St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Midlothian
27 May 2018 + The Holy Trinity
This is a weird day.
In the first place, it’s the day before Memorial Day — but that’s not the weird part. It’s weird because Memorial Day always feels like a strange weekend in the church, often marked by a noticeable dip in church attendance…that usually doesn’t rebound until early September.
It’s also a weird day because it feels like the end of a long marathon that began late last year with Advent and Christmas, continuing through Epiphany, and into Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. It’s like the church’s last “hurrah!” before entering the long green season of Sundays of “ordinary time,” Sundays marked only by what numbered week they fall after Pentecost. It can, frankly, seem like uneventful time after all we’ve experienced in our liturgies together these past several months.
Maybe the weirdest of all about today is simply that it’s Trinity Sunday — the only Sunday in the entire church year to commemorate a doctrine. Never mind that that’s kind of mind-numbingly boring, it’s also downright unusual. Every other major feast and season of the church year has to do with some event: Christmas is about the birth of Jesus; Epiphany, the visit of the Magi; Holy Week and Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus; and just last week, Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. But there’s no single biblical event or story that can be tied to the celebration of Trinity Sunday.
It’s a weird day about a weird thing that no one really understands or can ever fully explain. The idea of the Trinity defies all logic and reason, and yet: It is foundational to who we are as church. When we recite the creeds, we confess what we believe about each person of the Trinity. When we are baptized, we invoke the presence and blessing of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many churches, including my home congregation, take their name after the Trinity, and symbols for the Trinity abound in our sanctuaries. We even began today’s service with a shared greeting: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is so much a part of who are as a church, and yet it is also so difficult to grasp and comprehend. But maybe that’s the point: The Trinity is not something meant to be understood. The Trinity has to be experienced.
Centuries of faithful Christians have tried their best to explain the mystery of the Trinity, deeply desiring to describe the different ways God relates to us and the different ways we experience God. For them, and for us, the Trinity is about the way God is in relationship with us.
At first glance, it’s easy to overlook any mention of the Trinity in the late-night conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. It’s such a famous passage that most of us could recite it in our sleep. But, if we really pay attention, we notice that Jesus is telling Nicodemus about the ways God relates to God’s creation: God the Creator is the one who so loves the world God has made that God sends the Son to redeem the world, a world which is reborn through water and the Spirit. There’s an intricate interweaving here, almost like a dance, drawing attention to all the ways God relates to God’s creation.
But it’s God’s rationale and end-game in all of this that is most remarkable: that God loved the world… that the world might be saved through the one God has sent. Love is beginning and the end of the activity of God in the world! Love is the chief concern for the writer of John’s gospel, mentioning love language more than forty times. Love, for John, is motivated by the salvation, the health and healing and wholeness and liberation, of the entire creation.
Love has indeed been in the air this past week, surrounding the Royal Wedding — maybe you’ve heard something about it? For all the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony itself, it was Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon that stole the show for me. Bishop Curry invited us to consider the power of love and a world where love is the way:
When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty would become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room. Plenty good room. For all of God’s children.
And when love is the way, we actually treat each other – well, like we’re actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters. Children of God.
Love is the way of the Trinity, the way of God. As an alternative to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” St. Augustine has even referred to the Trinity as “Lover, Beloved, and Love.” Love is the way of the Trinity. Under the cover of night, Nicodemus comes to Jesus and gets to glimpse a vision of the God of love beyond anything he could comprehend as a teacher of Israel. So too in our night — and doesn’t this world so often feel like one, long night lately? — we are in need of that God of love more than ever:
A God who so loves us and refuses to give up on us,
a God who becomes one of us in the flesh and offers healing and wholeness and salvation to all of creation,
a God who continually invites us into the work of love and healing through rebirth—baptism!—by water and the Spirit.
God is Trinity, and God is love. Extravagant love, incomprehensible love, powerful love, earth-changing love, invitational love.
For we, dearly beloved children and friends of God, who abide in God and God in us, that love is both promise and hope, relationship and invitation.
God who has been,
and ever will be with us
sweeps us into the work of love, the way of love, for the sake of the whole world.
Image Credit: “The Trinity” by Kelly Latimore