I bind unto myself this day the strong name of the Trinity.
The Creator’s gifts of earth and sky,
the flowing creeks and fertile land,
the winter sun and summer moon,
the roaring sea and golden sand.
I bind unto myself this day the Christ who wears our human clay.
The Baby sleeping in a stall,
the Healer touching our disease,
the Man of love upon the Cross,
the risen Friend who hears our pleas.
I bind unto myself this day the Spirit who is here to stay.
The Breath that makes the broken whole,
the Truth that flows like liquid light,
the Wind that sweeps my dusty soul,
the Fire that warms the darkest night.
From now unto infinity,
The strong name of the Trinity.
On Trinity Sunday, perhaps it’s better to leave you feeling that you wanted to hear more rather than inadvertently commit some heresy by saying too much. Our human words can often paint wonderful pictures in the imagination – but can be inadequate when it comes to divine mysteries.
Yet if I’d started my sermon with today’s rather provocative words of Jesus, that there’s stuff that I wanted to say but it’s way too complicated for you to grasp it, then I suspect that you wouldn’t have been too impressed! And I rather wonder if the disciples didn’t feel the same way. Really Jesus? Go on, try us. What else can you possibly tell us that is too much for us to bear?
In this brief passage of scripture, we never do get told what those other things are. But Jesus does tell us that, in the fulness of time, we will get told and that it is the Spirit that will guide us and speak to us and declare all that we need to know. Without using the word ‘Trinity’, Jesus speaks of himself, the Spirit and of the Father in these short verses.
And throughout John’s Gospel we get glimpses of the Spirit. Writing towards the end of the first century, the author had time to think about how best to compose his narrative. Where to drop in hints which build up to the climax. The Spirit descends like a dove at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus talks to Nicodemus about being born in the Spirit and then to the woman at the well that God is spirit.
But it’s at the end, when Jesus is giving his final instructions, his farewell messages, that he really goes to town.
In John 20, he weaves together God the Father, himself, and the Spirit. He says: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on the disciples and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
How do we know God? We know him because we have known Jesus, the Christ who wears our human clay. John 14 tells us that the words that Jesus speaks are not spoken on his own but the Father who dwells in him does his work. Then John 16 says that the Spirit will not speak on his own but will speak whatever he hears. So, putting those together, the Father speaks to Jesus who speaks to the Spirit, to guide us into all truth.
So, the Trinity is all about relationship and indwelling, the collaboration and self-communication of God to God’s self.
Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer
Perhaps the words ‘Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer’ are easier words to get our heads around? We have the revelation of God as a loving Creator, God in Christ as our loving saviour & redeemer – and God the Holy Spirit who inspires us day-by-day.
Together those three persons work out the management, the plan, for our salvation that is summed up in Christ: the union and communion of all things “in him” (Ephesians 1:10). That plan started with the words “let there be light” all the way back at creation and continue with the Holy Spirit speaking Christ to us now, today.
Some think of the Holy Spirit as a ‘she’ since the Scripture sometimes uses the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit. That can help sometimes if the thought of the Trinity as being an exclusive men’s group is a bit problematic.
Others see the Trinity through the lens of prayer. The Holy Spirit prays in us and so answers the eternal call of the Father, drawing us ever more deeply into the redemptive life of Christ. It’s a ceaseless outgoing and return of the desiring God. The Holy Spirit is not an added extra but is intrinsic to the Father-Son relationship and has been from all eternity.
I used the word ‘mystery’ before. Not because we know nothing but to describe that of which we know just a little. But that little is precious and life-changing. And over the centuries different parts of the church have fallen out about how to think about it and speak about it.
Is the doctrine of the Trinity hard to understand? Yes. But at its heart it is about being loved and loving in response. It’s for “doers of the word and not hearers only”, as James puts it. Adventurers not arm-chair theorists.
Why do I say that? Because we are invited to turn the Trinity into a Quadrinity, or whatever the right word is for four rather than three. In John 14, whilst talking about the Holy Spirit being with us, Jesus says: “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”. And then later: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” You better tidy up when you get home from church, because God is moving into your spare bedroom!
So, we’re inextricably wrapped up in all this. All part of the ceaseless outgoing and return that is the love of God. We’re even providing accommodation…
It reminds me of Rublev’s icon depicting the hospitality of Abraham and Sarah, but usually taken to be a picture of the Trinity. The hosts, Abraham and Sarah, are nowhere to be seen. We see only the 3 guests. Which is as it should be. We too need to get out of the way for people to see God in all of God’s aspects.
But in that icon, a space is left there at the front for us to join the table. A space for us to complete that circle of blessing.
With the little that we know and that we understand, let’s continue with this adventure together, in love and in humility, bound up as we are with each other – sharing our lives, our homes and a table with the One Triune God.
Household of faith
We who are members of the household of faith declare:
The Lord our God is One, and we shall love the Lord our God
with all our heart, and mind, and soul and strength.
This is the One who has patiently and lovingly created us, nurtured us, and who prepares a future for us beyond all imagining.
This is the One who amazingly and lovingly came to our aid in Christ Jesus, who teaches us a brighter way, and by the grace of the cross, delivers us from evil.
This is the One who intimately and lovingly is among us in Spirit, creating the community of the church and inspiring us to deeds of justice and mercy.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
we who are members of the household of faith declare:
The Lord our God is One, and we shall love the Lord our God
with all our heart, and mind, and soul and strength. Amen.
- Coakley, S. (2013). God, Sexuality, and the Self.
- McGrath, A.E. (2011). Christian Theology – an introduction. Wiley-Blackwell.
- Vanhoozer, K.J. (2016). Pictures at a Theological Exhibition.