SERMON – Trinity Sunday
June 3, 2012
+In the Name…
Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (St. Matthew 28:18-19).
Following this sermon, we will engage ourselves in the annual Trinity Sunday recitation of the Creed of St. Athanasius – a profession of faith that was written originally in Latin probably in the 5th century as a refutation to a heresy known as Nestorianism, which claimed that there were two separate Persons in the Incarnate Lord, the one Divine and the other Human, as opposed to the orthodox doctrine that the Incarnate Christ was a single Person, at once God and man. The Athanasian Creed is a rather technical and repetitive way of asserting what the Church states about the Holy Trinity – knowing that she can never adequately explain or penetrate the great mystery of God as One, yet three Persons.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (14th century) wrote, “How can plurality consist with unity, or unity with plurality? To examine the fact closely is rashness, to believe it is piety, to know it is life, and life eternal.”
Trinity Sunday came into the liturgical life of the western Church when it was mandated by Pope John XXII in 1334. The Feast became especially popular in England because of its association with St. Thomas Becket, who was consecrated bishop on that day in 1162. Long before that, the doctrine of the Trinity (which is the central dogma of Christian theology) was first defined by the Councils of Nicaea (325 A.D.) and Constantinople (381 A.D.)
The doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly taught in the scriptures, but the reality of God’s revelation as One God of three Persons is implicit in the Holy Scriptures. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, you will remember, all three Persons of God were present and active. When water was poured upon the head of Jesus the Incarnate Son of God, God the Father spoke from heaven, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.
What is revealed by the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is that God exists as a divine family of Persons (hypostases in Greek), who are bound together in love; that the family has order to it; and that the “members” of the family have different roles and functions. God the Father is the Creator of all things. The Son of God is the Redeemer of the world. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier.
But we know from the scriptures that God the Son, the Word, according to St. John, was the agent of the Father’s creative activity. You will remember those opening verses of the Gospel according to St. John, known as “The Prologue,” where we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (1:1-3). Later in St. John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus say – referring to the coming of the Holy Spirit, “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you’ (14:18). And He also said, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (14:23).
From this (and there other examples as well), we see that the Persons of the Trinity often times work together in ways that bring to us the very fullness of God’s divine and triune reality of love. There is a tapestry of divine action woven by them, a beautiful complementarity of the action, orchestrated for our good and the good of others.
There’s another element of God as the Holy Trinity which needs to be understood by us, and that has to do with who we are as human beings – creatures of God’s design and creating.
In the first of the two accounts of creation in the Book of Genesis, we hear God say, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (1:26). Here we have evidence of God as a plurality of Persons: “Let us make man in our image." Secondly, we see that man is made in the “image” of God: meaning not that man looks like God, but that as God is triune in nature, so is man. Each of us is one person, but a person who consists of body, soul, and spirit. Our fundamental makeup as men and women is that we are each an individual, unrepeatable, unique person whose personhood is triune in nature – body, soul, and spirit. In the Greek language, the word is soma for body; psuche for soul (from which we get “psyche”); and pneuma for spirit.
St. Paul understood the triune nature of man. At the end of his First Letter to the Thessalonians, he prays for the Christians in Thessalonica: “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:23).
And just to go briefly a bit deeper, the soul of man is triune. The soul (that which truly defines us) has been understood in both moral theology and human psychology as the mind, the will, and the emotions. What makes me, me; and what make you, you, is the way we think, decide, and feel. As people of religion, we seek God to guide us in our thoughts, decisions, and feelings.
The Greek philosophers (especially Plato) taught the soul of man was tripartite. Their teaching on this assertion used slightly different words, definitions, and emphases; and Christianity was clearly influenced by this.
Beyond our being created in the image of God and the mystery of the soul, our individual and corporate lives are to be immersed in the life of the Trinity – in the sense that we seek God and receive His Life into our lives as the God who creates, redeems, and sanctifies. We are baptized, born again in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as Jesus commanded.
Normally we address our prayers to God the Father, as we pray to the Father through Jesus Christ, or in the Name of Jesus Christ. But we also at times pray to Jesus, the Son of God, or to the Holy Spirit. In our rich Anglo-Catholic tradition (built upon the many centuries of what the Church taught and practiced), we also pray to the Saints, whom we ask to pray for us to God, as we would ask any Christian brother or sister to do. We seek their prayers and inspiration as we think upon their particular gifts, witness, example, and patronage.
Just as the Persons of the Trinity are bound together in love, and as the saints are bound together in the life and love of the Trinity, we to be bound together as children of the Father through Jesus who has revealed the Father by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit within us. Because we are loved by God, and love Him in return, we think upon the divine ever-constant action of the Trinity as a divine family of Persons into which we live, move, and have our being as dependent children upon the Father, brothers and sisters of the Son (Christ Jesus), and friends of the Holy Spirit Whose mission is to guide us into all Truth.
As we praise God today and other days with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Hosts: Heaven and earth are full of thy glory. Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High,” may our praise be an earnest desire for the life of the Trinity to live within us, guiding and sustaining us, and leading us into all truth.
+In the Name…