Before Abraham was, I Am. Jesus
I’ve heard a lot of sermons on the Trinity. In fact, I hear a sermon on the Trinity once a year.
But I’ve only heard one good sermon. It was well over 20 years ago in a small Episcopalian Church our family attended for a number of years. The priest in question was one of the kindest and best pastors I’ve ever had. Here is a summary of what he taught us on the Trinity.
A elderly priest had studied all his life, trying to understand the Trinity. He read theology and philosophy, thought, prayed and pondered. Then late one Saturday night, he had an insight.
It came to him as bright as the rising sun on a clear summer morning. The meaning of the Trinity was elegant . It was, when you finally grasped it, obvious. His life of study and work had borne the ultimate fruit. He understood the Trinity.
He went to bed, resolved to get up in the morning and write a homily sharing his insight with his parishioners. He was certain that what he was going to tell them would vivify their faith and empower them to do great things for the Lord.
He got up the next morning and sat down to write, eager to share what he knew. But he stared at the page and nothing came to him.
He had sobered up while he slept and he didn’t know what Trinity meant any more.
That was the best homily I ever heard on the Trinity.
The point to that homily, and to what I’m writing now, is that nobody understands the Trinity. The Church calls it a “mystery” which, I guess, is religious speak for “we don’t have a clue.”
We can describe the Trinity, at least a little bit. We say that God is three persons — Father, Son, and Holy Ghost — in one.
Jesus alluded to it when He said, I and the Father are One.
But other than that, we don’t get it. Or if somebody does get it, they’ve never shared their knowledge in anything I’ve read or heard.
Every year on Trinity Sunday, parish priests either struggle through a homily on the Trinity themselves, or if they have the choice, they off-load the duty of explaining the Trinity onto their hapless deacons. However it goes, whoever takes the duty, they usually end up talking about how the Trinity is a family or a community or something similar and how that is somehow or other a symbol of our own families and communities.
It can get pretty daft. But I don’t judge. It’s an impossible task.
Things get even more daft when earnest bloggers try to come up with something wise and useful to say about the Trinity and what it means to us. It can also, in the hands of the crazy means in the Church, turn a bit ugly, or at least a more purple shade of daft.
But none of this really tells us anything. Because all of it is just web spinning by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
At the risk of joining the daft crowd, I’m going to take my own shot at explaining the Trinity. Or, rather, I’m going to tell you what the Trinity means to me.
What the Trinity means to me is that Jesus is the One of the three that I want to meet when I die. I already have a sort of acquaintance with the Holy Spirit because He/She/It has walked with me for decades now.
I am, to be honest, leery of the Father. Or maybe I should say I’m in awe of the Father, and not in an altogether happy way. I don’t think I can approach Him. It’s just too much. The more I read and learn about the little bit we know about the universe and existence, the less I think I have even a smidgeon of understanding of the God Who made it.
I am pretty sure, based on the infinitesimal magnitude of creation, that understanding the Father is beyond human ken. I am certain that our concept of God is much, much too small.
But I can grok Jesus, or at least the part of Him that danced at the wedding of Cana and cried at Lazarus’ tomb. I can approach a God Who feels pity for a grieving mother and raises her dead son back to life as he is being carried to his grave. I can trust a Savior Who says that Mary has chosen the best part by talking to Him of spiritual things and to let her alone.
I feel understood by a God who bleeds and dies, who begs His friends to stay awake with Him when He’s afraid of dying.
Jesus, that wholly human Jesus, is Who I want to meet me when I die. The other Jesus, the mountaintop, transfigured, made-of-light Jesus is less comprehensible. But I trust that He will help me if He greets me in that guise.
That is the Trinity. Somehow, God is the loving Presence we call the Holy Spirit who has walked with me. He is the wholly human, wholly God, bleeding, loving, table tossing, sin-forgiving, sleeping, waking, dancing, carpenter from Nazareth. And, at the same time, He is also the infinite I Am Who made everything there is, everywhere.
God is indeed, as atheists say mockingly, “in the gaps.” He is the incomprehensible something of string theory and he is the unfathomable nothing that is nothing-but-not-nothing before that. Peel away existence, layer by layer by layer, and in the grounds at the bottom of the cup, in that place where philosophy and science meet, meld and are reborn, you will find God.
I don’t understand the Trinity. And neither does anyone else. And that makes sense.
Because God is not comprehensible to us. That’s part of why Jesus came to us; to be God in a way that we could understand.
And that is even more confounding than the Trinity. God, the God, Who made everything there is, everywhere; Who breathed existence into existence, Whose fingerprint is etched onto creation in lines so big we can only see small bits, like fragments of a map; that God cared enough about us to become a human being, one of us, and endure what we must endure.
He did this for us.
None of that makes any sense. And yet it’s true. I know it’s true because God in the Holy Spirit has walked with me all these years. I’ve felt and known the Presence of God in my own life and it is real. He is real.
And that, my friends, is what the Trinity means to me.