A Homily for Trinity Sunday by Fr Mark Elliott-Smith
If there is one thing that scientists have demonstrated in the last hundred years or so it is that the universe is a very strange place. Physicists have been uncovering a world that gets ever weirder the closer you look. To look into an atom is to enter a ghostly world of particles and forces that behave in peculiar and contradictory ways. JJ Thompson, a renowned scientist in his day, was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize for proving that there was such a thing as an electron. He lived to see his son George Paget Thompson win the 1937 Nobel prize for proving that the electron was a wave. So, while in the everyday world that we see and touch, particles and waves are two separate things, in the world of the vanishingly small, it seems that they can be both at the same time. Today, if you follow what’s going in Cern, the Large Hadron Collider is cranking back up life and looking for even more mind-boggling things: dark matter, extra dimensions, new particles not seen before, to enlarge our knowledge of how the world works.
A complex and mysterious place, our world. Today, Trinity Sunday, is the day when we contemplate the complexity and mystery of its Creator. We recite the formulae easily and glibly enough: ‘In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’ ‘Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. ‘I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But what do we mean?
First, we proclaim that God is one, and at the same time, three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are distinct from each other: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father; neither the Father nor the Son is the Holy Spirit. And yet, they are also one God. They not some divine menage a troit, living their separate divine lives: they are a unity as well.
But the mystery is not a mathematical mystery. It is not like a divine Rubik’s cube that we have to wrap our head around. It is not an equation to be solved. The mystery is a mystery of God’s love. God’s is eternal, and it is boundless. He didn’t just breathe us into existence, so much as love us into life. As the writer of Genesis tells us: his Spirit moved over the face of the waters. His creative activity is an act of love, and it flows from the very heart of who God is. But love cannot exist in isolation; it cannot be without something to love, and so John the Evangelist tells us that, ‘In the Beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Later in that same Gospel, Jesus prays ‘may they be one, and you and I are one.’
The unity between Father and Son is the unity of love: their love binds them together and yet they retain that which makes them distinct persons. And the love that the Father has for the Son, and that the Son has for the Father is a love that flows from their very being: it moved on the face of the waters; it inspired and emboldened the disciples; it guides us to unity and truth, for that love, the love between Father and Son is the Holy Spirit. Family life is a reflection of the divine Trinitarian life: the love between husband and wife is not exclusive; it is not their private possession, to be jealously guarded. At its divine best it is generous and inclusive love that embraces children, as well as their friends and their communities.
Sometimes we speak of the Holy Spirit almost as an it, as if we were talking about a force, like gravity or magentism, rather than a person. But, no, the Spirit is a person who guides and leads us. The Spirit helps us to pray: when we do not know what to pray, says St Paul, the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.’
If we are tempted to feel that we could never wrap our heads around the doctrine that God is in essence one, and yet three distinct persons, we can console ourselves with this:
First, although God has given us gifts of reason and intelligence, along with the desire to learn and understand, we can only hope in this life to gain the merest glimpse of the infinite depths of God’s being. Puzzling reflections in a mirror, as one version of St Paul’s words have it. If God were small enough to comprehend, said one writer, he would not be large enough for our needs.
Second, while we may not come even close to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity, we can live it in our prayer. We pray to the Father, who created all things. We pray through his Son Jesus Christ, for in Baptism we have been made adopted children of the same heavenly Father. Like Jesus, we are invited to live in joyful intimacy with the Father. We can call him Abba, daddy. In Jesus’s death on the Cross, he has reconciled us to the Father, and so we pray through Jesus. We do so because the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon us and into our hearts: he dwells in us and we live and pray in the Spirit. So, we pray to the Father, through Christ, and in the Spirit.
The Trinity is the mystery of divine love; and it transforms our own loving. To be human is to be made in the image and likeness of God. This means that we are called to reflect the life of the Trinity. This means that, in Christ, we live out the command to love. To be fruitful. In fulfilling the command which Jesus left us on the night when his own love led him to the Cross, the command to love one another, we are drawing ever closer to the heart of the divine life. We can’t hope to understand, but we can hope to live the life of the Trinity. May the love of God the Father, who made all that is, who sent his Son to redeem us from the power of evil, whose Spirit calls us to fellowship and unity, stay with us now and always.