Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sermon, Trinity Sunday

Mystery. In the Christian context, the mystery isn't something to be solved like a Hardy Boys story or an Agatha Christie novel. Mystery, as we understand it and use it, involves matters known only through revelation that are incomprehensible to those outside the faith.

When we talk about mystery, we are talking about the sacred words of Scripture and the deeds of God recorded therein. When we talk about mystery, we are talking about the already and the not yet of God's kingdom. When we talk about mystery, we are talking about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. When we talk about mystery, we are talking about how bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. When we talk about mystery, we are talking about our faith in something unseen. Mystery is what we participate in on a weekly basis, and maybe something we should strive to participate in on a daily basis.

What are some mysteries of our faith? Christmas reflects the mystery of the Incarnation. Holy Week reflects the mystery of the Passion. Easter reflects the mystery of the Resurrection. Pentecost reflects the mystery of our baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit. But no day in the Church year is more mysterious than today -- Trinity Sunday. Today we celebrate the mystery of the Triune God.

On the one hand, this central piece of Christian theology is very simple: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit; Three in One and One in Three.

This Trinitarian formula -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- is found in only one place in the Bible, and that is at Matthew 28:19 with the baptismal formula. Jesus alludes to it in John 14, the "I am in the Father and the Father in me, if you have seen me you have seen the Father, and he will send the Holy Spirit" chapter. And Christian theologians have seen clues to the Trinity throughout Scripture, most notably in the first creation story -- God created, God spoke (Word), God hovered (Spirit); as well as in the holy visitation to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre.

On the other hand, however . . . The more you talk about the Trinity the more convoluted and confused things get. That's not even to mention how easy it is to wander down at least one heretical road; or, if not heretical, unorthodox.

There is Trinitarian economics, based on the three functions of the Godhead: Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. There is the idea that Son and Spirit were subsequent to the Father, thereby not necessarily co-eternal. There is the idea of subordination, whereby the Son and Spirit, although co-eternal, are not necessarily co-equal. And Modalism states that the one God acts successively in three separate roles.

How then to explain the Trinity?

The Trinity is like a three-leaf clover. Each leaf is part of the whole of the plant, and the plant exists in three leaves; whereby each leaf is a separate entity yet part of the whole. No leaf can exist alone, no can the plant be a three-leaf clover without the leaves.

The Trinity is like water. Water is abundant on this planet (suspending for the moment the issue of droughts), covering 2/3 of it. Because of water, there is life. God is abundant, like the water over the earth. Because of God, there is life. Ice is the solid form of water, something you can touch and take hold of. Jesus is that incarnate form of God that could be touched and taken hold of. Steam is water in gaseous form; it can't be touched or grasped, but it can be felt and it has an affect on people close to it. It also goes where it wills. The Holy Spirit can't be seen, touched or grasped, but it can be felt and it has an affect on those close to it. And the Spirit goes where it wills.

But while these are helpful, they aren't complete. One leaf is still one leaf, not the whole plant. Ice is still water, but the physical properties of ice have been modified from that of liquid water. These are one substance, but three distinct forms that cannot co-exist. The Trinity is one substance in three forms that do co-exist in unity while separated through their togetherness.

The problem comes when we try to define God in human terms. Orthodox ideas tend to lose their orthodoxy when expressed in words.

Arius thought about the Trinity and came to the conclusion that there was a time when the Son was not. This became a competing form of Christianity for which Arius eventually became known as the arch-heretic of the Church and which Athanasius fought against long and hard. It was from the works of Athanasius that the Nicene Creed was formulated and declared the official Creed of the Church at the Council of Constantinople in 381.

And what did Athanasius have to say about the Trinity? Just this:

[The] Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.
For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost.
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one, the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal.
Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost.
The Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Ghost uncreate.
The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible.
The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Ghost eternal.
And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal.
As also there are not three incomprehensibles, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated, and one incomprehensible.
So likewise the Father is Almighty, the Son Almighty, and the Holy Ghost Almighty.
And yet they are not three Almighties, but one Almighty.
So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.
And yet they are not three Gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, and the Holy Ghost Lord.
And yet not three Lords, but one Lord.
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord, so we are forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, there be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, not created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons, one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; but the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshiped.
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.

Creation. Scripture. Resurrection. Eucharist. The Holy Trinity.

These are all mysteries of the faith that aren't meant to be solved; they are mysteries that are meant to be lived.

1 comments:

The young fogey | 10:07 PM, June 07, 2009  

I know you're the Ref but touchdown!

One quibble:

This became a competing form of Christianity...

Actually like Islam, Unitarianism, Mormonism, the Jehovah's Witnesses and oneness Pentecostalism it had Jesus in it but wasn't Christian.

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