There are moments - when you’re making a friend, or maybe in the early stages of a relationship - there are these moments when you share something that’s really important to you. Because you want to be known. You’ll never feel close to anyone if you don’t feel like they really know you. Maybe you're sharing something profound and huge, like a trauma from the past or a secret you carry. Or maybe it's something really simple, like playing a song a movie that’s really important to you, that you feel really expresses something about who you are.
There’s a certain nervousness to those moments, because there’s something on the line. There’s a vulnerability, and maybe you’re a little anxious about the outcome. What’s the risk? It’s that they might not react the way you hope. You play that song or that movie or loan that book, or you share that secret that’s so central to who you are, and maybe you’re a little worried that the person you open up to will be unimpressed, or you'll feel rejected somehow, or that they'll be indifferent and just sort of say, “mmm…okay.”
And this is my somewhat unconventional angle on Trinity Sunday this year. Because the Trinity is God telling us: “I want you to know me. I want to be in a relationship with you. This is who I am.” What a disappointment I think it must be that God shares this most profound secret about who he is, and so many people, even so many Christians, react with a sort of “mmm… okay.” But I think we should refuse to accept that. Let’s reject the idea that the Trinity is hard to preach, or that ordinary Christians are going to be hard to interest in what it means. I think that’s selling people way too short.
The Trinity isn’t just an idea on paper, a bit of theology that we shrug about and go on our way. It isn’t boring. It’s the most basic doctrine of Christian religion. Of course it is… because it’s the doctrine of Who God Is. How can we claim to love God and not be passionately interested, and curious, about what it means that God is Trinity?
So, there's point number one. The doctrine of the Trinity matters a lot. It isn't trivia. While we’re at it, let’s get out of the way a couple of other things the Trinity isn't. It isn't a contradiction. When the Church says that God is Three and One, we aren’t saying He’s Three and One in the same way. That would be a contradiction: for example, if we said that God is Three persons and also only One person. Or that there is One God but also Three Gods. That doctrine wouldn’t be a mystery, it would be nonsense. We call the Trinity a mystery because it is more than reason can comprehend… but it isn’t contrary to reason. It doesn't offend reason. We might not fully understand what it means that God is three Persons with one Nature, but it isn’t a contradiction.
Something else the Trinity doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean simply that we experience the one God in three different ways. That would simplify things, and be easy to understand, and I’ve heard this mistake made over and over as Christians try to explain the Trinity. It’s called ‘modalism,’ as in, there’s one God but he sort of comes across in different ways to us. So while God is one and alone, sometimes he seems to us like a Father, and sometimes he comes to us in the form of Jesus, and sometimes he seems more mysterious, like a Holy Spirit. So these are just three different modes of our experience. That’s wrong. That gets God wrong right from the start. God didn’t reveal that He seems like three Persons, but that He is. From all eternity. Even if we had never been created to know Him and experience Him, He would still be Trinity.
So if it isn’t trivia, and it isn’t a contradiction, and it isn’t modalism, what does it mean? Here are some things we know because God has revealed Himself.
It means that God isn’t alone.
It means that God is a community.
It means that relationships are not just something we have, but something we are. God is a relationship, and we are made in His image.
Most of all, and as you’ve probably heard in other sermons on other Trinity Sundays, it means that God is Love. And that’s the heart of the matter. If you had only a few seconds to tell someone what the Christian religion is all about, someone who knew nothing about any of it, I think the best you could do is to quote 1 John 4:8: “God is Love.”
Lots of people who don’t know much about any religions think that they’re all really similar at a basic level. Certainly there are some similarities in morals and such. But “God is Love” is something that only Christianity can say. Because only the Trinity makes it possible. A God who is alone can have love, or show love, but cannot be love. Islam cannot say that “God is love” the way we mean it, because the Islamic Allah is alone. Buddhism or Hinduism cannot say that “God is love” the way we mean it. Even Judaism, without the final revelation of Jesus Christ as Messiah and Son of God, cannot say that God is love.
It’s because God is Trinity that we can say, and really mean, that love is Who God Is. Always, from eternity.
So when God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, God was just being true to his own nature. That kind of love is who he is. And the goal of this gift wasn’t simply to get us out of Hell, or to settle an account, or to pay a debt. The Son came to draw us into eternal life.
Now we’re going deep. Only God is eternal. So how can our life be eternal? By sharing in the life of God. Christ became man in order that man might become God… in the sense of sharing in the life of God. In the sense of adoption. In the sense that the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal Son, looks at each of us and says, “You are my Body.”
If you want to picture Heaven as clouds and harps, knock yourself out, but what Heaven really is is being swept up into the life of God, caught up into the eternal flow of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, caught up into the eternal flow of love that God is.
That is why Christian prayer and Christian life are fundamentally Trinitarian. Notice how the Mass prayers are almost always prayed to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The whole Mass itself is the highest Trinitarian prayer of all. Because what is happening here? The Mass is offered by Christ, the Son, to the Father… the sacrifice of Calvary extended through time and space, the Son continually offering Himself to the Father on every altar in the world in every time, and by the Holy Spirit this offering is ours, too. We, Christ’s Body, join with our Head, filled with the Spirit, for the redemption of the world.
That’s what’s happening at this Mass. The Son is offering Himself. He’s offering Himself completely, head and members, joining us to himself by the gift of the Holy Spirit and the food of the Eucharist. To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit.
Become, Christians, become the image and likeness of God that you were created to be. God has shared with us the most profound truth about who He is. Because He wants to be close to us, He wants to be known by us. And as beings made in His image, knowing Him as Trinity is also the deepest key to knowing ourselves. Remember our constant pattern: To the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. That isn’t just what you do. It’s who you are.