John Morrison – 11 June 2017

“Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut. 6:4) Thus begins the Jewish “Shema”, so-called because the first word is “sh’ma” in Hebrew.

This ancient statement was foundational for the Israelites as they coalesced into a nation following the Exodus from Egypt, and it remains the core belief of Judaism. Belief in one God is also at the heart of the world’s two other major monotheistic religions, Islam and Christianity.

For Christians, who affirm the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, this raises many issues. For example, how can God send Jesus to Earth and in what sense is Jesus Emmanuel (God with us)? If God is one, how can the Father speak from Heaven at Jesus’ baptism and how can the Spirit alight on him like a dove? What does it mean for Jesus to pray to his Father? In what sense did God forsake Jesus at his crucifixion? Was Jesus’ ascension in order to reunite with the Father?

In grappling with such questions, the early Church developed the doctrine of the Trinity – that God is 3 in 1. While the word Trinity is not used in the Bible, the concept encapsulates the teaching of Jesus and Scripture in relation to the Godhead. The precise formulation of the doctrine was hotly debated for centuries. The Athanasian Creed is one of the statements that arose from that process.

It stated: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son; and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. Although you might think that pretty well sums it up, the Creed continues with some 20 or more sentences on the Trinity.

Many analogies have been used in efforts to explain the Trinity, such as a 3-leaf clover; the 3 parts of a finger or an egg; earth, sea and sky; 3 primary colours; 3 forms of water; child, adult, elder; seed, plant, fruit. Ultimately, however, such analogies break down and we are left with the profound mystery of a God who is beyond our finite fathoming.

While also having their limitations, I find it helpful to reflect on other ways of describing God apart from Father, Son and Holy Spirit, such as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; God who Creates, God who Saves, God who Guides; God beyond us, God with us, God within us; Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver; Source of Being, Incarnate Word, Holy Wisdom.

Today is Trinity Sunday when we are reminded of the immensity, majesty and mystery of God. Today’s services are not the time to exhaustively catalogue the historical disputes or to pedantically attempt to define the indefinable. They are a time to experience something of the fullness of God’s reality and to come before God in amazed worship.

Welcome to worship on this Trinity Sunday.

John

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