Dancing with the Trinity Through Common Prayer

Listen to Sermon Here: Dancing with the Trinity

Readings for the First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday (Year B)

Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalm 29

Romans 8:12-17

John 3:1-17

This sermon was preached at St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley CA on June 3, 2012.

One day, Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom do people say that I am?”

And his disciples answered and said, “Some say that you are John the Baptist returned from the dead. Others say Elijah or one of the ancient prophets.”

And then Jesus asked, “But whom do you say that I am?”

Peter answered, “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”

And Jesus answered and said, “What?”

And honestly, my response is similar whenever I hear someone try to rationally explain to me the mystery of the Holy Trinity.  After several years of theological education, my mind still wraps itself in knots whenever I try to make sense of the three-personed God. So a few weeks ago, I asked my friends on facebook what they would say about the trinity if they were preaching on Trinity Sunday, and, within minutes, I received over 25 comments, offering a colorful variety of metaphors to help explain the triune mystery. Some suggested using the example of an egg, which is comprised of three parts: the yoke, the white and the shell, and yet is one egg. Others suggested the three-leafed shamrock, which St. Patrick used to explain the Trinity back in the fifth century. Another friend suggested using chemistry to understand the Trinity, explaining that the atom, the building block of all matter, is made up of three subatomic particles: protons, neutrons and electrons. And furthermore, the protons and neutrons are each made up of three even small particles called quarks. So there is a three-part unity at the center of all matter. And then others just threw out sets of three like “father, mother, child” “sun, moon, star”, and “breakfast, lunch, dinner.”

These were all fine and amusing, whether trivial or sublime, but the most help I received from facebook was the affirmation from many of my friends of a hunch that I already had about the divine mystery. And that is that the Trinity is more of an experience in which we can participate than it is a concept that we can explain. I easily get distracted and confused when I try to relegate the wildness of God to our limited language, which “only captures the foam on the surface of life.”[1] I feel like I am trying to control and contain the wind when I attempt to rationalize the Trinity. In today’s Gospel, Nicodemus probably felt a similar frustration in trying to pin down Jesus, who reminded him that  “the wind blows where it chooses, you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” So it is with the Triune God: you can experience the Trinity, but you do not know and you cannot know how it all makes sense.

The Trinity is an attempt among the early Christians to explain the experience that they shared of the divine through the resurrected Christ and through the wild force that empowered them at Pentecost. And one way that they cultivated and deepened and remained open to their experience of the Trinity was by doing the very thing that we do each Sunday, the very thing that remains central to our identity as Anglicans and Episcopalians: that is, common prayer. It is the title of our primary liturgical text: the Book of Common Prayer. When the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost, “the disciples were all together in one place” (as we are now).

The lessons for today (Trinity Sunday) describe humans participating in the divine through common prayer. Paul speaks of us as “children of God” who together pray “Abba, Father!” and share in God’s glory. Jesus speaks of the people who respond to God’s love as being born into his Kingdom. And Isaiah, who prays on behalf of the people of God, describes his participation in a hot and heavenly liturgy in the throne room of God.

These readings invite us to experience the Trinity today through our common prayer. They invite us to pray all together in one place but they also invite us into a common prayer that holds others in our hearts who may not be physically present. They invite us to hold all of God’s people in our heart just as the Youth Choir sang: “I will hold Your people in my heart.” By doing this, we experience the love that binds us all together in the midst of our many differences. And we come to know that love as the same love that flows between the Father and the Son. And we come to know that love as the Holy Spirit. And we come to know that love as God, as God is love.

But already I feel like language is faltering again as I venture into the Triune mystery, so instead, I want to leave us with one image, which comes from a greek word used by early church theologians as well as contemporary theologians to describe the Trinity: perichoresis. Peri means “around” and chorea means “dance.” And it’s not referring to sermons (perhaps like this one) that dance around the idea of the Trinity. It is referring to the divine dance: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit joyfully engaged in an eternal dance. We are invited into the dance and we participate in the divine dance whenever we pray together. When we hold each other in our hearts, when we pray for the youth who are moving on and when the youth pray for us, when we pray for the sick and those who have passed, when we pray for those near and those far, those whom we love and those whom we struggle to love, we are dancing with God. So this Trinity Sunday, I invite us to experience the Trinity through common prayer. I invite us to uphold the youth we honor today in our prayers both today and in the future just as I invite the youth to continue to pray for us and to hold us in their hearts. I also invite us to uphold Rev. Justin Cannon in our prayers both today and in the future just as I invite him to continue to pray for us and to hold us in his heart. By doing this, we are, according to the church fathers, dancing with the Triune God. Amen.

[1] Paul Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory, 63.

One thought on “Dancing with the Trinity Through Common Prayer

  1. Lovely sermon. Peter’s response and Jesus’ “What?” Ha!

    You wrote, “I easily get distracted and confused when I try to relegate the wildness of God to our limited language.” Do you mean “wideness” of God as in, “There is a wideness in God’s mercy”? I like singing in my more impetuous moments, “There is a wildness in God’s mercy…”

    On Trinity Sunday our rector Kathleen Kelly chose to emphasize God’s sending his son into the world and tying it to the departure of her mentee and newly-priested young man who had been in our midst for several months while he decided whether or not he wanted to stay in our diocese (San Diego) and St. Margaret’s, Palm Desert. I guess he wasn’t happy there. He decided to return to the Dio. of L.A.and got an assistant’s position in Agoura Hills. It was his last Sunday with us, and we’d grown very fond of him. So she told us how our sadness, magnified 100 times, was how God maybe felt at sending his son to us. “For God so loved the world…”

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