Today, it is often said, is the only Sunday of the Christian year on
which we celebrate not an event, a part of the story, but a
doctrine. And so, it is often also said,
this is a difficult Sunday to preach on and an even more difficult Sunday on
which to be preached, the implication that I will have to talk in such complicated,
theological terms that you will not be able to understand me or you will simply
be bored out of your mind.
|Andrei Rublev's Holy Trinity|
Rubbish. It’s all rubbish.
We should be excited to be here this Sunday and I should be excited to preach because we are celebrating together the very life of God. “Trinity” is the way we Christians have come to describe not only who God is, but how God is. And how God is, including how we know God, is itself a living thing. There is nothing static about it at all, as using the word doctrine implies.
Jesus himself promised us this dynamic faith.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…
Jesus promises us that we will for ever be learning about and experiencing anew life with God, what he calls “the truth.” And this truth will not only be about God, but will also be about ourselves, for, as he promises elsewhere
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free [and] if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
Both Spirit and Son, we are told will continually work for our freedom, which will always involve going more deeply into the truth, including the truth about God. How will they do this?
The Spirit [he says] will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He [that is, the Spirit] will glorify me [the Son], because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and is declare it to you.
Jesus is very careful in John’s Gospel to be clear that he does not act on his own. He acts on what he has heard from the One he calls Father. And he goes so far as to say that he and the Father are one. The Spirit operates in the same way. The Spirit leads us into the truth, the truth he knows with Jesus from the Father, but this truth is not some sole possession of the Father. The Son and the Spirit are the truth itself.
This is how God works, in a wondrously ordered yet amazingly chaotic way, in constant dynamic mutual sharing of love that produces for us the constant dynamic truth that sets us free.
Theological thinkers in the later years of the early church in the east (that is, in contemporary Turkey and Syria) came up with a wonderful word to describe this wondrously ordered yet amazingly chaotic way of God’s being that is a constant dynamic mutual sharing of love. It is the Greek word perichoresis. This is your new word for the day! And it’s a wonderful word, a word well worth remembering.
Perichoresis comes from two Greek words. Peri as a preposition means “around” or “with.” We hear it in English in the word “perimeter.” The other word is chorein, a much more complex word which means something like “to make room for,” or “to contain,” in the sense of including. Together they make a word that means “rotate,” which is, if you think about it, a kind of containing by going around. Or the act of going around can be a way of making room for something.
The word perichoresis comes in Greek to mean, among other things, “dance.” And what a wonderful, lively metaphor for the Trinity that is. Dancing is an activity that requires individuals, but it requires them to act and react in community, in a strange kind of interdependence that produces creativity and joy, what the Gospel of John would call “glory.”
And it is vitally important that this is a dance not of one or of two, but of three. Why? Well, think of it this way, the presence of three keeps the dance from turning into what we use to call in my day a “slow dance,” where the two do their best to become one. The presence of three keeps the dance open and lively.
Of what possible importance is all of this to our lives? The Trinity shows us not only how God works but how life works. We keep wanting to take the complexity and mutuality out of life. Generally speaking we have a low tolerance for mystery and for relationships that are complex. We like our friends, and we most often choose our husbands and wives to be much like us, easy and relatively simple to relate to. But life is not really like that at all. Life lived together with other human beings is always complex, always a dizzying array of mutualities. You get more than a handful of people together (like this church community, for instance) and watching them interact, play off each other, creating together much more than they could ever create separately is a truly wonderful thing, and part of the wonder is that order seems to come out of the chaos.
But more and more, of course, scientists tell us that is how the universe works. Chaos is an essential condition for order to emerge, in fact, it is strangely part of the order itself. In a world that works like that, believing in God as Trinity is no sweat whatsoever. It is, as our ancient Celtic ancestors understood, as natural a thing as there is.
The Trinity makes sense in relation to the liveliness of the world. Life is rarely linear, you rarely go from point a to point b without encountering point c, or even point q. God is never linear. God is by nature dynamic.
Being church together should mean learning to live in this godly dynamism, a life of ever-surprising mutuality, both with our chosen partners and those “free radicals” we call strangers. All our attempts to predict, to simplify, to de-mystify, to nail down the truth into something solid and static and controllable are not only futile, they are keeping us from living into the vision of God which is our glory which is our freedom.