The Southwark Trinity – After Rublev by Meg Roe (megroe.com)
Today is Trinity Sunday. The day we think about and celebrate the Trinitarian nature of God. Our passages this morning clearly name the three persons of God who we’re used to hearing mentioned in worship, showing doing so is biblical, that is the absolutely the origin of this teaching of the church.
Genesis 1 speaks of the spirit of God hovering over the waters and says that human beings are made in “our” image. Plural, “our”.
The Apostle Paul signs off his letter with what we now call the grace – invoking Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And Jesus, commands his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations in the name of Father, Son, and Spirit.
So it states the facts:
God the Father is God
God the Son is God.
God Holy Spirit is God.
It doesn’t go much further, it doesn’t try to explain how the three can be one or the one can be three. But that hasn’t stopped Christians from trying to figure it out for the past two thousand years.
There are many theories and many strange analogies that people use to try to explain the Trinity.
There’s the classic one about water – because the same molecules can be ice, water, or steam, but, frankly, that really leads to issues of heresy called modalism.
Then there’s the one about the egg – the Father is the shell, the Son is the White and Holy Spirit is the yolk. But it’s easy to take that too far and begin to question what came first. Again: heresy.
And there are many more besides: God is like a tree; God is like a 3 leaf clover, God is like an apple. The list goes on.
We come up with all these analogies because we are creatures who can only have and experience one personhood. We cannot understand the mystery of the Trinity in all its glory. We can only catch glimpses of it and I want to share with you one that I first came across ten years ago as a student and that drastically changed my understanding of the Trinity and has become foundational to my faith since.
This is an understanding of the Trinity that goes all the way back to the Early Fathers in the Eastern Orthodox Church – a couple of guys called Gregory and another called Basil who went on to become saints. The Eastern Church focussed on the three persons of God – Father, Son and Holy spirit – and tried to explain how they could in fact be one (whereas in the West we started with the idea of 1 God and tried to explain how there could actually be three persons within that. The difference is subtle but has had huge ramifications for our theology and worship ever since).
The term they come up with in the East is ‘perichoresis’
‘Peri’ means ‘around’, and ‘chorein’ means ‘to make space’ – put them together and you have ‘make space around’ or more specifically: ‘someone or something that makes space around itself for others or something else’.
There’s a sense of movement to it: with each person of the Trinity constantly making room for the other two. Like in a dance. A Divine Dance, it’s been called. Where Father, Son and Holy Spirit make room for each other, move in and through one another, dance with one another, in a way that creates a mutual indwelling while still maintaining space for each individually. These are the three persons of God completely individual and radically united. It is full of movement and energy; there is no space in it for any kind of hierarchy. It’s like in John 14 when Jesus says ‘I am in the Father, and the Father is in me’.
Why is this important though?
A Brazillian, Liberation theologian called Leonardo Boff wrote that,
if God were only 1 person, the end point of all things would be isolation and solitude.
if God existed in 2 persons only, the result would be division, separateness, exclusion
HOWEVER a God who exists in 3 persons offers the possibility of communion, union, and perfection.
Jurgen Moltmann, a German theologian, points out that where Christians have focussed on a 1 person God who rules, dominates, divides and judges, they have taken it as permission to do the same to their fellow human beings.
BUT when they are able to hold in mind a Trinitarian God, he says, one without supremacy or subjections, Christians develop earthly community that reflects God’s unity and mutuality.
We are made in the image of God.
In the image of a God who exists in community.
Who’s very nature is reciprocity, union, love, relationship.
This is an expansive vision of who God is, and in turn, who we are as human beings.
It tells us that we were made for community. The first thing that God says is wrong about creation, is that it’s not good for man to be alone.
We are made to be in relationship.
We are made to love.
We are made to be united.
If God exists in perichoresis – ‘make space around’ – then so should we. Not just we in HPLC, not just we in Scotland, but we the human beings of the world.
We are made in the image of a communitarian God, that makes us communitarian people. And communitarian people stand together.
We’ve seen some beautiful examples of this in the face of the pandemic. I know that some of you are shielding, in order to stand together. Some of you have been delivering food to others, in order to stand together. Some of you have been making scrub bags for medics, in order to stand together. We’ve stopped meeting in church, in order to stand together.
This week we’ve seen people standing together against another evil that plagues our world.
It’s easy to believe that racism and police brutality are things that happen somewhere else far far away and aren’t relevant to us.
But if we believe in a communitarian God, and know ourselves to be communitarian people, then we must stand together with out fellow human beings wherever they may be.
I’ll admit that I spent a lot of this week avoiding anything but the headlines and I’ve not lingered on them for too long. I really held off from listening to black voices, from reading up on anti-racism. I’ve not donated or protested or promoted. I’ve stay silent and safe and I repent of that.
Because we need to stand together.
We are all made in the beautiful image of this communitarian God and no matter our skin colour, our gender, our sexuality, our poverty, our education, we are together.
So firstly we have to check our own privilege. Particularly if we think we don’t have any. We are white, middle to upper class people, living in the safety rural Perthshire, with the means to access the internet and technology that allows us to be sitting here right now. We have immense privilege and we need to be aware of it and make sure that it doesn’t blind us to the experiences of our fellow human beings.
Then we need to educate ourselves. About what it’s like to be the people who are different than us and disadvantaged because of it.
We need to learn about the subjugation of people of colour that has helped us in getting to this place of privilege.
We can donate to organisations working to end racism, here and abroad.
We can write to MPs and MSPs and make sure that they know we will not stand for policies that discriminate and ask for the reform of justice and education systems.
We can seek out and use businesses run by people of colour (if there aren’t any locally, we all spend plenty of time shopping online!). If we run businesses, or sit on the boards of companies and charities, we can ensure they are actively seeking to engage with and employ people of colour.
We can challenge others when they bemoan the violence of the protestors or defend the violence of the police. We can stand up for those who aren’t there to defend themselves.
We can talk with our children and grandchildren, be conscious about the gifts that we buy them, the history we teach them. Something as simple as a book whose protagonist is a person of colour can expand our children’s worlds.
We can become aware of our own unconscious biases and work to change them.
We do all these things because we stand together.
Because humanity is one community, made in the image of one communitarian God.
Next say time you say “Father, Son & Holy Spirit”, remember this idea of perichoresis – a dynamic unity that makes space around. And remember that that is the God in whose image humanity is created, and that unity that makes space is what we as human beings should be replicating.
Glory to God, Source of all being, Eternal Word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.