Above all the Trinity – the understanding that one God has three expressions or ways of being in the world – means that loving relationship is at the centre of the whole universe. The Creator was never on his or her own! The one who created everything, including us, was always a community of persons. Always more of a dancing community circling through time and space than a single old white haired man on a throne in the sky. The very nature of God is communion. A communion into which we are invited.
The Trinity is something we can get ourselves in a knot over. I have certainly wrestled with the idea and construction of the Trinity. And yet I find the idea of the Trinity – three yet one – endlessly fascinating. But maybe at this point in human history and spiritual development we should allow ourselves to enjoy the reality of the Trinity without first fully understanding it, allowing the Trinity itself to reveal itself. Whatever we understand about the Trinity we shall only ever be glimpsing reflected light. So humbly knowing that we can only every glimpse a sliver of the true nature of God let us allow those images and metaphors that reveal a fragment of that amazing truth to play across our inner eye.
One of the images that have been restored in recent decades is that of a circling of birds, dancing on the thermals, wheeling around and around, spiralling up and then down. This image comes from the Greek word perichoresis and it helps to understand that God as trinity is not a stern authoritarian chain of command so much as the delight of flight and relationship. Likewise images of dancing from ballet to ancient folk dances point to the love of movement and the movement of love.
Images that make visible the concept of flow are also very important. Whether we see that as the flow of water from mountain snow melt to trickling streams, to raging rivers and then pounding oceans that are then evaporated up into clouds that feed the next generation of rain and snow.
And metaphors of interconnection are life giving – the interconnected web of life as in the created world, the relationship between Creator, humanity and the rest of the created world, and our relationship with each other either in unity and love and respect or disunity and fear and hatred.
All of these images speak something of value about the Trinity and therefore the nature of God and our relationship with God.
For those of us who have grown up with the idea of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – it is impossible for us to realise what a world changing thought this was originally. Jesus and the disciples were Jewish and so they believed in one God to whom we should give our hearts, minds, souls and all our strength. Indeed insisting that there was only one God was one of the things that separated Jewish people from their neighbours who often had many gods. And so this declaration that God was a community was radical and potentially confusing. So then and now many have not worried too much about the Trinity because it is a bit confusing and what difference does it make anyway?
Well like every other understanding about the nature of God it makes both no difference and a lot of difference. No difference in the sense that God will be who God is regardless of our ideas. God will be God reaching out in love to us whatever strange thoughts we have or don’t have. And of course our ideas matter very much as well because the ideas we have about God, ourselves and our neighbours effect how we experience things so the more open and big our ideas the more of the God experience we can allow into our hearts and minds.
Jesus left this new big idea with his disciples as he was leaving. You who have known and loved me have participated in God and through the Spirit shall continue to be connected with the Father and I. Or as John’s gospel put it “the Father and I are one” and you are invited to be part of us. This understanding can only be given as Jesus is physically leaving them so that the disciples can understand the promise as the continuation of the relationship they already have with Jesus can experience this as the growth and continuation of their love and desire to know and be known by God and his Son Jesus.
And how does this impact on us? The first instruction associated with that statement was that the disciples should baptise in the name of this divine community of love. The community of God, within the heart of God, has always been inviting others to join the dance, to participate in life. Baptism is a ritual of cleansing (so that one is fit to enter into union with God) and a ritual of initiation or joining a group. When we are baptised we are showing on the outside the inside truth that we are joining in the community of God with all those others who understand that they are loved by God. When we are baptised we are showing publically that we have given ourselves over to being a follower of Jesus and a seeker of God in every part of life.
So then when we hear those beautiful words “Remember I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” we can know that becoming part of that community of God, the community within the very heart of God, is without end. Jesus can promise to be with us always, through everything and anything that happens to us, because when we join in the God experience we are already in one sense “home” with God. Life and faith are not so much about earning a spot with God later in heaven as knowing confidently that we are in God now and our life’s work is to understand that more and more fully and to experience that in every part of life now.
Trinity suggests that the very nature of God is communal loving, and that the very nature of the movement of God is dance and ebb and flow. This suggests that God is very at home in our strange lives and that we can rest deeply in that same God who is forever inviting us into communion, inviting us to take part in the dance of life itself.
And because this invitation is from the community of God (the Trinity) to become part of the community of the people of God it is utterly important how we think, see, treat and respond to our neighbour. We cannot ignore the human community to which we belong, we cannot desecrate the created community into which we are born, and claim to be a part of the divine community. It would be as though we were to desire to become part of a mountain lake but not want to become part of the ocean into which that lake eventually empties itself.
To confess that we believe in God as Trinity is to give ourselves over to being part of the community of God and creation and to claim our common lot with others coming to see that they too are precious and necessary, as indeed are we.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, come gather us in.