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The Trinity

21 June 2011

This past Sunday was Trinity Sunday, one of the feast days I mentioned back on Ash Wednesday that corresponds to a doctrine, rather than an event (along with Corpus Christi and All Saints’). There is a running joke among Anglicans that you never, ever hear a rector (or any priest, for that matter) preach on Trinity Sunday because there is little way to make the Trinity make sense without lapsing into heresy. Instead, the sermonizing for the day is often passed to a deacon, seminarian, intern, or another unsuspecting victim and the priests go relatively unscathed.

I was shocked, therefore, when Fr. Warren at the Advent, Boston, was listed in the bulletin as preaching. Amused by the bravado, I leaned back, crossed my arms, and began to muse about which heresy I was getting ready to hear. (Sabellianism—by the way—is the most rampant on this day; it’s the belief that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are different modes or aspects of one God, as perceived by the believer, rather than three distinct persons in God Himself.) Instead, what I heard was probably one of the most beautiful explanations of the Trinity I have ever heard. I excerpt it here:

You may have heard it said that the most important spiritual and intellectual idea of the ancient Jews was that God was one.  There was one God alone.  That’s not strictly true.  Others had grasped this fact some time before the Hebrews made it their creed.  The Hebrews, however, encountered a God who revealed Himself as person, and that, really, was their most important discovery: that God was person, that He was defined not by human thought – not by concepts or speculations.  Rather, God revealed Himself.  God made Himself known in encounter.  God defined Himself.  By will and desire.  By action, word, and by summoning the Jews into a relationship.  And that relationship with its laws and promise and meaning would be their history and finally it would be the history of the whole creation.

Today we celebrate the mystery of the Holy Trinity – the Christian doctrine of God, who He is and how He is: Three Persons, One God.  In beginning this sermon as I have, my point is to make clear that when we speak of the Trinity we are not dealing with human constructs: abstraction or theory or concept or metaphysics.  All these things have been used, to be sure, in attempts to explain the Doctrine.  To make it understandable, even reasonable.  All such attempts only go so far before they either fail or founder.  For you cannot explain a person.  Let me say that again: you cannot explain a person.  I cannot explain myself and I cannot – certainly – explain you.  I only partially understand myself and what I do understand is often not reasonable at all.  Often, to understand myself I have to reveal myself to myself.  To understand you, you have to show me.  A person is a complete mystery until that person reveals himself, reveals herself.

Read the rest here.

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