For June 3, 2012: Trinity Sunday, Year B

The Reading            Isaiah 6:1-8

Trinity Sunday readings give us several pictures of God—and of ourselves. In today’s reading from the book of Isaiah, merely the hem of the Lord’s robe overwhelms the grand temple that Solomon built; the air is full of the smoke of holiness; the magnificent seraphim praise the Lord in voices that rock the temple. Yet even a puny human has a vital mission.

The Response            Canticle 13

The Epistle            Romans 8:12-17

In today’s epistle, Paul reminds us that we cannot save ourselves: we are saved through the Spirit. Here are two more pictures of God: the Spirit of God impels us to recognize in the Sovereign of the Universe, Isaiah’s transcendent Lord, our Abba—the approachable and loving Daddy of All Daddies.

The Gospel            John 3:1-17

 

Further thoughts

On the Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate the Trinity. The word comes from the Latin trinitas, which can be translated roughly as ‘the state of being three-fold’.

The doctrine developed in the early centuries of the first millennium, resulting (after a great deal of controversy) in the Nicene Creed that we recite almost every Sunday:

• We believe that God has and is one being: God is indivisible
• We believe that God has and is three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
• We believe that each of the persons is truly and fully God: uncreated,  coeternal, and coequal

It’s a complicated and subtle doctrine that has sprouted its share of controversy over the centuries.

St Patrick is said to have explained the Trinity by analogy to a shamrock. Just as a shamrock is made up of three leaves each of which is equal in size to the others, so also God is One in essence but made up of three distinct Persons each of which is equal to the other. The shamrock analogy breaks down rather quickly: a shamrock’s leaves really and truly are separate, so the shamrock doesn’t lose its essential “shamrockiness” if one of its leaves is removed, and the three leaves together aren’t the whole of the plant. Furthermore, each leaf would somehow need to be both containing and contained by the other three leaves, in the botanical and theological equivalent of an M.C. Escher drawing—and that’s almost as big challenge to visualize as is the doctrine of Trinity itself.

What may be more important is what the doctrine of the Trinity means for us. God is one God, but because the persons are distinct, each has a personality and a will. Because each has a personality and a will, each can love. Each can and does love the others, as only God can love—indeed, each is love for the other, as God is love. Thus the persons of God are in the perfect relationship: fully known and fully knowing, fully been with and fully being with, fully loved and fully loving. God is a relational God, and so we are also made to be relational: to love God as fully as we can and to love each other as fully as we can, for where true love is, God is.

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