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Trinity Sunday May 22, 2016 - The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
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VARIATIONS ON THE HOLY TRINITY
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
 
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
 
 
This past Friday
I was enjoying the Third Friday organ recital
by our own Mark Brombaugh –
 
while pondering what I might say today
about the Holy Trinity.
 
 
“There will be no sermon on Trinity Sunday
because of the difficulty of the material,”
was the rule in Cistercian monasteries
of the Middle Ages.
 
The problem is
that the Trinity is not material to be explained,
although of course,
Christian theologians must attempt to do so
          in order to be called theologians . . .
 
But ultimately,
the Trinity is not material
          to be explained and understood,
but a Being
to be experienced
to be in relationship with . . .
a Mystery to be entered into.
 
 

In Mark’s recital,
I was taken by the composition  
“Partita on Christ Church,”
 
a partita being a collection of musical pieces,
in this case
eight variations on the hymn tune called “Christ Church.”
 
(The hymn tune was composed in 1973
for Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia
by Richard Dirksen,
then Organist and Choir Master
of Washington National Cathedral.
 
John Eggert’s “Partita on Christ Church”
was commissioned last year by Mark
as a gift to this Christ Church,
for which we are most grateful indeed.)
 
The Partita begins
with a clear statement of the tune,
 
and then proceeds to amuse itself
          and its audience
          with variations on the tune;
the melody heard in different voices of the organ,
          now in the tenor, now the soprano, now the bass . . .
with varying accompaniments, harmonizations, and descants,
in movements ranging in style
from playful toccatas to quiet meditations,
          drawing out and elucidating
          aspects of the original melody.
 
 

Hmmm . . .  I thought,
Eight Variations on the Holy Trinity . . .
no, wait, nine,
because of course it should be a
multiple of three . . .
 
 
Beginning with
a statement of the theme . . .
 
The Theme
 
. . . for this we turn to the catechism
in the Book of Common Prayer.
 
“What is the Trinity?” it asks.
 
“The Trinity is one God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” it answers.                             (BCP p. 852)
 
Or in the somewhat expanded language
of the Eucharistic preface for this day:
“one God, one Lord,
          in Trinity of Persons and in Unity of Being” 
                                                  BCP p. 380 (Preface for Trinity Sunday).
 
There it is:
Three individualities in one indivisible being,
          in eternal mutual indwelling and interpenetration.
 
Got it?
 
 
The more we try to get hold
of the mystery,
the more, in its essence,
it eludes us.
 

Variation 1.  A Trinity of Artists Inspires the Preacher:
          instrument builder, composer, musician
 
On an instrument created by
          organ builder John Brombaugh,
a composition by composer John Eggert  
          was interpreted by organist Mark Brombaugh . . .
          so that
          the dream of the builder,
          the skill of the composer,
          and the artistry of the organist
                   might move and inspire all present.
 
Three artists
          one in their love of the pipe organ and its music,
engaged in the making of art which manifests
          in an experience of beauty and meaning
                   for an audience.
         
Of course,
these three artists, John, John, and Mark,
are not one
in the sense
          that the persons of the Trinity are one,
“three individualities in one indivisible being
          in eternal mutual indwelling . . . ”
 
but in their creating activity,
culminating on that particular Friday
in the performance of the Partita
          a Trinitarian image emerges,
and the preacher decides to go for it.
 
 

2.  British Theologian and Author Dorothy Sayers
          attempts an explanation
 
Sayers,
author of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries,
also wrote of
the great Mystery of God
that neither asks for
          nor admits of
                    a solution . . .
 
Because we are made
in the image of the creator God,
Sayers writes
          in her book The Mind of the Maker,
we also are creators.
 
“Every [act] of creation is threefold,”
she says,
“an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.”
 
Take that pipe organ:
 
There is the creative urge
          in the mind of the builder,
          an idea already fully formed
          but not yet manifest in space and time:
                   and this is the image of the eternal Father.
 
There is the creative energy born of that urge,
          the builder working
          with the materials of the natural world,
                   with sweat and passion,
                   bringing the instrument into being
                             and this is the image of the incarnate Son.
 
There is the creative power  
          in the song of the completed instrument
          and the response in the mind of the listener,
          and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.
 
“And these three are one,” says Sayers,
“each equally in itself the whole work,
whereof none can exist without other:
and this is the image of the Trinity.”
                                                                                                                  
              Adapted and paraphrased from Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker,
                                                    from the chapter “Idea, Energy, Power,”
                            in which she uses the example of the writing of a novel.
         
 
3.  The Holy Trinity as a Dance - Perichoresis
 
That wonderful Greek word
some theologians use
to express the dynamic inner life
of the Trinity . . .
 
Peri: meaning “around”
and chorein: meaning “to give way,” “to make room” –
          (our word “choreography” comes from that word.)
 
Perichoresis as a word about the Trinity
suggests activity, not stasis,
a liveliness and joy among the persons
as they bow and bend to one another,
giving way to, making room for, one another
          in their circle dance
                    of intimacy, harmony, love and delight.
 
How often that dance
must modulate into one of sorrow and lament,
for what we, God’s children, have done
and continue to do
to one another and to God’s Creation.
 
 

In our liturgy,
we participate now
          in that eternal dance . . .
 
with joy and thanksgiving,
with lament and repentance,
with prayer and song,
entering into communion with
the Creating God
always giving us new life in Christ
leading us into all truth by the Holy Spirit.
 
Learning to bow and bend
to God and one another
so that we might invite the whole wounded world
or at least our small portion of it,
into God’s dance
          of intimacy, harmony, love and delight.
         
4. The Society of the Holy Trinity
 
It could be the name of a religious order . . .
 
but it also refers to another theological concept
called the Social Doctrine of the Trinity,
 
recognizing that
the very nature of God is relationship –
 
God is not monolithic, alone in God’s oneness,
God is not a closed friendship of two
          with no room for one more,
          (you know what that was like in middle school
                   if you were the one left out);
God is an open dynamic of love
          flowing between and among the three persons,
                   an intimacy and communion
                   of reciprocity,
                   of shared purpose,
                   of giving and receiving,
                   of loving regard . . .
 
and, love begetting love,
          the loving energy with which the persons
                   of the Trinity engage one another
          spills over into the loving relationship of God
                   with us and all creation.
 
The community at the heart of God
          an image of the community
                   God’s people are meant to be.
 
 
5. The Holy Trini-tree: Three trunks; One Tree
 
When I lived in Chicago,
I walked every morning on the Rogers Park Beach,
          half a block from my home.
 
An ancient tree grew there,
one gigantic tree with three massive trunks
          soaring skyward,
          their lowest branches some thirty feet above my head.
         
There was a space in the midst of the trunks
          just large enough
                   for a person to stand in.
 
Many a morning that’s what I did,
stood in the center of that three-in-one tree, 
hands against its rugged bark,
feeling the mysterious, unhurried life rising within,
the deep silence, enduring strength, endless patience
          of that tree,
that became a shelter
          from life’s frenzy and challenges.
 

Many a morning I stood there,
and wondered
what it might mean
to dwell
in the heart of the Holy Trinity.
 
 
6.  Dogs and the Mystery of the Trinity
 
The gulf between
my dogs’ understanding of me
and my understanding of the Trinity
          seems about equal.
 
Charley and Spike Jr.
know me as a dependable source
          of food and love, and occasional treats;
an opener of doors to the great world around us;
and an enforcer
          of what must seem arbitrary rules 
                   that have little to do
                             with the essence of being a dog.
 
But to them, I am mostly mystery,
most recently the mystery of
putting everything in our home in boxes
and driving the boxes to another house
where I take those same things out again.
 
They are clearly baffled by this activity,
and there is no way I can explain
my intent and purposes to them:
 
which are:
a move of our household
from Shoreline to Lakewood.
 
Yet, despite their unsettlement,
they know they belong with me
and that where I am, they will also be.
 
We are bound together
across the chasm of mystery
by the power of our love for one another.
 
 
7.  Hints and guesses in the Hebrew Scriptures
          suggest a multiplicity within the one Creator God. 
 
The genius of the Jews
was recognizing that there is one God,
          one Maker of Heaven and Earth
          and all that is in them,
         
and that
the multitude of lesser deities
connected to particular rocks, trees, mountains,
          and peoples roundabout
and
the hierarchy of high-living and capricious
Greek and Roman gods,
 
were not God at all.
 
And yet, in the Hebrew Scriptures,
the notion of a multiplicity
          not of individual gods,
                   but within the One true God,
begins to emerge,
as in our reading from the Book of Proverbs:
 
“When God established the heavens I was there,”
cries Wisdom,
“when God drew a circle on the face of the deep . . .
when God marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside God, like a master worker;
and I was daily God’s delight, rejoicing before God always,
rejoicing in God’s inhabited world
          and delighting in the human race.”
 
The hints and guesses come to a fullness
in John’s Gospel
in Jesus’ long discourse at the last supper,
where he speaks over and over again
of his oneness in intent and action with the Father,
and the Father’s oneness with him,
coming to fulfillment
          in the work in the world
                   of the Holy Spirit.
 
 
8. The Awesomeness of the Holy Trinity
          is like the Grand Canyon
 
This awesomeness is not at all like,
“Hey, I can give you a ride to work today.”
“That would be awesome, man!”
 
          (We may come closer to its meaning
          when we speak of a double-dark chocolate cake,
                   especially if there’s also ice cream available . . .)
 
 
You can see pictures of the Grand Canyon,
study the geology of the Grand Canyon,
          and learn how it was formed,
hear about someone’s vacation adventures
          at the Grand Canyon . . .
 
but the first time you peer over its edge
and the ground falls away from you
          into an astonishing chasm
          of undulating colors, shapes, textures of rock
                   stretching to the horizon . . .
you gasp,
          and know in your gut
                    real awesomeness . . .
 
and you feel a terrible smallness
and a sudden oneness
with all the people there with you
          responding in just the same way  . . .
 
people from all over the world
whom you have never met before
          and will never see again,
speaking a multiplicity of languages,
completely in union with one another
          in the presence of such a great mystery.
 
Once you catch your breath,
you wonder what it would be like
if we could, all together,
peer into the depths of the Holy Trinity.
 
 
9.  The glory of the Mystery
 
Nine variations are hardly enough . . .
 
“I have many things to say to you,
but you cannot bear them now . . .”
 
for no matter now much anyone might say,
the Holy Trinity remains,
impossibly,
both beyond our reach
and intimately present with us . . .
 
remains,
inexplicably,
“Three individualities in one indivisible being,
          in eternal mutual indwelling and interpenetration,
God, living and true,
dwelling in light inaccessible, 
          from before time and for ever. 
                                                 (from the Preface to Eucharistic Prayer D,
                                                   The Book of Common Prayer, page 373)
 

How good it is
that we cannot explain or understand . . .
 
for God, to be God,
must always be beyond our capacity to grasp . . .
 
So,
perhaps it is best
simply to fall silent
before the glory of the Mystery,
 
and let the Spirit guide us
into all truth,
 
the truth
of silence and adoration.