The teaching of the Christian church on the holy Trinity is considered to be possibly the most sublime doctrine of divine revelation. Most churches consider that belief in the Trinity, that is three persons in one God, is the deciding factor that determines whether a given church is a Christian church or not. Belief systems that do not embrace the Trinitarian doctrine, of necessity do not believe in the divinity of Christ and therefore are not really considered Christian,however much they may lay claim to the name.
The word Trinity comes from two Latin words tri and unity which simply means three in one, our theological way of expressing the three persons in the one God. This teaching is a mystery and therefore is not completely open to total understanding on our part. This is not really a problem for us as we readily acknowledge that God is beyond our understanding. Nonetheless the tri unity of God is revealed to us in the Scriptures and therefore has meaning for us and we should seek some practical understanding of it because of our faith in the Trinity.
In fact, however, what do you understand about the doctrine of the Trinity? How would you explain it to a child? To an unbeliever? Even to a fellow Christian?
I recall some 30 years ago I was invited for dinner to the home of a large extended Muslim family in the Gaza Strip. The men were all seated in a large circle on the floor of the dining room. I was seated next to the ancient patriarch of the family. In the middle of the meal (I was on the point of devouring a large piece of succulent roast lamb) he turned to me and said, “What is this Trinity all about?”.
I greatly fear that I was not adequate to the occasion and subsequently wished I had at least the presence of mind of Saint Patrick who, in a similar situation, simply said the Trinity was like the three leaf clover, that is three leaves one clover, three persons one God. But even so, how practical, how meaningful is that simple explanation?
60 years ago, in the seminary we spent an entire semester on the theology of the Trinity. It had little practical meaning for me then and today I am forced to examine what meaning it has had for me since. My response to the seminary course on the Trinity was that it was God giving us a private glimpse of what he might look like behind the shower curtain.
In the past 60 years my understanding of the Trinity has been enhanced by several significant experiences. The first was at the death of my eldest sister, Helen. As I stood by her deathbed saying the prayers for the dying these words were spoken to my very heart: Depart, Christian soul in the name of the Father who created you, in the name of the son who redeemed you, and in the name of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you. This is very practical, isn’t it? Our creation, our redemption, and our sanctification.
My second significant, practical experience of the Trinity came through my reading of Julian of Norwich. In her wonderful book, The Revelations of Divine Love, the Lady Julian speaks of the power of the Father, the wisdom of the Son, and the benevolent love of the Holy Spirit. She also says that where we experience one person of the Trinity, for example, the incarnation of the son in Jesus of Nazareth, we also experience the other two persons of the Trinity. This is why Jesus could say, “He who sees me sees the Father.” And” I will not leave you orphans but I will send to you the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who will remind you of all that I have taught.” And so, Julian reminds us, that the presence of Jesus in our lives today and the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Father is one and the same.
So as a practical understanding, as we are gathered here this morning as the church, Jesus is present in our midst and so is the Father and the Holy Spirit. As we hear the words of the Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit so we hear the words of Jesus and the Father. And finally as we shall be recreated in the one body of Christ through the reception of holy Communion, so we are re-created as sons and daughters of the eternal Father in the love and benevolence of his Holy Spirit. Blessed be the holy and undivided Trinity now and forever!