May 22, 2016 is Trinity Sunday.
And I have never liked Trinity Sunday—-never. The fact of the matter is I truly hate preaching on Trinity Sunday. And, whether other preachers confirm it or not, I’ll bet they hate preaching then, too.
And here’s why:
Year in and year out I brace for abundant heresy arising from attempts to define the Trinity. We preachers, teachers, and proclaimers—again and again—drag up everything from clover leaves to apples, from eggs to triangles, from liquids-solids-and-gases to animal-mineral-and-vegetable. Then, as though we have a full handle on the Triune God, we go about uniting these things with our ignorance, and flail away at the mysterium tremendum. It’s a silly dance that we do. The finite seeking to apprehend the Infinite—-if it were not so pathetic a spectacle it would be laughable.
And frankly, it puts me in the place of nearly adding my “amen,” to late U.S. President Thomas Jefferson’s remark that, “The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs… In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.”
Although I like Jefferson a great deal, he doesn’t garner my “amen,” for I do admittedly hold to Martin Luther’s take that, “Reason is a whore, the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.”
Yet still, once a year, Trinity Sunday rolls around. And sticking to the truly insane pattern of trying the same thing again and again and again all the while seeking a different result, we’ll tell everyone how Incomprehensible is the majestic Triune One, then we finite fools will use reason to ply clumsily at the Incomprehensible Mystery. You’d think by now we’d have gotten tired and be in want of rest. What if we simply were to rest in the Mystery, appreciating it as such? Were to take a PJ day and rest in the vastness and changelessness of the Triune One?
So many of us run ourselves ragged seeking to define, to classify, and to label—pausing not to appreciate, only pausing to discover some angle from which to ply with reason.
And when we get right down to it, if all we are about is nailing down some dogmatic definition of Trinity, then let’s do the Faith Universal a favor and rename Trinity Sunday—let’s call it “Bad Dogma Sunday.” Isn’t that what we’ll be hearing in five days unless our pattern has changed?
Is it any wonder that some preachers like me would like to cling to last Sunday? Pentecost Sunday. Can we not cling to it like Tarzan, then take hold of our vine and swing beyond Trinity Sunday altogether? Such a silly dance we do.
Speaking of which, my wife is one fantastic dancer. Once, 20-ish years ago, she was 8 months pregnant and out on a dance floor doing “the twist.” At one point my great aunt Gertrude leaned over and told me to, “get her off o’ that floor before she brings on the baby.” I totally get that some swear that dancing does induce labor, but there really is little forensic proof. I’m not sure one can make a strong relational linkage between doing the twist and having a baby. But dancing in and of itself is a process of relationship. The Orthodox side of the Christian family puts forward an image of the Trinity called περιχώρησις—-perichoresis. It is an image of Trinity as a community of three persons of one substance inter-relating with one another as in a dance.
Perichoresis is the only image of Trinity that I find useful.
Name one person whose life has been remarkably changed by Trinitarian formulae. I can’t think of a single one. How ’bout you? Can you name one person whose life has been remarkably changed by a forsenic foray into Trinitarian theoretics?
Now let’s change the question—Can you think of a single person who has been changed through relationship in the Trinity? I can name a few. I’ll bet you can, too.
Popular author, Leonard Sweet, asks, “Is not relationship the essence of the Trinity? We do not sing “God in three thesis points, blessed Trinity” but “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” The Trinity does not deal with time, space, matter, doctrine, or reason, but relationships. God is “Communion” and invites us into that same communion. At the core of who we are as humans is an inner drive for relationship with God and with one another.”
John 16: 12-15 illustrates the relationship aspect:
[Jesus says] 12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
Note the many relational connections. Note the relational community existing as Father, Son and Spirit. Each person of the Trinity is living into the others yet none are lost as the “living into” takes place.
Doesn’t Jesus offer us an image of HOW THE TRINITY functions rather than HOW THE TRINITY IS DEFINED? We are given how the Trinity is rather than what the Trinity is, aren’t we?
We see how the Father, +Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another.
So, at some level, it would seem that the Trinity becomes our model for healthy living, healthy relationships, and healthy witness. And couldn’t living in such a way be called “trinitarian life?”
And isn’t a “Trinitarian life:”
- a shared life.
- an open life.
- a sacred life.
- a giving life.
- a receiving life.
It is not a solitary life. It is not a closed life. It is not a profaned life. It is not a hoarding life. It is not a taking life.
What part does Father keep to Himself away from Son and Spirit? No part.
What part does Son hold back from the Father and Spirit? No part.
What part does the Spirit withhold from the Son and Father? No part.
There’s Trinitarian life for you. Baxter Kruger says, “There is only one circle of life in the universe and we belong to it . . . We belong to the Father, Son and Spirit; the rhythm of the great dance beats in our hearts. To walk to its rhythm is not to move to an alien beat; it is to hit our stride. It is to find ourselves. it is to find home and athomeness, genuine fulfilment, and the first tastes of everlasting joy.”
I have to wonder if a Trinitarian life isn’t pretty much about total participation in the life of God and total participation in the life of others. I also have to believe that it is a celebratory life of giving and receiving, sharing and offering, etc. Isn’t it a dancing life into which we are being continually invited?
Far from some heady definition and abundantly heretical exposition is the reality that we are being wooed into a dancing life of love. A love that is embodied and finds its fulfillment when it is shared with others. And I suppose, to the last, it means that the universe is God’s dance hall, and the world in which we live is God’s dance floor. And all around said dance floor are the partners through which God tosses a loving glance in our direction as God whispers tenderly, “Care to dance?”
That’s perichoresis. The systematicians can keep my share in the formulaic stuff. I join Anne Lamott who I paraphrase now, to say “we don’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity; we just need to turn our lives over to whoever came up with redwood trees.”
That’s my idea of a grand dance partner. So what do you say? Care to dance?