“To speak of the Godhead is, I know, like crossing the ocean on a raft, or like flying to the stars with wings of narrow span.” So begins a homily preached sixteen hundred and thirty years ago by one of the great fathers of the church, Gregory Nazianzen. Speaking of the Trinity has not got any easier than it was in his days, and there remains for any preacher a strong temptation to slide away from the topic.
But here is the heart of our faith. However the gods have been portrayed and understood in different faiths, old and new, widespread and particular, our God is no single monarch, no unitary power, nor do we believe in some clan of superbeings populating Olympus or Valhalla.
Our God is one. Our God is three. The God revealed in Jesus is koinonia - community, is relationship.
As one of my American brother-Jesuits expresses it:
God is a community of persons. Mutuality is the source of life. Relationship grounds being. There is otherness from the start. The doctrine of the Trinity affirms God as loving and knowing, giving and receiving. We profess that God could not be God without the "other" (the Son) and the eternal bond of their relationship (the Spirit).
And in today’s readings what is spelt out for us is that God’s “reaching-out” – God’s knowing and loving, giving and receiving – embraces us.
Moses reminds the people that God has been involved in their lives – that God is committed to God’s first and always chosen people.
St Paul, in the letter to the Romans, tells us something so extraordinary that we might not have heard it first time round. I have a good friend whose job used to take him to Israel, where he occasionally stayed with an Israeli colleague. John shared with me the moment when he was taken by his colleague to visit his home and family, and they were met by his young son running down the path to meet his father. Let me ask you a question: if you are a parent, what would your child be calling out at that moment? And if you are a child, or closer to being a child, what would you be shouting?
Because the little boy, delighted to see his father coming home, was calling out “Abba! Abba! Abba!” And that, says St Paul, is how we can and should call on God.
And in the Gospel we are both commanded to spread the good news of God’s delighted love for us, and promised that Jesus, the fullest expression of that love, is with us to the end of time.
What more can we say? In some sense, as Gregory Nazianzen observed, it is almost impossible to speak about such a God. But we are also assured that God has made us in God’s own image and likeness, and that can embolden us to look in our lives for pointers towards the life of God.
We know that we are relational beings, that we find ourselves at our fullest only in transcending ourselves in reaching out selflessly to others.
We know this, though we may resist this knowledge when it seems that cutting ourself off from others is a more attractive path. Sometimes we may even invoke our religion in support of our solipsism – but when we do that we have lost sight of something essential.
Because it is not simply a moral injunction that we should engage with one another, nor even simply a reflection of our incarnate, embodied nature as human beings. We are called to engage with one another, we are called to relationship, we are called to community, because we are in the image of God, God who is Father Son and Spirit, Source Gift and Love, Creator Redeemer and Inspirer.
“Ecce ego et tu” says Aelred of Rievaulx in the opening words of his great book on Friendship: “Look, here we are, you and I, and I hope that Christ is a third in our midst.”
It sounds not that far off from the Trinity – as indeed should be the case. When I am most myself, the image of the Trinity is at its most clear in me. At my best, at my most loving, at my most giving, at my most creative, what can be seen in my life points towards the life of the Trinity, even though it is only a pale image of the reality of God.
Because Gregory Nazianzen was, of course, right – we cannot express the reality of God adequately, either in our words or in our lives. But we can learn to look with gospel eyes at the deepest and most human aspects of our living, and come to recognise there pointers towards eternity, indications of what our lives will be when we are caught up in the life of the Trinity. If last Sunday we celebrated the beginnings of the Church, this Sunday we celebrate the God who is both our beginning and our end. We have fashioned from the writing of St Paul a greeting for the beginning of our Eucharists: allow me to rephrase it as a pointer towards this fullness of life:
We live now in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We live now in the love of God.
We live now in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
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