10th increased its importance in the Roman Catholic calendar. Trinity Sunday has always been a major feast for Anglicans - and Lutherans. With them we used to count the Sundays until Advent as Sundays after Trinity.

          Trinity Sunday tells us of the church’s understanding of the bible teaching about how God has revealed himself to the humanity he created. For Episcopalians the Articles of Religion help us. They were “established” in 1801 by General Convention to spell out the doctrine of this church to which clergy at ordination promise to conform and to clarify the Episcopal position on some church controversies. The 1801 Convention mostly rejected a 1798 proposal to revise and “update” the Articles as they were first adopted in 1571 and reaffirmed in 1662. They have been in the back of the Prayer Book ever since.

    They begin, “There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.” Some of that is positive: God is one, living, and true, everlasting, Maker, and Preserver of all things. Some of it excludes alternative opinions: God is “without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.”

    That God is one is a belief common to all the Abrahamic religions-to Judaism and Christianity and to Islam. There are no other self-existent powers. We believe in one God, not many gods. A consequence is that our life is a unity; we may take on many roles and functions, but at the center of it all is one person.

    God is living. Some years ago the cover of Time magazine in white letters on black wrote, “God is dead.” Despite those who try to ignore him in everyday life God is alive and well and lives in and beyond his creation.

    God is true. True for whom? Where? In what circumstances? Does truth exist independent of who believes it/ Are there different truths for different people? Pilate asked at Jesus’ trial, “What is truth?” Pilate didn’t wait for an answer, but in St. John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” The truth of Jesus is independent of who believes it. And our understanding is limited. We all will die; our senses pass away. Only God is everlasting. God is more than, and different from, us. Cardinal Avery Dulles once preached in a church which had a pulpit banner, “God is other people.” Dulles, an eminent Jesuit theologian, added the comma so the banner read, “God is other, people.” God is, in the 16th century language, “without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.”   

          God is without body. As Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well (St. John 5:24) “God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Because we are both body and spirit we need the sacramental life, material things that communicate spiritual realities. We naturally think of God in material terms, but God has no body; God has no physical parts; God is neither male nor female; but God is also personal. God is not an “it.” English lacks a personal pronoun that personal but not gendered, so the old custom was to use “he” for both “he” and “she.” The point is that God is personal and God takes a personal interest in each of us. We learn that from having and being parents, lovers, and friends.

    God is “without parts or passions.” Human sexuality is an important gift of God, but it is part of our creature nature; it is not divine. And God revealed in Scripture is not dispassionate. God cares; God is sometimes angry; God grieves, “Jesus wept.” But God is not governed by his passions as we are sometimes governed by our passions.

    And God is “of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness.” We know how limited are our power, our wisdom, and our goodness. We frequently seek to increase our power, and on our better days also seek to increase in wisdom and goodness.

    God has revealed himself-Godself-in Holy Scripture, God has revealed himself in relationship with a community. The story begins with the creation in Genesis, continues with Abraham and his family and with the people brought out of slavery in Egypt “with mighty power and outstretched arm.” This people received God’s law, God’s self-revelation in relationship with the community. When the community fell away from obedience God sent the prophets to call them back to live as God’s children in a community created and sustained by God’s spirit.

    And then God sent his Son “to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.” Some of the community could recognize the presence and saving power of the Son; some could not. To those who could receive him, God gave the gift of the Spirit, the Spirit of truth and power, and love. In that Spirit we live today.

    God has revealed himself in his creation and in his relationship with his chosen community. He has revealed that his nature is love. Our identity is in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as we share the love which is the nature of God. That love makes us at the same time one with God and a unique creation.

          So from now till Advent we begin each service, ““Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever. Amen.”

1 comment:

  1. These are beautiful and thought-provoking reflections on the Trinity. Thank you for boldly sharing this wisdom of the scriptures, tradition and experienced grace.