Revd. Gaenor’s Reflections

Trinity Sunday 2023

A version of Rublev's icon of the Trinity c.1411

Gifts of the Trinity

Bible Readings

Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-end

Psalm 8

2 Corinthians 13:11-end

Matthew 28:16-end


Theme: Gifts of the Trinity

During 2020 at the beginning of the covid pandemic 1 in 20 adults in the UK in a survey said that they were praying regularly for the first time, (and the largest percentage being the 18-25 age group) and others were regularly watching church streaming, even though they had never been into a church building before.

It was both surprising and encouraging to hear this. And I wonder how many are now that the worst of it is over? 

Even in more ‘normal’ times people are quite willing to talk about God or prayer …but in abstract or impersonal terms: Someone out there, up there, the Higher Power, etc…but when one starts talking about the God of the Bible or the teaching of Jesus Christ or the presence of the Holy Spirit, the conversation can become a bit stifled, awkward or simply the conversation stops. 

Today being Trinity Sunday is when Christians celebrate not an event but the unique Christian doctrine of God the Holy Trinity:  and we are encouraged today to affirm our faith in our God who is personal, relational, and outward facing as we affirm our faith in the uniquely Christian understanding of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our Bible readings set for today remind us of our Creator God, our compassionate Servant Lord Jesus and the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church to continue the ministry of Jesus. They do not explicitly lay out a Trinitarian doctrine as such, but affirm something of the nature of the three persons of the Trinity on which we can dwell, pray and seek.

Trinity Sunday is an appropriate time for the church to reflect on the dynamic tension between what we know of God and our mumbling attempts to formulate and articulate what we know. One danger is to imagine that we do not know about God at all, as nothing has been disclosed. The other danger is to imagine that we have the inscrutable character of God fully captured and domesticated in our familiar formulations… In the end it is not our theological formulation but our embrace of God’s gracious majesty that counts in our life.

Walter Bruegemann

The relationship of the Trinity

There are many analogies and metaphors used to describe the Trinity and some are more helpful than others, but the one thing I would like to emphasise today is the relational aspect of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that we are invited to join in this relationship.

For me the famous Christian icon of 15th century artist Andrei Rublev depicting the Trinity in the story of the hospitality of Abraham in Genesis 18 is really helpful in this regard.

“The Lord” appears to Abraham as “three men.” Abraham and Sarah seem to see the Holy One in the presence of these three, and they bow before them and call them “my lord”. Their first and very Middle Eastern instinct is one of invitation and hospitality—to immediately create a space of food and drink for their guests. 

Here we have humanity feeding God; it will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination. “Surely, we ourselves are not invited to this divine table,” the hosts presume.

Rublev and the Trinity

But then Rublev turns this story to represent the Trinity and depict the ‘three men’ as the three persons of the Trinity with each painted a different colour:

In the centre is “the Father” painted in gold—depicting perfection, fullness, wholeness, the ultimate Source of life and love.

On the left is “the Incarnate Christ”—painted in blue- and holds up two fingers, depicting divinity and humanity together within himself.  (This also reminds us of the Eastern Orthodox sign of the cross)

On the right is “the Spirit”—painted in green- depicting the life of God, which Hildegard of Bingen called viriditas, or the greening of all things.

The icon shows God in the form of  Three people, eating and drinking, in hospitality and enjoyment between themselves and if we take this depiction of God in The Trinity seriously, we have to say, “In the beginning was the Relationship” as we find implied in Genesis 1.

The gaze between them shows the deep respect between them as they all share from a common bowl. We notice the Spirit’s hand points toward the open and fourth place at the table. Is the Holy Spirit inviting, offering, and clearing space? And if so, for what, and for whom?

If you look carefully you will see at the front of the table there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. Rublev not only left the ‘gap’ at the front of the icon for a fourth guest, but specifically for the person gazing at the icon: indicating that the hospitality of God has a gap for you and me.

The divine life of the Trinity isn’t a community to admire from afar, nor a model that we can or should try to emulate. It is a life in which God makes room for us. As St John’s Gospel makes clear, at every point the unity of the Father and Son is reproduced in the unity of Christ and believers. We become united with Christ in the Spirit and share in his life and form with him…the divine life is not self- contained or self-preserving but open ended, the divine community that makes room for people created in God’s image.

Roger Spiller

Hospitality and welcome: part of the nature of God

Rublev touches on something very profound: that hospitality and welcome are part of the very nature of God- between the Three and between God and humanity.

And as we have seen in John’s Gospel Jesus prays that the relationship between him and the Father be enabled by the Spirit to all who believe in His name.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Corinthians 13:14

In the words of the Christian prayer that we know as ‘The Grace’ taken from 2 Corinthians 13 we find a word picture of the hospitality of God, that is, the gifts of the Trinity are grace, love and fellowship.

These very gifts are the ones that ensure that believers are not required to prove their faith, for their faith itself comes as God’s grace.  Bruegemann

Paul was not creating a trinitarian formulae but asserting these words within the context of a divided and pressured Christian community in Corinth:

The charis/grace and generosity of Jesus through the gift of salvation.

The agape/love of the Father- through self giving and provision for others.

The koinonia/ fellowship of the Spirit through participation and belonging.

The Gospel good news is all about the unconditional acceptance (the grace) into the Body of Christ (the koinonia fellowship) because of God’s reconciliation (the love) through faith.This needs to be proclaimed by the Church in every generation.

When we pray the Grace, we call the Lord Jesus our Lord. We also remind ourselves that we are not only individuals, but elements in a whole, “be with us all”. Unlike the blessing, which a priest or bishop declares to other people, the Grace is shared among us as equal Christian individuals. We ourselves ask for it. Only we ourselves can realise it, make it real.

Church Times comment 26 May 2023

If we humbly receive such hospitality from the hands of God, beautifully summed up in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 15:11-32) then surely as the Church we must respond in kind and offer reconciliation and welcome to the world around us as we witness the alienation, isolation, division, barriers and exclusion experienced by too many.

According to Jesus, how we respond to the stranger, to our neighbour in need, is determinative of our whole relationship with God: 

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…Matthew 25: 35

Effective welcome

There is huge power in effective welcome because it is the very expression of the gospel of reconciliation between God and humanity and between humanity itself.  The heart of the Christian Gospel is that all are called, all are included, all who ask to enter (without call for favouritism, suitability or respectability) are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.  As St Paul writes:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  Galatians 3: 28

Wherever God has placed us, the message of the hospitality of the Trinity needs to follow us. 

Whenever God prompts us to reach out to our neighbour or stranger, the message of the hospitality of the Trinity needs to enable us.

Whoever God places in our churches, the message of the hospitality of the Trinity needs to show us how to love others.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ John 13:34-35

Trinity Sunday and us

How can we know God in these times? How does Trinity Sunday help us?

It helps us by reminding us that God is Three Persons- each with their specific nature yet united as One, bound by mutual love, into which we are called and welcomed.

It helps us not to ignore one part of the Trinity,  but to take seriously every aspect of God- as an experience to be embraced and a mystery to be explored.

If God remains abstract, vague and unknowable, then there is no accountability to him and if God is the God of the Bible, doesn’t that mean that people would actually need to read and pay attention to the Bible?

And if Jesus is God, then shouldn’t we pay particular attention to his life and teaching? 

And if the Holy Spirit is the power of God, shouldn’t we be dependent on the Spirit in our daily lives?

Our previous Bishop Nicholas wrote in 2020:

On Trinity Sunday we will affirm our faith in God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is God’s ordinary time, a gift of relationship in diversity and a strength in our extraordinary times as we bind ourselves to the triune God. 

Yes, we dare to bind ourselves to the Triune God, trusting in the Father’s unconditional love, in the grace of Christ’s salvation and within the community of  faith empowered by the Spirit and we accept the invitation to come into the loving presence of God.

Love bade me welcome

I would like to conclude with the wonderful words of God’s invitation to us through the words of George Herbert:

Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,

            Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

            From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

            If I lacked any thing.

“A guest,” I answered, “worthy to be here”:

            Love said, “You shall be he.”

“I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,

            I cannot look on thee.”

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

            “Who made the eyes but I?”

“Truth, Lord; but I have marred them; let my shame

            Go where it doth deserve.”

“And know you not,” says Love, “who bore the blame?”

            “My dear, then I will serve.”

“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat.”

            So I did sit and eat.