Trinity Sunday 2015 Isaiah 6: 1-8, Romans 8: 12-17, John 3: 1-17
St Augustine of Hippo wrote a famous book on the doctrine of the Trinity called De Trinitate from which I would like to share a few reflections today.
Augustine was walking on the beach, one day, pondering the mystery of the Trinity. He came upon a small boy who was carrying a bucket of water from the sea and pouring it into a hole in the sand. Augustine asked the boy, “What are you doing?” They boy replied, “I am pouring the sea into this hole in the sand.” Augustine laughed and said, “It can’t be done. The sea is too large and the hole too small.” The boy replied, “So it is with you and the Trinity. The mystery is too large and your mind is too small.” Then the boy disappeared.
When we come to consider the Trinity we are probing a mystery that is indeed very great, yet the revelation of God that we have in Jesus does make it accessible. The reading from Isaiah gives us an idea of the holiness of God and suggests that before we begin to tread there we need to take our shoes off. This is an exercise in humility where we become aware of our smallness and unworthiness and God’s greatness and goodness. I can certainly identify with Nicodemus coming to Jesus by night. He’s a teacher of Israel, and learned in theology, yet he hasn’t yet understood the basics and is full of the wrong kind of questions. Like Nicodemus we can try and grasp the idea of God in earthly terms and get hopelessly lost in heavenly terms. “We ask; how can these things be?” Many have asked this of the Trinity. We might say, let it all be a mystery yet, one of the hallmarks of Christianity is that it is a sensible religion. It is understandable even if there are significant levels of mystery.
Augustine’s thesis was that if we are made in the image of God, then we ought to be able to find the image of the Trinity within ourselves and this insight will lead us towards salvation and spiritual growth. Our likeness to the Trinity occurs because, “the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
Augustine looked for three somethings which can both be separately presented and also operate inseparably. One of these was that he saw memory as a source of understanding and will which makes us aware of the Father; He saw understanding reminding us of the Son and in the will we recognise the Spirit, who is love. Thinking about the Trinity in these terms leads us towards the use of our imagination which is always a big help in theology.
The Trinity has an internal set of relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit which are rooted in love. Augustine wrote that, “We are commanded to imitate this mutuality by grace, both with reference to God and to each other, in the two precepts on which the whole law and the Prophets depend.” Creation, redemption and living giving is the overflow of this mutual love into the world.
The church is a place where we can imitate this mutuality by grace. We do this most emphatically when we gather for communion. We come humbly acknowledging our sin against God and one another, and our need to make peace with God and one another. We receive the assurance that God blots out our sins, and we share bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ in a feast of love. The overflow of this communion is our sending out in mission and ministry in the world. Mission and ministry that reflect grace must be an overflow that comes from a cup that runneth over. If the cup runneth not over then the mission and ministry will lack joy. The way to fill the cup is to return time and again to the source of life in the forgiving grace of God found in the Eucharist, prayer and reading and studying the Scriptures.
When the cup runneth over we begin to hear God saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And we find ourselves saying, “Here I am, send me!”
When we are sent, we are sent on two divine missions:
One Divine Mission is akin to the sending of the Son in the incarnation where we are sent to take up a unique relationship with people personally. This is the ministry we offer to people in the same way that Jesus did such as we read the gospels. This is the way of the cross.
The other Divine mission is akin to the sending of the Spirit where we are sent to unite people with each other and to form community. The work of the Spirit then seeks to draw these communities bit by bit towards the communion of the Church.
Of course these divine missions relate to each other and indeed depend on each other as they do on the sender. This reflects the life of the Holy Trinity who desires nothing more than to draw us into the life and love of God.
Let me finish with a prayer that St Augustine wrote at the conclusion of his work:
“Let me remember you, let me understand you, let me love you. Increase these things in me until you reform me completely.”