Canon Chancellor - Revd Canon Wendy Robins
In the name of the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
A week ago yesterday the Archdeacon of Southwark, my good friend Dr Jane Steen, who is known to many of you, had her farewell service here at the Cathedral as she left the Diocese after 22 years to prepare to be consecrated as the Bishop of Lynn. On Wednesday 23 June she will be the first suffragan Bishop to be consecrated in the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, Norwich in over 100 years and the first woman ever to be consecrated there. The designation of the Cathedral is testament to the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity in the church and it is this doctrine that we think about today.
It is usually at the point when I receive a rota or accept an invitation to preach somewhere that I realise that duh! I failed – once again to realise that it was Trinity Sunday and have found myself on the rota. It is one of those Sundays it seems to me when anyone who is not an absolutely top rate theologian does best not to try to say too much for fear of getting something wrong. So, when this year, I realised, once again, that I had failed to be ‘unavailable’ for Trinity Sunday I set off on my usual adventure to try to find something helpful to say to you all about this most wonderful and wonderfully tricky subject. I investigated previous Trinity Sunday sermons, I had delivered – I do actually seem to have delivered quite a number – and in one of them I found that I had even quoted Jane Steen talking about the Trinity and saying how difficult it was to encapsulate in words. I decided that I was in absolute agreement with her, as usual. I read my ‘New Dictionary of Christian Theology’ (which I should note falls open at the Trinity, showing just how much I need to mug up on this subject) and then turned to other commentaries and even to the internet.
I was a bit surprised, when idly browsing Twitter to be encouraged by a tweet from Emily Hunter McGowin who is an Assistant Professor of Theology at Wheaton College in the United States. In it she said:
‘‘Y’all didn’t ask, but here are my 2 theologian tips for Trinity Sunday preaching: 1. The Trinity is not primarily a doctrine to which we assent, but the Reality in which we live. 2. You may think you have a great analogy for the Trinity, but you don’t. Trust me.
And as well as being encouraged at not having to find an analogy – because I have never found one that works for me – I was struck especially by the thought that the Trinity is the reality in which we live. What exactly might this mean and how would this affect the way in which we both view the Trinity and how we seek to live day by day?
And here is where the designation of the Cathedral at Norwich helped me -‘the holy and undivided Trinity - for it seems to me that so much of what we have to learn from the Trinity is about living in relationship with each other. We get a foretaste of the Trinity at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. The Spirit descends as a dove and God the Father speaks to his beloved Son. In response, the poet, Malcolm Guite wrote:
‘Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
The Trinity can help us to think about living life in relationship, about living lives full of love for each other and for God’s world. As we live out a redeemed life it is important that where we can we try to hold on, by faith, to truths that we can experience and yet not necessarily explain. Nicodemus found it hard to understand what Jesus was trying to tell him and asked many questions to try to help his understanding. And this is where McGwoin’s statement can really help us, for we do not need to absolutely understand everything to live by faith. For, as we live by faith we can, as Guite says, step in the river and begin to live as those who know the truth of the last verse from the Gospel reading:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’
As Jesus’ followers, those who have been saved, we have been given the Holy Spirit to help us to live in relationship as Jesus would want us to. If we relax into the Trinity we can learn about living in relationship and how to love, even when it is sometimes difficult to do so.
Yesterday the Church of England’s media team tweeted: ‘God is revealed through the Trinity’. There has been a chorus of tweets explaining that this wasn’t right and saying clearly for all that ‘God is Trinity’. I am told that the tweet has been corrected since, but such things show us the difficulty of trying to make the complex simple. The Trinity is not simple it is a complex concept but if we endeavour to embrace it as the reality in which we live we can and will grow in understanding and find that we can learn more about living in relationship with God and with each other. Amen.