Dynamic Trinity

Sunday 11th June 2006
Year B, Trinity Sunday
St. George's, Hurstpierpoint
Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

One of the skills which never ceases to amaze me is sight reading music. You give a piece of paper covered in strange little lines and dots to a member of our choir and out comes a beautiful melody. Of course, great composers and brilliantly gifted musicians can enjoy a piece of music just by looking at it; but we simpler souls need our choir; we need somebody to take this set of abstract propositions on the page, these endlessly different formulae based on a very limited set of building blocks, or notes, and turn them into an inspiring and beautiful experience.

Now I know I have to be careful when using analogies like this to help us to think about the Holy Trinity; but let us go on with this idea for a while and see where it leads us.

We might think of the Father Creator as the composer who has written down the formula which was handed to Moses and the Chosen People; but they were driven almost to distraction by this abstract idea of one God and so Jesus came on earth to live amongst us, to articulate the score, to be the most beautiful melodies that have ever been written so that God's song can become a real and present aching in our heart; for, there is no beauty without pain and in some ways they are the same thing.

Which leaves the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier who helps us in every generation to understand the meaning of the score and the way it works in our lives. Because, of course, as our world changes, so our understanding of God and our self understanding also change. Sticking with the music idea for a moment, some of you will remember how baroque and classical music was performed fifty years ago when it was the fashion for orchestras to play everything rather grandiosely whether that had been the composer's intention or not; that was the legacy of the large, civic concert halls in which ever larger orchestras played up until the Second World War. But then the gramophone changed the way we listened to music and interpretations became progressively cleaner and lighter, clearer and better defined.

That is as far as I think I ought to take this analogy but I hope that it is a start. What I want us to think about is the Holy Trinity, whose Feast we celebrate today, as a dynamic of God which works in us now and is not ossified at some point in the past, in the Nicene Creed or the 39 Articles or in any other piece of provisional doctrinal paraphernalia. What I want us to think about in the usual doxology: "As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be" is the very simple phrase: "Is now!"

The first thing I want to say may sound a little bit shocking but it needs to be said. Because we are Christians we have naturally tended to focus too exclusively on Jesus and to worship Him, pray to Him and thank Him; but Jesus Himself said that He was the sole mediator between us and the Father Creator. We are, of course, to worship Jesus, pray to Him and thank Him, but only as part of that dynamic relationship we call the Trinity; the Father Creator willed the Redeemer Son to make the nature of God's love clearer to us than it would have been if it had remained abstract; the Creator willed God to be both human and divine in one person; and so we must thank the Father for the Son.

Equally, we should not simply think of the Sanctifying Holy Spirit as some post Ascension adjunct. The Holy Spirit enlivened the Chosen People in their understanding of the Creator; and now is a necessary precondition for our understanding of the Creator and Redeemer of whose never ending mutual love she is the expression.

That last sentence was particularly tricky so let us try to understand it better. We know that God is love; and we also know that to make that love more real to us God sent the Redeemer into our time and space; and we also know that the relationship between creator and redeemer is everlasting and dynamic, by which we mean that love exists as action not as a statement or theory, the actions of creating and redeeming. These actions of creating and redeeming have in turn produced an eternal outpouring of Grace or sanctifying strength to which we give the name Holy Spirit or Sanctifier. As for my use of the word "She" this is to balance the common use of the masculine for the Creator.

Looked at this way, even if only very dimly, we can see why our God is a dynamic Trinity; take away any of the three elements of the relationship and the other two would be impossible. How could we have a Redeemer and a Sanctifier without a Creator? What good would it be to have a Creator and Redeemer without the grace of the Sanctifier? And how would we manage with a Creator and Sanctifier but no Redeemer? These, of course, are hypothetical questions but they might help us to see a little light.

Perhaps there will be a little more light if we can get away from the idea of "Persons" and think more of actions.

One image that has stuck with me for many years is one which I first saw on my very first trip to Continental Europe before we in the Uk began to harvest North Sea Oil. Moving slowly out of the railway station at the Hook of Holland I saw my first gas flare and was amazed to hear that it never went out: the gas was pumped to the top of the outlet, it was burned off with fire that fed on the oxygen in the atmosphere; so the Creator might be the permanent supply or source of material; the Son might be the fire that has inflamed us; and the Spirit might be the oxygen that keeps the fire going. I know this is an odd reversal of the idea that the Spirit is fire; but it sometimes helps to turn common images on their head; so think of Jesus as the sacred flame and think of the Holy Spirit as being everywhere as our means of life, our spiritual oxygen, that which makes spirituality possible.

Finally, then, now that we have been round the theological block a couple of times, let us return to the little phrase: "Is Now!". It is easy for us to see that something that is forever includes the idea of now; so the Creator and Sanctifier are forever and now; but where does this leave the Redeemer? Well, Jesus is with us now, not only in the Scripture but also in the Sacrament of the Eucharist; and so the timeless Creator and Sanctifier and the Timeless and Historical Redeemer are with us now, still in their dynamic relationship of mutual, active love.

How we understand that will, of course, changes. The disputes which led to the Nicene Creed look rather abstruse now, as do the wearisome and often vituperative disputes about the nature of Redemption and Grace in the 16th Century; and so it is our duty and our privilege to look out into our present world and make new language in which to celebrate the good news that we are the creatures of the one God who made us, saved us and blesses us. It is not a betrayal of God to fashion new words, it is simply a betrayal of nostalgia; for God is; god is now.

The Trinity which we adore is dynamic not static; and that is what we must be; the essence of sacred love is not to be found in the words of the Authorised Version or the Book Of Common Prayer, beautiful though these may be, but in what they say to us about God's love and what they say we must say to the world.

From Advent until Pentecost we have listened to the story; we have listened to God's music but, with the help of the Sanctifier, we must have the courage to sing and not just listen. During the green months of Summer until advent comes again, let us go out; and proclaim.