It has been my practice for many years now to take Trinity Sunday as an opportunity to do some real in-depth exposition of theology. In modern Christian community we’ve by and large lost the art and practice of theology. We prefer simple statements like “everything happens for a reason” that when overused become trite, and discourage asking big questions and expecting big answers in return.
The mystery of God is vast, beautiful and terrifying. Tapping into the complexity of God is a good thing even if we only take the care to do it once Sunday a year.
Trinity Sunday is a festival whose sole focus is a theological concept: God is one and God is three. It’s a theological construct that has it’s foundations in the scriptures, but which took theologians to flesh out through the centuries and millennia. In many ways the theology of Trinity is still being fleshed out.
It’s tempting to take the day as a reprise of the theme of the Holy Spirit (which should have been covered the week prior in Pentecost), as the Third Member of the Trinity is the one that is most forgotten in mainstream Christianity. Our lessons for this Sunday go a long way to encouraging such practice.
However, it isn’t just the Holy Spirit that we look at today, but the whole Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You can’t get too far into the theology of the Trinity without running smack-dab into unspeakable mystery or conveniently-simplified-heresy. No, God isn’t like H2O which exists in three physical states. (Modalism) No, God isn’t just like a pretzel. Or a clover leaf.
God is three. God is one. At the same time.
Our Gospel lesson from John this week gives us a firm foundation to stand on in the midst of mystery. Jesus said that he had many things left unsaid, and yet he had to leave them unsaid. We couldn’t bear them.
That’s a strong statement of human limitation. We literally can’t bear some of the very things that God would dearly like to share with us.
Like the inability for a human to see God face to face, we have a precondition that keeps us from bearing the fullness of God.
And, we know that. And we know that that very precondition has gotten us in trouble from time to time. It’s why we ate the apple. It’s why we built the tower. It’s why we stood before Pilate and shouted ‘crucify him.’
Deep down we know that we can’t know it all, or bear it all, but we just can’t help but try.
So much for brands of faith that claim to have all the answers. Just another attempt at a tower to heaven, left confounded.
We can’t bear everything. That’s where we are. That’s reality.
Deal with it.
But, it also says something of God. The fullness of God surpasses what is bearable.
One strain of our faith always seeks to remind us that God is very near, very close. He walks with us in the garden. He leads us through the desert. He makes his home in the Temple. He takes on flesh and dwells among us. He is shepherd, He is lamb, He is the Light we see by. He wipes every tear from our eyes.
And yet, there is that other annoying strand of our faith that says that God is beyond our knowing. No tower is large enough. God is in the Tabernacle resting upon the mercy seat, but we dare not peek in. He is going where we cannot go.
And in the middle of that taught line of tension is where we live our faith.
We sing and he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own and a moment later we sing immortal, invisible, God only wise.
God is friend and God is a mighty fortress.
And that is the let-down we are all faced with on Trinity Sunday.
We can have fun with Athanasius and Arius, we can break out Greek words like homoousias and perichoresis, and maybe even try to get our money’s worth from our theological education. But, at the end of the day we will be left with the gap between us and the unknowable.
That which we are unable to bear.
And all that we have to comfort ourselves with is the knowledge that this great God who made the universe and all that is in it, who is one and three, and who was, and is, and is to come: loves us deeply, passionately and intimately.
On second thought, that’s not so bad.