The Church has long witnessed and confessed to the truth of the Trinity, and has done so in various ways, some more relatable, more accessible, than others. The Church has also struggled with the concept of a triune Godhead, and various heretical understandings have had to be put aside – The 3 Ecumenical Creeds: The Apostles’, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, each took their stab at codifying what we confess as true about the Triune nature of God. And while I think an exploration of these old arguments and the ways Church leaders in centuries long past struggled to work through their different understandings can make for an interesting academic exploration, I really don’t know that that’s what we want to hear in a sermon on this day, Holy Trinity Sunday, or any day, for that matter.
But, having said that, there are a few images that I’ve found intriguing related to the triune nature of God – God being three-in-one.
- One is the image lifted up in our gathering hymn today, Come, Join the Dance of Trinity, a hymn text written by Richard Leach
- Another is that of the three persons of the Godhead existing on the basis of relationship, and what that means for us as we’re created in God’s image and likeness
- And a third (and I guess it makes sense that I’d lift up three images today) is found in the headings that Martin Luther assigns to the three articles of the Creed in his Small Catechism: On Creation, On Redemption, And On Being Made Holy…
The first two images really fit well together – the images of relationship and dance. The Church has long confessed the truth of the Trinity, but finding ways to explain what is essentially inexplicable in ways that are readily accessible and understandable, well, I just don’t know that it’s possible. The Triune nature of God is beyond human understanding – it’s a mystery of faith. The Scriptures give clear witness to each of the persons of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – as being God. The Creeds do, as well. But in trying to explain how three can be one, and one can be three, things tend to break down, and individuals slip into various forms of heretical thinking, because, really, how does one begin to explain three distinct persons who are, by nature, inseparably one?
Well, the image of a dance might work. A dance is nothing without dancers to dance it. And if a dance is designed for three dancers, then it ceases to be the dance it’s meant to be, unless all three dancers are part of the dance. In this case, though, the really cool and creative thing, expressed beautifully in the first verse of our gathering hymn, is that the universe and everything in it springs into being, as the divine dancers make room within their dance for more and more dancers.
Still, even as the dance continues as designed, there are moments within the dance that we come to see particular things, not that they are ever truly separated from the whole of the dance, because then, again, the dance would cease to be what it is, but we attend to a particular part of the dance as it’s performed by a particular dancer, if you will.
And so we look to the human face of the incarnate God, newborn in a stable in Bethlehem, teaching, preaching, healing, loving, feeding, inviting, living a real human life, and dying a real human death as he’s betrayed by his friends, and put to death at the hands of his own creatures. But then, the dance doesn’t end there, of course. God rolls away the stone and the dance continues in Christ’s resurrected life!
And, again, we look to the Spirit bursting forth on Pentecost, empowering the Church for proclamation, that we might then, having joined the dance, be set free to dance, as well, continuing the invitational activity – inviting all to come and join the dance…
The whole thing, you see, is relational, which, of course, makes perfect sense, as, after all, we’re created in the image and likeness of this very Godhead who exists as one God in three persons on the basis of relationship. So, of course, our experience of life with and in God is invitational, participatory, communal. What else could it be?
What else could we be, as those created in the image and likeness of this God?
It’s important to note that in our reading from Romans 5, everything Paul writes is plural, right?
- We are justified
- We have peace
- We have access
- We boast in our sharing in God’s glory
- As well as in our sufferings
- And the hope that will not disappoint us
- As God’s love is poured into our hearts
- Through the Spirit given to us
It’s all about God’s people experiencing life together in community, just as the three persons of the Holy Trinity exist in community, in relationship to one another, and cannot exist apart from one another, or outside of the community of the Triune Godhead, and still be who they are, God is only who God is within these relationships – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In much the same way, we who are created in God’s image and likeness cannot fully be who we are meant to be, who we are created to be, apart from community. And that becomes a very hard truth to swallow, in the face of the incredible divisions we experience in so many parts of life and in so many segments of society – well, and sadly, within the Church, as well. We are so divided, and have found ourselves, politically, religiously, socially, racially, culturally unable, or maybe just unwilling, to talk to anyone who differs from us. We’ve forgotten who we are, and, like the dance that is no longer the dance it was meant to be because one of the dancers has dropped out of the dance, we’ve become other than what God has created us to be because we have fallen out of relationship with one another in so many ways.
But thanks be to God that God has not left us to our own devises (or to our own divisiveness either, for that matter!). God, in Christ, through the Spirit that has been given to us, has granted us grace and forgiveness so that, in spite of our failures, the dance might go on. And herein is another blessing of community – of not having to dance alone – we are not limited by the failure of any one member or segment of the community, but can transcend such limitations, and continue to grow into the fullness of the image of the One in whose image and likeness we’ve been created…
It’s interesting that, in the Creed, we confess our belief in God, and yet, Luther’s explanations of what the three parts of the Creed mean seem to be more about how God’s activity – in creation, in redemption, and in making us holy – affect us as God’s people.
- On creation, Luther explains that God creates us and everything else and continues to create everything we need to survive and thrive, because of God’s pure, fatherly and divine goodness and mercy toward us.
- On redemption, Luther explains that God is willing to pay any price, even that of Christ’s own holy, precious blood, and innocent suffering and death, in order to claim us as God’s own.
- And on being made holy, Luther explains that the work of the Holy Spirit is experienced in community with the whole Christian Church on earth, as God’s Spirit abundantly forgives all sins, and keeps us in the true faith, until, at the end of time, by that same Spirit, we are raised to eternal life.
God’s very being as our Father, the almighty creator, as the Son, our Savior and Lord, and as Holy Spirit, who creates, hallows and keeps the whole people of God, is for our good, as God has, as the hymn writer says: “made room within their dance” for us to be joined in and to this relationship as God’s own beloved children…
It’s interesting to me that, after expounding on God’s pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, Luther reminds us that: “For all of this, we owe God our thanks and praise”, even as Leach, at the end of his hymn, reminds us that within this dance of Trinity, we raise our voices and sing the praise of the Triune God. And so, I invite you to turn now to our hymn of the day, #414 in ELW, and let us raise our voices in praise as we sing: Holy God, We Praise Your Name. Amen.