Sermon for Trinity Sunday, Choral Evensong

“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”

“No one hath ever seen God,” John reminds us, echoing the Old Testament sensibility that God by definition is beyond the things of this world and is not to be collapsed into them or even compared with them. There is a strong sense of negative theology in the viewpoint of ancient Israel and rightly so; it is the counter to idolatry, the tendency to confuse God with the things of the world, to collapse the Creator into the created.

But then, how to deal with the equally strong idea of God’s being with us, especially in the intimacy of our humanity in Jesus Christ? How to deal with the Creator becoming created, with God made man? Such is the Incarnation.

Trinity Sunday celebrates the revealed reality of God in his transcendence and in his immanence, how God is both utterly beyond and other and how God is intimate and near. It is the central mystery of the Christian faith. To negotiate between these two extremes is the paradox of revelation, the paradox of salvation. No greater mystery and none which is so compelling in its elegance and beauty. The whole challenge is to think the Trinity in the way in which we are given to think it. To think it is to discover the logic contained in the images by which God makes himself known to us.

The whole point of Trinity Sunday, and, especially in our Evensong readings tonight, is that the images through which we understand God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost are not of our making. They are not the fertile fruit of our imaginings, the projections of our human understandings skyward, as it were. For in that way lies idolatry or atheism; neither account for the intellectual insight and reality that is the mystery of God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ. The challenge and problem is that we have to think it; only so can we begin to make sense of what God is saying and doing. It is, we might say, a basic religious insight of the revealed religions that God is not the projection of our fantasies. This is why the shallow atheisms of our day fail so pathetically. Unlike the more robust competitors to a religious outlook in times past, the projects of Marxism, Freudianism and the sociological anthropology of Levi-Strauss, for example, the super-lite atheisms of popular culture are unable to provide any account for religion. It is a signal note of failure. They are unable to give an account of the very thing they depend upon to deny and reject.

But such concerns are a long ways from the deep mystery and wonder of this day, Trinity Sunday. The word, Trinity, of course, nowhere appears in the Scriptures, a problem for the more fundamentalist and literal minded forms of Christianity, and yet an important point in relation to the whole business of thinking upon the Trinity which is nothing more and nothing less than thinking upon the Word of God revealed in the Scriptures and committing oneself to making sense of its meanings in and through the variety of images that are set before us. It would be easy, and, believe me, it has been done again and again, to cherry-pick your favourite images of God in relation to us and to construct your own salad bowl of divinity from the smorgasbord of images in the Scriptures. But such endeavours can make no sense of the Scriptures as a whole and offer no coherent understanding of the mystery of God revealed; revealed, we might say, so as to be thought.

To think the Trinity is not to take God captive to our thoughts; it is to let our thinking be taken captive by God in his revelation of himself to us. The Athanasian Creed, an intellectual and spiritual work-out that, I fear, is too much for us, bids us “think of the Trinity in this way.” What is this way? The way of negation and the way of affirmation. God is utterly beyond and remote as the principle and cause of the being of every other thing, on the one hand, and, yet, God is both close at hand and like each and every other being, on the other hand. We are constantly engaged in the dialectical challenge of distinguishing and uniting God from the created order.

The reading from Isaiah is emphatically clear about the distance and the otherness of God from the created order. The Trinity, as the Eucharistic Gospel, makes abundantly clear is about thinking what is beyond us. It is about being “born from above” which is to say we are to think and live our way with God in his truth.

“No one has ever seen God” is an important and true idea. It means that God cannot be taken captive to our understanding and cannot be reduced to something sensual and experiential. He, literally, cannot be compared in his essential truth and being with any other living thing. Isaiah’s insight is about the sovereign reality of God. John, in his Gospel, however, goes on to say that “the only begotten son of the Father who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.” In other words, God makes God known and therein lies all the difference and, even more, the redemption of our thinking. God grants us to think the mystery of God.

As First Peter also indicates, this means that things have been made known to us, which is vastly different from presuming that we have made it up. No. The idea of God as Trinity is the central doctrine of the Christian Faith. It is about what is revealed and about what we think upon. Through Christ we are given to look upon things which angels long to look, the mysteries of God revealed through the humanity of Christ.

“To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”

Fr. David Curry
Trinity Sunday, Evensong,
May 26th, 2013

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