The one thing that distinguishes Christianity from all other ideologies and religions is our profession of the Trinity. We believe in one God, but we also believe that that one God is three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Trinity is also the starting place of Christian action. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, we read that Christ gives his disciples the Great Commission: go baptize and make disciples in the name of the Trinity. Much in the same way that an emissary of a king or queen comes in the name of their monarch, Christians are instructed to act in the name of the Triune God. We act in the name of the Trinity when we baptize, bless, consecrate, and pray in general.
It’s strange however that so many preachers dread giving sermons on Trinity Sunday. As I prepared this sermon, I noticed that the prevailing sentiment amongst priests and religious educators is to avoid making any kind of definitive statement about the Trinity. “It’s a mystery,” as it seems nearly everyone agrees.
It’s true that it’s a mystery how it is that God is both three and one. However, it is not a mystery that God is three in one. God has revealed God’s self to us in Scripture, in history, in our relationships with each other, and continues to reveal this to us in prayer. That’s why we pray in the name of the Trinity. It’s one thing to confess humility in the face of a difficult idea. It’s another to retreat from that idea because it’s difficult. In our Gospel reading today, Christ does not ask the disciples to shy away from the mystery, but to act in the name of that mystery. Christ would have his followers, including us, rest in and act confidently from the truth of the Trinity.
So, what is the Trinity?
I’ve featured Rublev’s and Blake’s Trinity here because I think they engage our imaginations about the Trinity in the right ways. They help to see that above all, the Trinity is a relationship. Three person who are not independent of one another, but who act in harmony, in unity. Their’s is a perfect relationship so much so that in Matthew 18 Jesus tells the disciples that if they’ve seen him, they’ve seen the Father. And later, he tells them that he is sending them his Spirit. There’s a seamlessness about the Trinity, an unbroken thread of peace and harmony. Again, how this is … is mysterious. That it is… Well, Christ is pretty clear with us.
In the Christian tradition, the Trinity is often referred to as the symbol of our faith. This idea comes from Jesus himself. Jesus uses the Trinity, his perfect relationship with the Father and Spirit, as a symbol of the unity that the disciples are supposed to have with each other. And it helps us see that the actions of baptizing people, and making disciples, is supposed to lead to that same peace and harmony. In other words, The spirit, who is the bond of love between the Son and the Father, is also the bond of love between Christians. The Trinity is not that much more mysterious than the fact that where two or three of us are gathered in Jesus’ name, there also is the Spirit, as Jesus says (Matthew 18:20).
Jesus expects the disciples to be confident in their knowledge of the Father because they’ve seen Jesus, and he expects this confidence to be strengthened with the assistance of the Spirit. He presumes their confidence as the foundation of what they’re really supposed to do, what we’re supposed to do – Make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Our task is simple: We are called to join Jesus as the image of the Father by being conformed to the image of Christ. We are called to invite others to become conformed to his image. Moreover, we as Christians, as the body of Christ in the world, are drawn into this triune harmony as adopted daughters and sons of the Father. And we are called to be at peace with ourselves, with God, and with each other, just as the members of the Trinity are perfectly at peace with each other.
Yet how difficult this is if all we can say about the Trinity is that it’s a mystery. More than a mystery, it’s a peace, a peaceful relationship, a perfect relationship. It’s the exemplary image of harmony and unity. How difficult this peace is for us if we can’t see and confess the peace of God in the three persons of the Trinity.
Jesus asks us today to acknowledge, however difficult it is to understand, that he and the Father are one, that he has sent us one like himself in the Spirit. He asks us to confess this because having done so, we have a foundation and a confidence for the work that we need to do in the world. He asks us to confess the Trinity in baptism and prayer because it is the peace and unity of the Trinity that are to be our peace and unity.
If this is our understanding of the Trinity, then it should be our joy and delight, and not a burden, to confess the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.