We have all kinds of solemnities, feast days, and other special days in the church year. We commemorate happenings in the life of Christ: Mary’s visit from Gabriel, the birth of Jesus, the arrival of the maji, the Baptism of our Lord, the Transfiguration when the glory of Christ is revealed, Palm Sunday, the empty tomb and Resurrection of Easter, the glorious Ascension, the explosive coming of God’s spirit to the church at Pentecost … and then we have Holy Trinity Sunday. And suddenly it is like we have moved from these great events in the life of Christ, and now…. tadah!! We are celebrating… well… what are you celebrating this Sunday? Take a moment and make a list of the possibilities… (for my own part I am waiting… are you making the list or did you keep reading?)
Perhaps most simply we’re are celebrating that God has revealed God’s self in Sacred Scriptures as Father, Son and Holy Spirit – One God in three Persons. Over the years I have heard all kinds of analogies trying to explain this triune nature of God – all of which fall short. Which makes sense, since at the root of it all, God is mystery.
A long time ago in a Bible Study I was explaining something or another about the Holy Trinity, supplying all manner of analogies that didn’t quite work, when someone asked, “Why should we care? God is God and that is all that matters. What’s the difference?” Hmmm…. What is the difference? Good question.
In the gospel for today, I love the words: “I still have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.” This comes on the evening of Holy Thursday. The apostles are already shaky knowing that Jesus is leaving them. So, he doesn’t burden them with more than they couldn’t handle. His words are a kindness with depth of patience. Instead of adding to their burden, he promised them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of ongoing revelation. The Spirit would slowly guide the disciples — and all of us — into a fuller knowledge and comprehension of everything Jesus left unsaid. In time, when we’re ready and able.
Jesus’s promise is a safe and quiet place from which to begin. Meaning, we don’t have to understand everything right now. We don’t have to find the perfect analogy or metaphor to explain the three-fold fullness of God. I don’t need to come up with a clever summary for this homily. All we can do is seek the truth with our whole hearts, and trust that Jesus’s promise holds. All we can do is await the Spirit who will come and reveal God’s truth to us in God’s time. But we can help out by continuing to be curious!
Franciscan friar, Fr. Richard Rohr says we need to look at it differently. In his book, The Divine Dance, he writes: “Don’t start with the One and try to make it into Three. Start with the Three and see that this is the deepest nature of the One.” Maybe it’s a way to begin to explore the difference? So, here goes…
God is diverse. If God exists in three persons, then each person has their own way of being and expressing love, truth, goodness, beauty, and righteousness. There is not a sameness, but there are points of contrast and difference that that makes for an intrinsic plurality to goodness that is beyond uniformity. In the one Nature of God there is a diversity that lies within that divinity. There’s a difference.
God is communal. It’s one thing to say that God values community. Or that God thinks community is good for us. It’s altogether another to say that God is community; that God is relationship, intimacy, connection, and communion. Can’t do that with just one. Three is the deepest nature of the One.
God is hospitality. Being communal is one thing, but more than that God is hospitable. One of the great icons of Christianity was created by Andrei Rublev, known s the “Holy Trinity.” In it, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit sit around a table, sharing bread and wine. Their faces are nearly identical, but they’re dressed in different colors. The Father wears gold, the Son blue, and the Spirit green. The Father gazes at the Son. The Son gazes back at the Father, but gestures towards the Spirit. The Spirit gazes at the Father, but points toward the Son with one hand, and opens up the circle with the other, making room, inviting others to join the sacred meal. There is intimacy and openness. There is room for you at the table; room for all. There is an invitation for us to join the intimacy on full display in the Eucharistic setting.
God is love. Beyond the words in John’s Epistle, there is some different about love when expressed in the Trinity. When we think about love in our experience, there is something “off” when one person is totally in love with themselves. Similarly, if two persons are in love with each other to the complete exclusion of all others, again, there is something “off.” The medieval thinker Hugh of St. Victor wrote that three makes all the difference. When one has to give full attention to the other and the other is two, divine love begins to swirl among Trinity. Hugh describes it as a “divine dance” of love that can not contain itself and so bursts out into the world in a creative force. And so…
God is dynamic and creative. Creating the world in love, sending the Spirit as a dynamic force in our loves, and sending His Son to create a redemptive way home to God.
I am sure there is more than can be said, but for now it is enough. What is the difference? It seems to me that when we consider the nature of God and are led by the Spirit to these insights (and more), we also need to recall that we are children of God. The children of diverse, communal, hospitable, dynamic, creative, and loving God.
As Jesus told his Apostles, as I was sent into the world to reveal God’s self to you, so he sends us into the world that our lives reflect the truth and beauty of the Triune God.
It makes all the difference, so that we can make a difference.