Trinity Sunday is June 16, but we can forgive ministers who do not mention it. Trinity Sunday has never really caught on. Not only are Christmas and Easter a hundred times bigger, Epiphany is bigger. Mother’s Day – which is not in the Bible – is far bigger than Trinity Sunday. This year we get to see if Father’s Day – which is pretty small – is bigger than Trinity Sunday. For most Protestant (and especially Baptist) churches, Trinity Sunday is less significant than “daylight savings time begins.”
The unpopularity of Trinity Sunday has to do with the incomprehensibility of the Trinity. Most of the things we talk about on Sunday still sound fine on Monday – kindness, sharing, listening – but others only sound right in church:
“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost.”
“I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit.”
“Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”
We sing, confess our faith, and baptize with Trinitarian formulas, but you seldom hear someone in line at Starbucks say, “How ’bout that God in three persons?”
“The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that there is more to God than we can sing or preach or prove.”
The Trinity is confusing. It is usually Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but sometimes you hear Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; or Almighty God, Incarnate Word and Holy Comforter. What about this one: Womb of Life, Word in Flesh and Brooding Spirit? This could be your new favorite: Primordial Nature, Consequent Nature and Superjective Nature.
We sing “God in three persons,” but one theologian suggests it would be more accurate to sing “God in three hypostatic modes of being.” That is not going to catch on.
The Bible does not contain the word “Trinity.” Not until the fourth century did church leaders formalize the idea at the Council of Nicea. Different theologians express it in different ways.
John Calvin writes: “To the Father is attributed the beginning of activity and the fountain and wellspring of all things; to the Son, wisdom, counsel, and the ordered disposition of all things; but to the Spirit is assigned the power and efficacy of that activity.” Too bad that will not fit on a bumper sticker.
Karl Barth explains: “God is the speaker, without whom there is no word and no meaning, the word who is the speaker’s word and the bearer of the meaning, the meaning which is as much the meaning of the speaker as of the word.” Glad he cleared that up.
For most of us the hairsplitting intellectual gymnastics of arguments concerning essence versus substance seem obscure. The analogies are inadequate, but clever. Father, Son, and Spirit are like water in the form of liquid, ice and steam. They are like the sun, the rays of the sun and the heat generated by the sun. They are like the memory, understanding and love that exist in the same heart.
My junior high Sunday school teacher’s favorite was that Jesus is the pitcher, the Spirit is the catcher and the Father is the umpire. (No one ever confused my teacher with Karl Barth.)
Ultimately, the Trinity is impossible to explain. It seems like such an esoteric discussion that we are tempted to think that it does not really matter, but it does.
“Explaining the Trinity is like describing the ocean to someone who has never seen more than a teaspoon of water.”
We spend most of our lives dealing with questions that are easy to answer. What’s for lunch? Who won the game? How much money do I have? Such questions pass the time, but now and then we realize that staying on the surface keeps us from the good gifts that are down deeper.
The doctrine of the Trinity reminds us that there is more to God than we can sing or preach or prove. God is as near as our breath, but not so familiar as to be completely understood. God is beyond time and space, but not so mysterious as to be inaccessible.
The Trinity is the understanding that God is at work in an abundance of ways. God is in the world, the story of Christ and the peace deep within us. God draws us to abundant life through the wonder of creation, the love of Jesus and the hope that holds us. God is over us as Creator, with us as Christ and in us as Spirit.
The Trinity offers direction on how we should live. If we believe that God created all of the world, then our attitude will be celebration and concern. If we believe that God was in Christ, then we will follow Jesus’ example of caring. If we believe that the Spirit is present, then we will look for the ways God is at work.
Explaining the Trinity is like describing the ocean to someone who has never seen more than a teaspoon of water, but Trinity Sunday might be a good Sunday to give your dad a tie – and to enjoy a difficult, delightful truth.