The Trinity: Abstruse Theological Concept or Crucial?

Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-end; 2 Cor. 13:11-end and Matt 28:16-20

Our first lesson today came from the book of Isaiah, and originally was addressed to the nation of Israel who had been driven out of their own land into exile in Babylon. There they felt utterly bereft; not only had they lost all the territory of the Promised Land, including Jerusalem with the centre of their religious life, the Temple, but even more importantly, it seemed that God himself had deserted them. No greater calamity could have befallen them. But then Isaiah brings them words of comfort and hope, telling them that God is much more powerful than they had imagined before, and that he will support even the weakest of them through this time of trial until, [as he says later], they return to their own beloved land and capital city.

It is not just that God is sympathetic to the plight of this one nation. Isaiah emphasises that God is omniscient, [all-knowing], and this has been the case since he created the world and all that is in it. He didn’t need assistance from anyone else, and he continues to care for the needs of the whole of his creation. Unlike the Israelites, God does not become weary and despondent, but he knows all that has been, all that is now, and all that the future holds.

Similarly, Matthew and Paul were writing to groups of people who were feeling hard-pressed, but both writers wanted to emphasise the good news that the creator of the world remains intimately involved with all that occurs in it. This was shown in the incarnation of his Son, in his life and teaching, but especially in his death, resurrection and indeed in his ascension. All of this is pressed home with the Trinitarian wording in both the epistle and the Gospel. Paul closes with the familiar words of what we often refer to as “The Grace”, and Matthew reveals that Jesus himself gave the command that the disciples should baptise new followers in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And, indeed, we are reminded of this regularly as we say the Gloria Patri at the end of our psalms and canticles.

But what relevance does it have to our present predicament? Isn’t it all rather removed from our day-to-day struggles to remain calm, to obtain food, and to keep in touch with our friends and loved ones? Whether or not we truly believe that God is still involved with even the minutest concerns of our lives may be revealed when we consider whether we think of God as only taking over when human agencies can no longer help, or whether we think to turn to him much earlier in our dilemmas. The continuing work of the Trinity in the world constantly reminds us that this is our first port of call, not our last.

All aspects of the Trinity have something to say to us right now. The Fatherhood of God, our Creator and the one who sent his Son into the world to reveal his love for us, shows that he runs
the risk of rejection and of being forgotten about because he allows his children to turn their backs on him. We speak constantly of his love, but have we ever explored that further by imagining ourselves as characters in the Biblical events, or even the parables Jesus told?

Consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father allows his son to leave home with the possibility that he will come to harm and never return. Yet as events take their course, it’s clear that he watches out every day for signs of the returning son and greets him when he does with an absolutely overwhelming revelation of his love. That is God the Father’s love for us. It means that he loves us even more than we love ourselves.  We are unable to love ourselves as much as the Father loves us. And in that the Son and the Holy Spirit are at one with the Father in a mutual and undivided love, that love for us emanates from the whole unity of the Trinity through the work of Jesus on our behalf during his earthly life and his continuing intercession for us now, and through the work of the Spirit within us, guiding, teaching and upholding us. As Bishop Stephen said in his sermon for Pentecost, “The Incarnation shows that God is with us; the Cross shows that God is for us; Pentecost shows that God is in us.”

So the concept of the Trinity is not some abstract piece of theological thought, but an essential experience in our daily lives.  Austin Farrer has provided us with a wonderful summary of the truth and impact of the Trinity in this prayer:

God above me, Father from whom my being descends, on whom my existence hangs, to whom I turn up my face, to whom I stretch out my hands:
God beside me, God in a man like me, Jesus Christ in the world with me, whose hand lays hold of me, presenting me, with yourself, to God:
God within me, soul of my soul, root of my will, inexhaustible fountain, Holy Spirit:
Threefold Love, one in yourself, unite your forces in me, come together in the citadel of my conquered heart.
You have loved me with an everlasting love. Teach me to care