Trinity Sunday – St. Paul’s; June 11, 2017;
Genesis 1:26-27; Matthew 28:16-20
Jim Melnyk: “The Divine Dance”
Once upon a time a rabbi was crossing the street in front of an Episcopal Church. A car came out of nowhere, hit the rabbi and ran on. A priest comes running out from the church, and seeking to comfort the nearly comatose and quite possibly dying man, begins administering last rites. The priest asks, “Do you believe in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” To which the rabbi responds, “Me dying, and he asks me riddles!”
Now, to be perfectly fair – I have listened to my good friend, rabbi Raachel, who has taught and preached at St. Paul’s – speak quite knowledgeably about the Trinity as a way of understanding God – but I still love the story – simply because I’m willing to bet that if asked, we would all have to acknowledge how much Three-in-One and One-in-Three sounds like an incredibly challenging riddle.
On top of that, Trinity Sunday is a liturgical oddity. On the surface it’s a Sunday that celebrates a doctrine rather than any saying or event in the life of Jesus, and it’s a doctrine that took three centuries of arguing, and sometimes even fighting, to be finalized. And it does seem more a riddle than a well-composed and understandable concept. And while it may have originally been put forth as an ironclad definition of God, any attempt at creating such an all-encompassing definition of God would actually be a form of idolatry.
Franciscan priest and author, Richard Rohr, reminds us, “Our Speaking of God is a search for similes, analogies, and metaphors. All theological language is an approximation, offered tentatively in holy awe” (The Divine Dance, p. 27). And so our understanding of God as Holy Trinity is at best a human metaphor for expressing what we believe to be the essential nature – or the essence – of God. In the end, what we can begin to say about God as a trinity of persons is that the very nature of God is relationship.
Rohr talks about the Holy Trinity as “Divine Dance.” “Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three – a circle dance of love. And God is not just a dancer” writes Rohr; “God is the dance itself.” And this metaphor for God dates back as far as the early Greek Fathers in the first centuries of the Church who depicted “the Trinity as...an infinite current of love [streaming] without ceasing” (ibid).
Later this morning when you come up for communion, take a moment to look at the icon on the table at the foot of the chancel steps. This copy of Andrei Rublev’s fifteenth century work is perhaps one of the best known and loved icons of the Holy Trinity. “There’s a story told that one artist became a follower of Jesus just from gazing on this icon, exclaiming, ‘If that’s the nature of God, then I’m a believer’” (ibid, 29).
Rublev’s icon portrays the story from Genesis where the Lord God visits Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:1-8). The story tells us that the Lord appeared to Abraham, though what Abraham sees before him is three persons. In the icon, as in the story, we end up with a vision of “The Holy One in the form of Three – eating and drinking, in infinite hospitality and utter enjoyment between themselves.” As Rohr puts it, “In the beginning was the Relationship” (ibid, 30).
I’ve had this copy of Rublev’s icon for more years than I can recall, and it seems there is always something new to see when gazing upon it. As you pass by, note that there is a space left open at the table – a space in which we can hopefully envision ourselves – invited to the divine meal – invited to participate in the divine dance. And when we look at the icon more closely, we can see a small, rectangular space on the side of the table. Some art historians believe there may, at one time, have been a mirror glued in that spot – as unusual and out of the ordinary as that may have been. Why a mirror? So that the observer might truly see themselves at table with the Triune God – we, as the image and likeness of God, gazing back along with the Divine (ibid, 31).
And so we find out that Trinity Sunday is so much more than a feast day celebrating a doctrine of the Church. It’s a day that first of all invites us into the holy mystery that is God, and then, in turn, invites us to participate in that holy mystery. God invites us to join in a meal that has been in progress from before the beginning of time – to join in a dance that has moved among the heavens before the birth of the first stars. Author and Christian activist Shane Claiborne writes, “God is a holy community…and humanity is created in the image of community…called to belong to each other, to be one as God is one” (ibid, review page).
However, our world struggles with the idea of community, don’t we? We’re good at it in bits and pieces – a small circle of friends here, a close-knit family there – but we’re pretty good at brokenness as well, aren’t we? We confess, “We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves” (BCP, 360). It’s gotten to a point where groups of people cannot disagree with each other without villainizing one another. The wider community struggles mightily when social, political, or religious issues come to the forefront – often times not listening to one another, but waiting for the other person to stop speaking so we can get our two cents in. I struggle all too often with the desire to roll up my sleeves and jump into the fray over so many things.
Our brokenness – our brokenness as families, as citizens, as a world – is a sin against our own selves as much as it is a sin against the mystery that is the Holy Trinity – a sin against the One who creates us to be in relationship with one another – to be a part of an eternal, cosmic dance – to be guests around a dinner table that has enough seats for ever living creature under heaven.
Perhaps a renewed embrace of the Holy Trinity can become the turning point for the healing of our communities. As Brother Jim Woodrum of the Society of St. John the Evangelist reminds us, “The mystery of the Incarnation is not an isolated event in history but by the power of the Holy Spirit, is ongoing…” empowering each of us to live into the image of our Creator – allowing each of us to reflect the “life, light, and love” of God to the world (Brother, Give Us a Word, 6/10/2017).
How differently might we look upon everyone around us if we allowed our image – our understanding – of God to be transformed by Richard Rohr’s language of the Divine Dance? Instead of the idea of Trinity being a rather strange, abstract riddle it could well be the answer to the brokenness of our twenty-first century relationships. “Instead of God being the Eternal Threatener, we have God as the Ultimate Participant – God being inherent in life itself” (Rohr, paraphrased) – God always involved rather than standing by ready to pounce on us for our mistakes at any given moment. Instead of so many Christians feeling the need to protect God from those who believe differently from them, we could become a people who invite others, in all their diversity, to join us at table – to join us in the Divine Dance.
The truth is, any time we try to rationally define the mystery that is the Holy Trinity in purely rational terms it will sound more like a riddle than any expression of reality. Three-in-One and One-in-Three just doesn’t make sense on the head level – despite however many metaphors Christians have tried to use over the years.
But if we can begin to see the mystery of the Holy Trinity at the heart of every relationship – and can begin to see relationship as the very foundation for the whole of creation – then perhaps we can begin to change how we all relate to one another in this broken world. Just imagine – finding ourselves seated around a banquet table with enough seats for every living creature – past, present, and yet to come – every living creature under heaven. Just imagine – God inviting each of us – all of us – a whole world – into a Divine, cosmic, and eternal Dance – loving us all enough to teach us the steps along the way!