Tag Archives: Trinity

Trinity Sunday | Eve of the Visitation

Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high, *
but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth?
He takes up the weak out of the dust *
and lifts up the poor from the ashes.
He sets them with the princes, *
with the princes of his people.
He makes the woman of a childless house *
to be a joyful mother of children. (Psalm 113:5-8)

This evening one of the Episcopal Church’s seven Principal Feasts (Trinity Sunday) overlaps one of our many Holy Days (the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

In this happy juxtaposition, we ponder this evening the universal mystery of the triune God, “who sits enthroned on high,” and who is made known to us in a specific man, Jesus, born to a specific woman, Mary, whose visit to her relative Elizabeth we honor tomorrow.

“No one has ever seen God,” John reminds us in the prologue to his gospel. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).

The Trinity whom we adore

John’s gospel opens with a hymn of creation:

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 came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:1-5).

John purposely reminds us of the opening of the Hebrew Bible, when in the beginning the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:1-2). He goes on to equate the Word — who was with God in the beginning — with Jesus, “a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

In the mystery that Christians call the Incarnation, we see “the Lord our God, who sits enthroned on high, but stoops to behold the heavens and the earth.”

Who is like our God, indeed?

Born of the Virgin Mary

“Hail, Mary, full of grace,” many Christians pray as they say the prayers of the rosary. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” Mary herself cries out in the prayer we call the Magnificat, “and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (BCP 119).

Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth - Tapesetry

In this morning’s Gospel for Trinity Sunday, Nicodemus puzzles over Jesus’ words about being born again. “Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”

Jesus responds with a wry twist. “Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:7-8).

Mary herself had asked the angel, “How can this be, since I am still a virgin?” to which she got the equally unsettling reply that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35-36).

The Spirit of Love

That same Spirit, Luke goes on to recount in his second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, fell on the early church and inspired them to go out into the world proclaiming that “Jesus is Lord.”

In Jesus, the apostles saw God, “the Lord who sits enthroned on high,” stooping down and joining his creatures. Before he left his disciples, Jesus promised that they would share in his spirit, the spirit of love.

At evening prayer tonight, we prayed for that same Spirit of love.

O God, you manifest in your servants the signs of your presence: Send forth upon us the Spirit of love, that in companionship with one another your abounding grace may increase among us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 125)

O God, send us your Spirit through Jesus our Lord.

In companionship with one another …

Abounding grace …

“Hail Mary, full of grace …”

… full of grace and truth.

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You know all the prayers. You are God.

Neil Gaiman recounts this small scene in his stunning story titled, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury.”

A poor man found himself in a forest as night fell, and he had no prayer-book to say his evening prayers.

So he said, “God, who knows all things, I have no prayer-book, and I do not know any prayers by heart. But you know all the prayers. You are God. So this is what I’m going to do: I’m going to say the alphabet, and I will let you put the words together.”

In the “Sunday’s Readings” article in this week’s issue of The Living Church, the authors speak of the glory of God who is beyond all our words:

The consistent theme of [Trinity Sunday]’s readings is the glory of God: a glory so deep and so rich that even the exalted poetry of Psalm 29 only scratches the surface. Wise theologians have said before that we will spend the rest of eternity learning about God and never exhausting the topic, because God is infinite and we are not.

Perhaps, like Gaiman’s narrator, we find ourselves grasping only the “dictionary-shaped hole on the shelf” rather than the words.

Perhaps, at the end, that is enough.

As Trinity Sunday approaches, I urge you to listen to Gaiman’s lovely story and join him in saying:

“Dear God, hear my prayer …

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

…”

Trinity Sunday

Rublev

One day, God walked in, pale from the grey steppe,
slit-eyed against the wind, and stopped,
said, Colour me, breathe your blood into my mouth.

I said, Here is the blood of all our people,
these are their bruises, blue and purple,
gold, brown, and pale green wash of death.

These (god) are the chromatic pains of flesh,
I said, I trust I shall make you blush,
O I shall stain you with the scars of birth

For ever, I shall root you in the wood,
under the sun shall bake you bread
of beechmast, never let you forth

To the white desert, to the starving sand.
But we shall sit and speak around
one table, share one food, one earth.

-Rowan Williams

A goodly heritage

What if the “goodly heritage” (Psalm 16:6) that we have from Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria (d. 373), whose feast we celebrate today, is not a rule requiring intellectual assent but an approach inviting mystical contemplation?

For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be both God and Lord,
So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion, to say, There be three Gods, or three Lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten.
The Son is of the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten.
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son, neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another;
But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal.
So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity is to be worshipped.
He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity. (BCP 864)

The Athanasian Creed, composed in the midst of swirling controversies about the nature of God, the person of Jesus, and the authority of the Church, certainly reads like a legal document, setting out terms and conditions for salvation.

“He therefore that will be saved must thus think of the Trinity.”

But what if the focus here is more on the word “think” than on the word “thus”?

What if we let Athanasius’ bewildering, “incomprehensible” creed instead serve as an invitation to meditate on the God revealed in Scripture, on the life and ministry of Jesus, on the enduring power of the Spirit in our lives?

There is rich fruit for reflection here, solid food for the Christian life, a “goodly heritage” on which to build our own life of faith and seeking after God.

The St. Augustine Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

The St. Augustine Chapel at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Not long after Athanasius’ time, another great thinker in the early Church, Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), wrote about “faith seeking understanding.”

Our goodly heritage is filled with examples of people not only placing their faith in God and their trust in Jesus’ saving power, but also using their minds to explore what relationship with God might mean for us and the world around us.

The strong Name of the Trinity

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St. Patrick’s Breastplate

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
his baptism in the Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spiced tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
of the great love of cherubim;
the sweet “Well done” in judgement hour;
the service of the seraphim;
confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
all good deeds done unto the Lord,
and purity of virgin souls.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

See Hymnary.org for the text and music of this magnificent hymn.

Of a Missionary

Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Patrick, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of Ireland. Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP 247)

By the oaks of Mamre

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Icon of the Trinity by Andrei Rublev

Today’s readings provide an object lesson in the power of the Daily Office to trigger associations in the Christian imagination.

We begin with the Old Testament reading from Genesis in which Abraham is buying some property from the Hittites in order to bury his wife Sarah in a cave in a particular field facing Mamre.

So the field of Ephron in Machpelah, which was to the east of Mamre, the field with the cave that was in it and all the trees that were in the field, throughout its whole area, passed to Abraham as a possession in the presence of the Hittites, in the presence of all who went in at the gate of his city. After this, Abraham buried Sarah his wife in the cave of the field of Machpelah facing Mamre (that is, Hebron) in the land of Canaan. (Genesis 23:17-19)

The canticle which follows, the Song of Moses, is one of the songs we sing at the Easter Vigil, when we recount Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and his victory over death.

So we have this association between the Genesis story and the resurrected Christ. Sarah is laid to rest in a cave; the cave where Christ was buried is empty when the disciples arrive there on Sunday morning. Every cave reminds us Christians of the cave which could not contain Jesus.

But the association goes deeper.

Just as Sarah’s tomb faced the oaks of Mamre, where she and Abraham laughed with the three travelers who were really God (Genesis 18), so we rejoice in the garden outside of Christ’s empty tomb and worship him as our risen Lord.

The chain of associations triggered by today’s readings — and by every day’s readings — helps us see Jesus throughout Scripture, from creation through the appearance to Abraham and Sarah, to his incarnation and passion.

We come to see and name him as one of the persons of the Trinity, as “Christ, the king of glory, the eternal Son of the Father” (BCP 96).

 

 

Trinity Sunday

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St. Augustine’s Chapel in the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Fond du Lac

First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday

O God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP 228)

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I want to reflect not so much on the doctrine of the Trinity but on the method of Trinitarian faith.

It took more than 400 years of sustained practice and reflection before the Christian church articulated the doctrine of the Trinity. The Apostles’ Creed is first mentioned by Ambrose around 390; the Nicene Creed came after the Council of Nicaea in 325 and was revised by the Council of Constantinople in 381; Augustine wrote On the Trinity in 415; and the Athanasian Creed dates to sometime after the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

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From the beginning Christians gathered to pray daily (just as they had been doing as observant Jews), celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and ministered to those around them, making disciples through the power of the Spirit.

“No one has ever seen God,” writes the author of the Gospel of John. “It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:18).

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

“Jesus is Lord” rings the cry of faith; “We are one in the Spirit” say the apostles to Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female; “How good it is to sing praises to our God” we pray every morning and every evening, joining our voices to the Psalmist’s (Ps. 147:1).

The doctrine of the Trinity is the attempt, however mathematical and philosophical it may be, to account for the lived experience of the Church, following the Lord Jesus in the power of God’s Spirit and in praise to the eternal Father — acknowledging the Trinity and worshiping the Unity.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

(Te Deum laudamus, BCP 95)