Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Such pronouncements and announcements help frame this Trinity Sunday and the First Sunday after the Pentecost – the birthday of the Church. On birthdays, we receive gifts – and on Pentecost and Trinity Sunday we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Trinity – Latin tri 3 + unitas unity.
Tertullian devised the term to express the mystery of the unity within the diversity of God. The corresponding word in Greek means triad.
Trinity Sunday is one of the seven Principal Feasts of the Church year. The hangings are white to signify Baptism, water and the Holy Spirit.
The three in one and one in three – how to get at the mystery of the Trinity? Are we really monotheists or are we tritheists?
A Sunni Muslim imam, a Jewish rabbi of the Reformed branch and an Episcopal priest walk into a bar. “What’ll it be?” the bartender asks. The priest requests a Bombay martini, dry, shaken not stirred and very cold. The rabbi asks for a glass of Manischewitz wine and the imam a Virgin Bloody Mary.
They raise their glasses and the rabbi makes a toast, “Here’s to the One God and our common patriarch, Abraham.” “Here, here!” respond the imam and priest as they hold their glasses high.
“Yes…but,” says the imam, “Abraham our forefather yes, but one God?” My dear Christian friend, in the spirit of openness and candor, don’t you really worship three gods – a Father God, a fully human Son God and a Spirit God? Three Gods, I ask with utmost respect…?”
“A very good question, my friend,” the priest responds. “The answer in short: one God – God in one being in three, equal and consubstantial person, the Father uncreated, the Son uncreated but begotten and the Spirit proceeding from the Father (and in Western Christianity) the Son! In short, three persons of one substance, power and eternity.”
“How can this be? Excuse me if I sound like Nicodemus,” chimes in the rabbi. “Three in one, one in three – the numbers don’t add up.”
“Yes, they do,” says the imam. “The number is three – Christians are tritheists – pure and simple.”
“Bartender, another round,” says the Episcopal priest, “and a glass of ice water. I can tell it’s going to be a long and interesting evening.”
“Let’s begin with this glass of ice water – what is it?”
The imam, “cold water, yes?”
The priest, “Yes, what else chemically?”
The rabbi, “H2O”
The priest, “Is this H2O – the ice cube? Is this H2O – the liquid? If we heat it, it turns to steam but remains H2O: one substance, three forms.”
The rabbi responds, “I’ve heard this one before and I know you’re going to talk about “living water and the spirit” and the rites of purification and the Genesis story and of primal water, but the explanation is modalistic.”
The imam persists, “And it still doesn’t add up. We respect Jesus as a prophet, great teacher, but not a god.”
The rabbi adds, “Ah, yes, and we respect Jesus as a teacher, but not a true prophet or God.”
The priest continues, “I know, so let me try it another way. The Trinity of three in one is really about chemistry, not scientific or organic but relational as in chemistry between persons. It’s a way of understanding God in terms of relationship. We Christians do not believe in a clockmaker god who creates the world like a clock, winds it up and disappears. We see God as active in creation but we do not reduce God to creation as in pantheism. Jesus is the ongoing expression of God’s love as is the Holy Spirit as are we! And that spirit is what we call God’s love. Think of the Trinity this way. God is the lover, Jesus, the beloved and the love that exists between them is the Spirit. My friends, it’s all about relationship – not a static God but a dynamic one. For Christians, it’s God’s love made known to us in Jesus and the Spirit of Jesus as the love we share with one another. Said differently, we are called to be “God bearers” and “Christ bearers” empowered by the love of God.”
The rabbi interrupts, “Better, we are all sons and daughters, like Jesus of Abraham, but not gods.”
The imam adds, “To say so would be blasphemy.”
The priest continues, “Point taken, but I’m not talking about divinity as perfection – it’s about our understanding of God as relational. We all share that – the basis of our worship, our prayers, our caring for one another, right? God as parent, God as judge, God as redeemer – no one definition can contain the mystery of God. Or try it this way – God as creator, the cosmos and us as creatures or creation and the ongoing creation of God and the spirit which calls us in love to be co-creators in caring for God’s creation.”
The imam, “Yes, but…”
The rabbi interrupts, “Yes, but Jesus was a failed prophet!”
The priest, “For us Christians, that’s the relational key – he came not to be worshiped as God but to be followed – followed in ways that I think that we can agree upon:
Walking humbly with God
Speaking the truth in love
Loving God by loving one another.”
The priest continues, “Let me try it another way…it’s about what’s happening here – now – tonight we are a D of persons who worship the same God – we articulate it by using different terms, doctrines and understandings. We form a trinity of diversity that points to a unity we name as god by different names, but one reality. What we do, say, and share results in a relationship with one another, one I think that is born of respect, friendship and love of one god – a love so rich it takes diverse forms and traditions, but what we all recognize as transcendence and yet imminence. A mystery that is ineffable finally and which results in a reverence and awe, we name in different ways, but recognize as One. So in that spirit, I propose a toast. Let’s stop killing one another in the name of the One God and work together to bring peace, a holy peace in the face of oppression, injustice, hatred and war.”
“Let me add,” says the rabbi, “perhaps our agreeing to disagree in love might serve to heal the divisions within our own religious bodies that we call denominations and schisms.”
“Ah, yes,” the imam adds, “and let us continue these conversations to address and confront the fear and prejudice between us so in working together we can accomplish more than we can accomplish separately to serve the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
The imam, rabbi and priest, “Here, here, I’ll drink to that! And I’ll pray and work for that…” Amen