I rise today in the power’s strength
Invoking the Trinity
Believing in threeness
Confessing the Oneness
Of creation’s Creator.
So begins one version of St. Patrick’s Breastplate. What is so important about the Trinity? Sometimes I think we are so busy trying to explain how 1+1+1=1, that we forget about the mystery of it and what it can teach us.
I grew up with a popular image of God. God is sovereign, all-powerful, dictating our lives… He is to be feared and obeyed like one would obey a king or monarch. He is like a medieval king, with power of life and death over his subjects. I remember being afraid of this God who was always ready to count my sins and zap me if I got too far off track.
Some of the early writers of the Eastern Church talked about God a different way, using the trinity, as three people interlocked in a great divine dance. You know when you dance, you feel like you are one with the person you are with. You move together in unison, making the same moves at the same time. You are equals, moving together to the same music, moving in relationship to each other. If we think of God like this, God is no longer a single monarch sitting on a throne, God instead exists in loving, mysterious relationship.
In our gospel reading, Jesus sits with his disciples, giving his farewell message. He explains his relationship with the father and the spirit and tells them that this relationship is the basis of his love for his friends. It is one grand dance, if you will. Jesus talks about the dance between the father, son and spirit, between the creator, redeemer and sustainer. He is in the father. The father is in him. The spirit is in all. They are all moving together in perfect harmony.
But this relationship between father, son and spirit is not an exclusive one. Jesus invites his disciples—he invites us—into this relationship, into this dance. He says that the spirit is coming to comfort and to teach, to invite us all into this eternal relationship. We celebrated that last Sunday at Pentecost, when the Spirit did indeed come as a might wind to invite a city, to invite a world to relationship with God.
Our first reading gives us a glimpse of Wisdom, of the Spirit present at creation, rejoicing and delighting in it. God is a master craftswoman. Wisdom, like the word for Spirit in Hebrew ruach, is female, reminding us that God is a mystery that cannot be easily explained.
When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
When he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
Rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
Wisdom works alongside the Creator, drawing on the great canvas of creation. God works in relationship, designing seas and stars, shaping hills and playing in the soil. It is a creative dance, where Wisdom delights with the whole world and with the human race. “My cry is to all who live,” she cries, inviting all living things to dance, just as at Pentecost the mighty rushing wind invited all present to join in the celebration. She calls us to see our relationship to all things living, to our earth, to each other, to God and to dance in harmony with all.
There is a distinct note of joy in Wisdom’s cry. We live in a world where it is hard to imagine such a dance. We see wars, natural disasters, sickness, great oil spills devastating the marine life of the gulf… We see our planet becoming more and more polluted and our young people grow more and more despairing. But still we are invited to join in the mystery, in the dance… Somehow, in all the pain we see around us, there is still life and joy to be had and to be shared.
One of the most popular icons of the trinity is one done by a Russian painter, Rublev, depicting the story of Abraham’s three guests. If you recall, in Genesis, Abraham is visited by three strangers, whom he invites into his tent and entertains because they are hungry and tired. Later, he finds out that God has visited him, a God who is inviting all into a great dance of love.
Leo Tolstoy wrote a story like this once, about a cobbler named Martin. The story goes something like this… One night, as Martin was reading, he laid his head upon both his arms and, before he was aware of it, he fell asleep.
"Martin!" he suddenly heard a voice, as if some one had breathed the word above his ear.
He started from his sleep. "Who's there?" he asked.
He turned round and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then he heard quite distinctly: "Martin, Martin! Look out into the street to-morrow, for I shall come."
The next day, as he was working at his bench making shoes, he saw an old man clearing away the snow on the streets. The man looked so cold and tired. Martin opened his door and called to him…
"Come in," he said, "and warm yourself a bit. I'm sure you must be cold."
When he went back to his work, he still wondered when Christ would come visit him.
Then a woman came up and stopped by the wall. Martin saw that she was a stranger, poorly dressed, and with a baby in her arms. Through the window Martin heard the baby crying, and the woman trying to soothe it, but unable to do so. Martin rose and going out of the door and up the steps he called to her.
"Why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside.”
He served the mother soup and bread and took care of the baby, while the woman explained that she was a soldier’s wife and had to wait until the next week before she could get a job. He let her stay and gave her a warm cloak for herself and the baby.
After a while Martin saw an apple-woman stop just in front of his window and behind her, a boy snatched an apple out of the basket, and tried to slip away; but the old woman noticed it, and turning, caught the boy by his sleeve. The woman grabbed him by the hair and began to scold him. Martin ran outside.
Martin separated them. He took the boy by the hand and said, "Let him go. Forgive him for Christ's sake."
The boy began to cry and to ask forgiveness.
"That's right. And now here's an apple for you," and Martin took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy, saying, "I will pay you"
As the old woman was about to hoist her sack on her back, the lad sprang forward to her, saying, "Let me carry it for you. I'm going that way."
The old woman nodded her head, and put the sack on the boy's back, and they went down the street together, the old woman quite forgetting to ask Martin to pay for the apple. Martin stood and watched them as they went along talking to each other.
When they were out of sight Martin went back to the house.
As he settled in for the night, his dream came back to his mind, and no sooner had he thought of it than he seemed to hear footsteps, as though some one were moving behind him. Martin turned round, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear: "Martin, Martin, don't you know me?"
"Who is it?" muttered Martin.
"It is I," said the voice. And out of the dark corner stepped the old man, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.
"It is I," said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.
"It is I," said the voice once more. And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too vanished.
And Martin's soul grew glad.
And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that God had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.
This is the dance we are invited to.
We are invited to join hands with the creator of the universe and rejoice.
We are invited to take hands with all people and create a new world together.
There is an old Celtic prayer that says…
I saw a stranger today
I put food in the eating place
And drink in the drinking place
And music in the listening place
In the Holy Name of the Trinity
He blessed myself and my family
Often, often, often
In the stranger’s guise.
This dance excludes no one—it is for the homeless man on the street, for your neighbor next door, and for the woman crossing the desert of Mexico. It is for the little girl learning to read and the old man in the nursing home. It’s for you and for you and for you. It is for all of us. It is for our world. Wisdom says her cry is to all that live. We are all invited to take the hand of the Spirit and join the dance of God. Amen.