There’s nothing ordinary about the Trinity

  • May 24, 2007
“I would die without the Trinity,” my friend Fr. Peter said once. How many of us would echo Fr. Peter? Does the Trinity make much difference to our lives or our faith?  Yet it’s one of our key doctrines, distinguishing Christianity from all world religions.   
Let me give two earthly glimpses of the Trinity. They won’t exactly make us understand — as Augustine said, if you think you’ve understood God, it’s not God you’ve understood — but may help illuminate the question.

The first involves a table laid for a banquet. A Christmas banquet. The tables are rough, as they often are in soup kitchens. But they are carefully laid with clean white cloths, bright green napkins and the finest red plastic glasses available. Turkey, cranberries and potatoes are everywhere, and all the chairs are filled. Some of the guests are strangers to one another; they come from varied backgrounds, some well-dressed, some wearing the t-shirts and jeans of the ages. It doesn’t matter; all are welcome and all are smiling.

Especially so is Doreen, sitting at the head of one table. People tend to sit at a certain distance from her, owing to the rather strong smell of her body. She lives alone with — as is later discovered — a record number of cats for a single apartment. As she digs into Christmas cake, Doreen exclaims aloud: her slice contains a tiny golden crown! She is crowned Queen of Christmas! Already happy, she is now bursting with joy, transformed into a radiant flame. Her beauty is astonishing.

It’s the hospitality of Abraham, who entertained angels. People sitting around a table, not just any table but the table at which God welcomes humans to eat and drink together with each other and with Him. Those who accept this invitation are alight, fully alive, fully present to themselves and one another. 

In Andrei Rublev’s icon of the hospitality of Abraham, three figures sit around a round table, in perfect relationship with other, each looking at the other, all welcoming the guest — you and me, the people gazing at the icon. On the table is a cup, the chalice of Christ. The three are complete, an equilateral triangle in a circle. But they are also open, waiting for us to sit with them. There is no icon of the Trinity, but this icon gives a glimpse of who the Trinity is.

No wonder Fr. Peter would die without the Trinity. God is relationship; God is welcome; God is love perfect in itself, but perfectly open to receive the other. When we enter into that welcome, we become who we were meant to be.

The second glimpse features a brief bus ride. As I hop onto the bus, I greet the driver. She responds pleasantly. I sit within talking distance, as nobody else is on the bus, and I’m not going far.

We discuss the weather, in true Canadian fashion, and in the process she reveals that she lived in the country once. She had her three kids there, began and ended her marriage there. Calmly enough, her eyes turned away from me and towards the traffic, she remarks that her youngest is in anger treatment and she won’t be seeing the child till he is 18. The two older kids, both teenagers, have problems of their own, and are having a hard time; all three were abused by their father, as was she. 

All this comes out in the time it takes to drive three blocks. A crown of pain. I think about that four-year-old being sent away, removed from both parents. But if I have any temptation to judge her for that decision, her final remark brings me up short. She is saying how much she misses him, and what a sacrifice it was to lose him. She feels that letting him go would give him a better chance than his elder siblings had. Though she is composed, the suffering of this story is written into her body. 

A woman on the cross, acting out of love as best she can. On the cross the Trinity is revealed: the relationship of love which is God. This love becomes tragic when it enters the brokenness of humanity. Yet it is not broken. It suffers death, yet brings life. It takes on woundedness, yet brings healing. It’s a love that cannot be understood, but can be received. It’s a love that turns everything upside down. 

St. Philaret of Moscow said “the Father is crucifying love, the Son is crucified love, the Holy Spirit is the invincible love of the cross.”

Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost, leads us back into Ordinary Time.  There’s nothing ordinary about the power of this love that welcomes the stranger, transforms the sufferer, calls humans to love even on the cross. Still, it’s the ordinary stuff of our lives. We would die without the Trinity.

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