Reflection for North Balwyn Uniting Church
Trinity Sunday, 30th of May, 2021
Here we are again, Melbourne’s fourth covid19 lockdown. Let us hope that this will be another short one, acting as the ‘circuit breaker’ that we need. We all know that we can do this; we have done it before; but as people started being vaccinated, I know that we had hoped never to have to do it again. Please keep each other in mind and heart and continue to pray for each other over this week.
This Sunday we are celebrating the Trinity. Today we celebrate explicitly what is implicit every time we gather for worship: that the God we worship is not an isolated individual, but a God who in God’s very self is a community of love.
The idea of the Trinity can seem strange, of no relevance, even impossible. How can we assert that the one God is three without believing in three gods? Members of the other two Abrahamic faiths, Muslims and Jews, have at times accused Christians of being polytheists. The Koran is clear: ‘The Messiah, Jesus son of Mary, was no more than God’s apostle and His Word which He cast to Mary: a spirit from him. So believe in God and His apostles and do not say “Three”.’ But we do say ‘Three’ and we simultaneously say ‘One’ and that is the mystery that we celebrate today.
The mystery of the Trinity enables us to say that the God who became incarnate in Christ and is with us now as Spirit, is the one true, living God who created the entire cosmos. When we say that God is triune, we say that the invisible, transcendent God was made visible and immanent in Jesus, and is still with us, within us and between us and around us, as Spirit.
In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures the prophet Isaiah has a vision of a God who is holy, mighty, absolute, other. Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on a throne with the mere hem of his robe filling the temple, attended by praising seraphs. The voices of the seraphs are so loud that they shake the building, and the building itself is filled with smoke. This is a literally awesome image of God; an image intended to fill us with awe. This is a vision of the God who is wholly other than human; the God who is the Almighty.
In response to this image, Isaiah becomes aware that he is a mere mortal, and definitely not God. The transcendence of God reveals to him his own sinfulness, and he responds in fear and sorrow: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ In comparison to the Lord of hosts Isaiah, like all humanity, is unworthy, inadequate, puny. God is enthroned, high and lofty, and Isaiah is unworthy to see even the hem of God’s garment. Yet he has seen this vision, and it leaves him terrified.
Isaiah is not left in this terror. Isaiah has seen the holy God who fills the earth with glory, and realised in contrast his own sinfulness and inadequacy – and immediately that sinfulness is forgiven and that inadequacy overcome. Isaiah reports: ‘Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”’ The seraph is quoting the technical language of the rites of forgiveness in the Temple. Before Isaiah can even formulate a request for forgiveness, that forgiveness has been granted. It would not have been painless; lips touched by a live coal would be scorched. But it was complete. Isaiah’s guilt is gone and his sin buried.
This may be why Isaiah answers immediately to God’s call with: ‘Here am I; send me!’ Most people called by God in the Bible protest, arguing that they’re not qualified. But Isaiah responds to his call with alacrity because any feelings of inadequacy have been overcome. God, the Lord of hosts, the Almighty, the holy one whose praises the seraphim sing, is also the one who forgives and calls us into service.
Christians see this Almighty, holy one, in the life of a human being. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ God is not only the Father, the Creator, the Almighty, the Lord of Hosts. God is equally the Son, the Saviour, our Brother, who came to live among us so that the world might be saved through him. Through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection we know that God watches over the widow and the poor; God makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust alike; God welcomes the stranger and embraces the enemy. We know all this because God is experienced and known through Jesus Christ.
And when this Brother and Saviour returned to our Father we were not left alone. The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, continues to be active in the world, bringing us into communion with the Trinity. ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.’ It is the Holy Spirit who creates the church to which we all belong and invites us to be part of it. It is the Holy Spirit who assures us that we are the beloved children of God. God is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer; Father, Son and Spirit. God in God’s very self is a community of love.
The icon of the Trinity that is most famous today was written in the fifteenth century by Andrei Rublev and depicts the three visitors who met with Abraham under the oaks of Mamre. (Genesis 18:1-8) In this icon the Trinity is portrayed as a group of equals, sitting in an open circle into which we, as viewers, are invited. If God in God’s very self is a community of mutuality, equality and love then we human beings, who are made in the image of God, have been created to also be members of such communities. And ultimately all our human communities will be swept up to become part of the community that is God, as humanity and all creation are brought into relationship with God by the Spirit.
The doctrine of the Trinity is mystery, not maths. Christians believe in God, the Father, who sent the Son to save the world; Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, the Son of Man who descended from heaven; and the Holy Spirit, who enables human beings to be born from above. The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the one God who created the world, became incarnate in Jesus Christ, and continues to love us and accompany us as the Holy Spirit, also welcomes us into the community of love that is God. This week, as we experience the worry and frustration of another lockdown, the doctrine of the Trinity tells us that the God who created the universe is with us, closer than our breath, and among us, holding our community together while we must stay apart. I hope that that is a comfort to you through these next few days. God is with us. Amen.
 The Koran, 4.171, Penguin (1999), p. 78.