Today is Trinity Sunday – the day when we consider one of the deepest mysteries at the heart of our faith – that the God we believe in is both three – Mother, Son, Holy Spirit – and yet also one. It’s a day when we can trip ourselves up with fancy flights of theology, but I want to start in a very simple place.
“God is Christlike, and in God is no un-Christlikeness at all.”
These are the words of Michael Ramsey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, and for me they are at the very heart of the mystery of the Trinity.
Let’s unpack this by focusing on the focal point of Christ’s earthly ministry – his death on the cross. This death is the crux of the great redemptive act of God in the incarnation which ushers in a new relationship between the created and the creator. It is the act which tells us with absolute certainty that God is love and that we, all humanity, are beloved by God. And this truth leads us on to another truth expressed by John Austin Baker:
Jesus is the image and likeness of God in human terms; he has done God’s work in human space and time. Faced with this truth, I cannot stop there. I have to go beyond it to an even greater affirmation, because of the very nature of love. It is inconceivable to me that love could ever say: “I must save these children of mine, and that will mean the most terrible suffering. I will find someone else to do the job.” Love does not send others to suffer in its place. Love comes itself.
In these words “Love comes itself” Baker affirms that it is God on the cross, that this cross tells us about who God is, not only about who Jesus is. ‘Love comes itself’ – God comes to the cross to show us the full extent of her love. The good news is that this self-giving love is not just at the heart of Jesus but at the very heart of God – it is the force that lies behind God’s creation of the world and her continuing relationship with it.
And this is where the necessity of the Trinity comes in. There can be no self-giving love without an “other” to love; there can be no love at all without relationship. If God is eternally love, has never been without love, then there must be love and relationship within the very heart of God’s being. God is a seamless dance of delight and love, a ceaseless relationship. Never just one in isolation but always relational, always love.
Here is my favourite ever quite about the Trinity. It comes from Meister Eckhart:
‘Do you want to know what goes on in the heart of the Trinity?
I’ll tell you.
At the heart of the Trinity
The Father laughs, and gives birth to the Son.
The Son then laughs back at the Father,
And gives birth to the Spirit.
Then the whole trinity laughs,
And gives birth to us.’
Hold that in your heart – that laughter and birth and relationship are at the heart of God and at the heart of how we are drawn into God and you
Have as good a picture of the Trinity as you need.
Creation is sometimes talked about as if God had to create the world in order to have something to love. This is the wrong way round. Creation is not a result of an original lack of love but of an abundance of love; it is the overflow of the eternal exchange of love within the Trinity. This love still flows out to creation, calling for us to be the agents of divine love by allowing the divine love to live in us. We are being invited to enter into the Trinity; to be caught up in the eternal exchange of love that is the very heart of our God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not merely an academic playground for theologians who delight in the use of obscure Greek terminology. It is, on the contrary, at the heart of our belief in God as love. It is also a call and challenge to us to show forth the love that is within the Trinity in our own relationships. It is something that we are called to live out rather than to explain. It is always mysterious, and, however close we may feel we have got to it, it is always beyond our grasp.
I want to invite you into a time of reflection now. You are welcome to respond to any of the readings or to anything I have said. You are also welcome to share with us any ways in which you understand the Triune nature of God through your own experience. Do you feel God in your own experience as Creator, as Companion or as In-Dwelling Spirit? Do you ever feel caught up into the dance of love in the Trinity? Or does talk of the Trinity feel alien and strange? Over to you…