Introduction and Call to Worship
Today we celebrate the Holy Trinity, God in three persons, and give thanks for the invitation God offers us to join in the loving dance of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
First Reading Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah tells of his vision of the Lord in his Temple and how the Lord frees him from his guilt so that he is free to act as the Lord’s messenger to his people.
Second Reading Romans 8:12-17
St Paul describes the Spirit that leads followers of Jesus into a new relationship with God. This is the Spirit of adoption, who brings believers into the family of Christ as children of the God whom we may now call “Father”.
Gospel John 3:1-17
In a conversation with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader, Jesus talks about a new birth “from above” and “of the spirit” through which all who believe in him may receive eternal life.
HOMILY “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.” (John 3:5)
This past month I have had the privilege of conducting two weddings here at St Mary’s – and they were so very different from each other: different families and friends, individual ceremonies with different bible readings, hymns and songs, yet a single liturgy which all have in common – the same liturgy as used last weekend for the Royal Wedding at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, which the whole nation was able to participate in through television. Since then we have seen some of their official photographs, including one of the Royal family all together. Such pictures, staged as they usually are, portray the people who were there and what they were wearing and is without doubt one important aspect of remembering the occasion in years to come. What wedding photos don’t convey are the complex personalities and dynamic relationships, the sense of family history and shared experiences that really bind those people together and ultimately make the day special. Looking back at photographs of a special occasion can help us re-live our memories, but it is hard to convey the emotion, excitement and joy of an experience with just a snapshot. Of course, we can describe those experiences and complex relationships to others, but without being there in person someone else can’t fully participate. They needed to have been there – to have been invited to participate. Indeed, in life we often feel we have ‘missed out’ unless we have taken part ourselves and know what it feels like.
Likewise, our relationship with God as Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – can’t be captured in a few words or a picture. It relies on a complex web of connections: hopes, challenges, even doubts and a good dollop of mystery (that almost sounds like a recipe!). So, what is the Trinity in the first place? I tend to learn best with images so to my mind the icon of the Trinity, painted around 1410 by Andrei Rublev, gives me a visual interpretation of the family relationship that is God and that is all about love. Rublev’s icon may not have originally been intended to depict the Trinity – it shows three angel-like figures and it is suggested these are the angels who visited Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Genesis 18:1) but this very famous image is often interpreted as an icon of the Trinity.
The three characters are in relationship with each other. They are still distinct yet clearly related to and needing each other in order that the family can be complete. But these three ‘angels’ are also suggesting more. They point beyond where they are to where we are. They are trying to tell us about their identity and their desire for us to be a part of their story – our story – a family picture. A more formal definition of the Holy Trinity could read something like this: There is one God, eternally existing in three persons – the Father who is the creator of all time and eternity, the Son who is Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who breathes life into the Church and the World. The three persons of the Godhead are co-equal and co-eternal. For some the words will have it, but for others the icon still speaks with more clarity!
Through worship we can understand the unity; a relationship of love. Just think for a moment about the Creed that we read at every Sunday Eucharist and reflect upon its meaning as it draws a picture in words to describe our relationship with God: “We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Looking at Rublev’s icon, perhaps these words make more sense. Yet there is still plenty of room for mystery as we seek to explain our understanding of the Holy Trinity. As the Creed suggests, the Trinity is all about unity, but it is also about love; a creative relationship bursting with energy and life, light and hope, forgiveness and reconciliation – just like any family. For me the Trinity is dynamic and full of energy – a relationship like no other, yet a union we are all called to be a part of, as we are drawn closer to God’s love in various and different ways. There is a place for each one of us in this picture.
Our Gospel reading today offers us vivid word pictures of the love of God which dances between the three persons of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and which seeks to draw others into that dance of love and delight. This is reflected in the spirited conversation our Lord has with Nicodemus, brought alive in the mind with visual images of being reborn: “born from above” and “born of water and Spirit”. It’s as if Jesus is trying to get across how completely different life with God is, as part of the Trinity of love - so different it’s like entering a whole new world. We’re also reminded that it’s always God who takes the initiative in the salvation of his creation, for God is not a passive creator – God is active, engaged and desiring for us to be a part of His plan! So, Jesus compares himself to the bronze serpent which God, in Numbers chapter 21, told Moses to make for the healing of all who would look up at it. Our Lord paints a picture of himself being lifted to be the focus for healing and the source of eternal life, freely given to all who believe in him – active engagement in the world and our lives. The Holy Trinity in action is a loving Father, taking the initiative in sending his Son to save a world that may not know it needs saving, and pouring out his presence as Spirit to guide and heal.
As Rublev tries to convey in iconography, the Holy Trinity is an active family relationship, celebrating a dynamic outpouring and desire for our participation. This is a family photograph we are invited to be a part of and how exciting is that? So, my friends in faith, where are you in this picture? The words of Saint Paul to the Romans give us further insight into our relationship with God and our place in His plan for us and His creation. The Spirit, through which we receive the gift of eternal life, is not a spirit of fear leading us into captivity. The Trinity of love is not an oppressive relationship of power over fragility. It’s a spirit of adoption, a form of new birth, which draws us into the family of God, Father, Son, Spirit, so that we too can call God “Abba, Father”. We are children of God. Images of God as Father and the Holy Trinity as family may be painful for some and sometimes words can get in the way of our understanding. Images can help us with the mystery of the Trinity, a relationship of love which invites us to participate because God the Trinity of unity offers new life to all who seek it and calls each of us to be a part of the most wonderful family picture ever. Amen.
Photographs can help us remember special moments, such as a wedding.
We may find it hard to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Words may or may not be helpful. Pictures can help here, too.
We need to see how the three persons of the Trinity relate to each other and with us and experience their love for us, drawing us into their presence.
God takes the initiative in reaching out to save the world. We are invited in, to participate.