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Trinity Sunday

Saturday, May 29, 2010
Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

On the stone which guards the entrance to the passage grave at Newgrange, County Meath there is a triple spiral. It is a familiar Celtic design which is very popular as a symbol of threefoldness, a shadowy anticipation some might say of the Christian Trinity. Saint Patrick, legend has it, taught the Irish about the Trinity by using the shamrock. It’s not historical, of course, but even if it was I hope they did not fall for it, as the shamrock, or anything else which is simply made up of three parts, is not really a good image or symbol for the Trinity.

All the images we use to try to picture God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit are unsatisfactory. In practice I suppose we think of the Blessed Trinity as a kind of committee, three persons united on everything. A moment’s reflection shows that this too is quite inadequate.

Saint Augustine wrote a great work on the Trinity in which he scours creation for the best examples of threefoldness he can find. The best one, he thought, was the human mind. Here was something which was threefold not in the sense of having three parts but as having three moments or movements—understanding, willing and remembering—each of which involved the other two: no understanding without willing and remembering, no willing without understanding and remembering, no remembering without understanding and willing. Here, said Augustine, is a threefold intimacy and mutuality in an absolute and dynamic unity. It is ingenious although it may actually be more informative about human psychology than about the nature of God.

I believe the best sign of the Trinity, the one that teaches us most clearly what God is like, is the cross of Jesus Christ. What do we see when we gaze at the crucifix? We see Jesus. Who is this man dying on the cross? He is the Son. Whose Son is he? He is the Son of the Eternal Father whose wisdom finds its highest, paradoxical expression in this moment of self-sacrificing love. A wise love is working itself out here. Jesus said ‘it is consummated’ and breathed forth his Spirit. What Spirit is it which he breathed forth? It is the Holy Spirit, the love of God which has been poured into our hearts.

In the cross of Jesus we see the wisdom and love of the Father. God, as it were, breaks himself open for our sakes upon the cross. There we may gaze, as the bystanders gazed in wonder, and see the glory of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth, giving his human life that we might share his divine life.

The Hebrew Scriptures have much to say about the wisdom of God and about the spirit of God. In the Christian scriptures these attributes of God are spoken of in ways which are more and more personal.

Thus the Father is the one who has sent Jesus, the one who loves him, the one whose will he seeks to serve and the one who receives him back to the glory which he had with him before the world was made. Jesus is the wisdom of the Father who behaves as the Bible says Wisdom will behave: feeding the people with food and drink, nourishing their minds on wise teaching, calling them away from foolishness to serve God wisely.

Jesus re-assures the disciples that his departure will mean the sending of ‘the Spirit of truth’ who will lead them into all truth. ‘He will declare to you what is mine’, Jesus says, ‘because all the Father has is mine’. So all the Father has belongs to Jesus, all Jesus has belongs to the Father, and all the Spirit has belongs to Jesus (John 16.13-15). Saint Paul speaks of God, Jesus and the Spirit who, as it were, wrap their arms around the world and its people to establish them in grace and hope (Romans 5.1-5).

In texts like these the earliest followers of Jesus express a new revelation about the nature of God, which was to be developed later into full theologies of the Trinity.

The mystery of the Trinity is, in the end, the mystery of Jesus. If we wish to know who Jesus is we must speak of God as Father, Word and Spirit. This is why Jesus dying on the cross is the best place to look if we want to meditate on the mystery we honour this week-end. God’s nature is revealed in what happened in Jesus Christ. There is profound wisdom, then, in the simplest prayer and gesture which we learned at our parents’ knees, blessing ourselves with the sign of the cross as we said ‘in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’. Amen.


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