More Holy Mystery
Trinity Sunday is an excellent opportunity to succumb to the temptation to quote Douglas Adam’s seminal work, “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”
All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty da*n complicated in the first place.
Happy feast of the Holy Trinity everyone!
Now, that covered, I’m going to take us back to Good Friday…
On Good Friday, in the midst of the Passion, I always find myself partuicularly moved by the actions of Joseph of Arimathea,
“After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the religious authorities, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.”
What may seem like an insignificant moment between the pivotal moments of death and resurrection is actually a powerful testimony to God’s ability to transform us. Because, in this moment, we see an act of redemption in which those who were afraid to be seen with Jesus become those who step forward, publically, to claim his body.
Joseph of Arimathea who had kept his love of Jesus a secret and Nicodemus who had first come to Jesus by night (ashamed to be seen seeking the son of Man), these are the ones who use their power to make the request. They use financial privilege to purchase the spices for anointing. They take the risk of loving him to the end. And, the power of the cross as an instrument of crucifixion and emblem of all that destroys becomes a symbol of hope.
And, so, as I read today’s Gospel, I was moved once again...because in spite of Nicodemus’ lack of understanding...the seeds of love are planted.
And thus the wonderment of it. Nicodemus’ who has been told about earthly things, and not believed, gains insight into heavenly things which he does not yet comprehend. Nicodemus, who came for wisdom under the cover of darkness, steps into the light of love as one born of the Spirit.
Whether he understood or not, is not the question, rather the question is one of love.
And, it is from this perspective—that of love--that I want to engage the question of the Trinity.
The Trinity is notoriously challenging to explain, partially because it so much of what we know of it feels beyond words. And, yet, being people of the Word…we turn to the created world we know to explore and explain the source of that creation.
Water in three forms, liquid, ice, vapor. The clover with its three leaves joined at the center. The sun, the sunlight and the warmth.
Yet, each of these falls short—in fact, each of these metaphors has a corresponding heresy assigned it! It seems, that the only expression of the Trinity that doesn’t violate some tenant of our faith is that the Trinity is fundamentally a mystery beyond human reason.
The Holy Trinity, One God—beyond human reason, but I would counter that it is not beyond our understanding.
Akin to the scientist who knows that there is more, far more, to this world than we can understand in this moment—we as theologians are given the opportunity to embrace the beautiful truth that we can believe something that we do not understand and understand something we do not know.
Theologian Martin Buber, states “the world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings” (I-Thou)
In short, what we cannot comprehend we can embrace--and in encounter we can know what we can never understand.
So, back to heresies, and my consideration of what I believe to be the fundamental flaw of each of the symbols offered--clover, sun, water--how do we have a relationship with any of these as objects in a way which allows us to have a relationship with the Trinity? The most famous depiction of the Trinity, by Russian iconographer Andrei Rubev depicts the three person seated at a table. When you look at the icon, you begin to realize that as the observer, you complete the table. The observer sits at the fourth side.
We are in relationship with the Trinity, indeed, we are part of the Trinity. And the Trinity itself is a relationship between three aspects of love--moving, indwelling, each in each—perichoresis is the word for what is quite simply a God engaged in an elaborate dance. It’s literally meaning is to dance around in the same essence of…an elaborate choreography.
The arm extends.
It is grasped by another.
Turn, dip, lift.
We are a part of the dance. The God become man, the wind and the fire, and us.
And us, and Christ in us. Through Christ’s humanity we become a part of the Trinity. Part of the dance from which comes a new creation.
Which brings us back to Nicodemus. Nicodemus, who first came to Jesus by night, becomes Nicodemus who stands in the light of day as witness and friend. He may never have understood what it was to be born from above. But, that’s not important. What’s important is the love that was made manifest in his believing.
The same kind of love we are called to share as we abide in the midst of the Holy and undivided Trinity. A love that brings us to the foot of the cross where we witness to the broken, the forsaken, and the wounded.
The cross, where we witness with our hearts what our brains can’t make sense of.
Nicodemus yearned for knowledge, for facts, for proof and definitive—so do we. But, what we get instead, is the opportunity to witness to the incomprehensible and abiding presence of the God who first loved us.
And, so today, on this Feast of the Holy Trinity let us boldly declare that we do not have to understand but we must love. We must love, because this complicated universe of ours desperately needs us to witness to the love of the God who first loved us.