Choral Eucharist on Trinity Sunday

  • Preacher

    The Rev'd Canon Michael Rawson, Sub Dean and Canon Pastor

The Sub Dean's sermon preached to mark the feast of the Trinity.

Today is the feast of the Holy Trinity and we use those words so often and seemingly so easily in our worship and talk as Christians.  We begin our services, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: we baptise new Christians in the name of the Trinity ...., we end our services with a blessing in the name of the Trinity; and for many of us the words of the grace are said at least once a day.  Like so much of our tradition and common language as Christians, these are things which are said- but do we really understand them? And what might it mean to those who are new to faith or just dipping their toes in exploring what faith might be for them?   

The mystery of the Holy Trinity we celebrate today is not a doctrine which enables us to receive factual information about the inmost nature of God.  I was brought up with the I-SPY books which gave you lots of things and facts to look out for on particular subjects and you could add up your score to see how observant you'd been.  That's not what we're talking about today with this feast.  There isn't a fact sheet of twenty things you ought to know about the Trinity, as if we could define and narrow down God in that way. It is one of the down sides of living in the 21st century that we always want to be able to define everything; to put label on it, and have it sussed so that we can move on to the next thing.  It's therefore rather seductive for Christians to try and strip away all the mystery and numinous to get to the nuts and bolts of the faith.  Searching and critical questioning is an essential part of the Christian life but we must take care not to throw out the baby with the bathwater. 

A good few years ago I went on holiday to the Isle of Skye.  The journey north of Glasgow becomes breathtakingly beautiful as it winds up through the highlands.  The scale of the countryside defies description for everything is on such a massive scale and you feel more like an ant rushing about. The road winds on and on for hours and hours and you feel that at the end, round the next mountain you might be getting someone nearer your destination and then a whole new vista opens up before you.  The panorama seems to expand as new and unexpected views appear and the scenery which at one moment seemed breathtaking is overtaken and overwhelmed by even dizzier and more stunning perspectives.  That's what the search - the zest - for human knowledge is like and it's also true of our search and journey of exploration towards God.  As the poet R S Thomas wrote,

He is such a fast God,

always before us

and leaving as we arrive.

Each new insight that we experience about God at one level creates more unresolved questions and leads to a greater sense of awe and wonder at this mystery we encounter and worship.  As we read the Old and New Testaments we will won’t find a description of God, for those who wrote these books would have found that a strange and alien concept indeed. Rather we are told about God's covenant relationship with humanity and how that relationship is revealed to us.  What comes next is the response that such a revelation evokes in human beings, ordinary people like you and me. 

St Irenaeus wrote in the second century, ‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive, and the life of humanity consists in the vision of God.’   The Holy Trinity isn't some stuffy, dusty, abstract theory about God. It's much more about how we live and where we live.  God is not some distant, unknowable being, but rather loving, grace-bestowing and ever-present in our lives and in our world.  In God we become fully human, we reach our full potential we become connected.  As St Paul writes, ‘we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.’ There is such a longing deep within ourselves and in our world for that connectedness: with God, with each other and so much of the time, even with ourselves.

‘The glory of God is a human being fully alive, and the life of humanity consists in the vision of God.’

As many of you know, I find pictures and images often more powerful than words. So Instagram is much more appealing to me than X/Twitter. For me, words can sometimes limit our experience and our thoughts, whereas images can push our ideas beyond their present limits.  Many of you will be familiar with the fifteenth century  Icon of the Trinity by Rublev which helps me to see something of the Trinity.  It depicts the three angels who visited Abraham and Sarah at the Oak of Mamre. They are seated around a table, in relationship with one another and yet allowing room for you and me to join in. It’s a unified and expansive depiction of the Trinity holding together love, dependence, hospitality and unity.  The early church often described the Trinity as a dance, a movement of love, in relationship, in community, drawing the believer in, to be caught up in the never ending love of God.  I’m no dancer and I have two left feet, but I do know that for a dance to work participants have to think of the other participants rather than themselves; it’s about selfless giving on behalf of others for the common good.

This feast of the Holy Trinity celebrates the nature of God and how we experience God, but it also seeks to open up the horizons of our own self-understanding in the life of the divine. Our own encounter with this dynamic, living God will lead us to exciting new places that we might not find so comfortable and will stretch our imagination to see God and God’s church through fresh eyes.  May we continue to be drawn into this wonderfully life-giving dance of the Trinity and to make our own response to God's love a joyful yes.