The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents 

Trinity Sunday

​The First Sunday after Pentecost carries the subtitle “Trinity Sunday.” 

The word Trinity does not appear in The Holy Bible. It is a word coined by the Church to describe the Person and Being of God. An Outline of the Faith (the catechism) speaks without being especially revelatory: 

Q. What is the Trinity?

A. The Trinity is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[1]​​

The liturgical language around the Trinity is quite old, though the earliest extant reference we have is a copy of the Gregorian Sacramentary transcribed in the late 8th C.  Trinity’s location in the liturgical calendar probably is earlier than 8th C, but again, oldest actual pieces of paper with “Trinity” written on them are late 700s CE. The use of Trinity as a foundation name for American parishes dates from the earliest years of English settlement in North America; it is the third most commonly used title for parishes in the American Church, surpassed in usage only by Saint John’s (2nd) and Christ’s Church (1st) .[2] Trinity comes as well to less-predictable usages; the British governmental agency tending the UK’s lighthouses and buoys is called Trinity House[3], a co-protagonist’s role in the Matrix movies is named Trinity[4], and the spot in New Mexico where the first atomic explosion took place is Trinity site.[5] 

Trinity Sunday is often called “the feast of an Idea.” I suppose that’s alright, but it’s not terribly rigorous intellectually. And the Gospel selection for today doesn’t get us much closer to the Trinity either. We get Jesus’ promise of”...the Spirit of truth...”[6] and from that mention we infer that this Spirit of truth is the Third Person of God.  

Today’s Old Testament lesson has Wisdom, not the Holy Spirit, speaking in terms that point us toward Wisdom as a Spirit “created at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.”[7] If it was hoped by those framing the Revised Common Lectionary that we would understand the Wisdom speaking in Proverbs as analogous to the Holy Spirit, this reading does little to edify Trinitarian[8] Christians. Proverbs has Wisdom speaking of Herself as created by God before anything else, but the point is that She is “created...the first of his acts...set up” rather than eternal “from before time and forever.”[9] 

All of that said, we have obliged ourselves as the Church to celebrate the fullness of God’s Being as we describe that Being in the word Trinity, and that celebration has to begin somewhere. 

Perhaps it’s in the work of William Mounce,[10] an evangelical scholar who asserts that we understand the Trinity beginning with the Sh’ma- the creedal statement of Judaism: “Sh’ma Yisrael, adonai eloheinu, adonai echad” - “Hear O Israel, the Lord (is) our God, the Lord is one.”[11]  Mounce translates “echad” as “one,” not as “alone, singular or solitary,” but as “complete” or “whole.” 

Perhaps it’s in faithful attempts to recast the language by saying  that the Trinity is our experience of what God does...God as “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.” Uffman points out the danger in this. Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer reduces God to a functionary, describing God solely through what God does- rather like re-stating Mom as  “Cook, Chauffeur and Nurse”...we know Mom as a person, not a functionary...we identify her through who she is rather than the things she does for us. We know God the same way- not through His functionality but in our relationship with Him.[12]

The scholarly struggles are endless and they are ultimately incomplete, as is our knowledge, and therefore our understanding. We need to pursue those struggles, though, so that we each personally may grapple with God- the God of the relationship to which Uffman refers. Perhaps we’re better off simply acknowledging the mystery of the Trinity, and resting in the confidence Paul writes to Rome: 

“Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.[13] 

                        suffering produces endurance

                                    endurance produces character

                                                character produces hope 

These are words that get me closer to the Trinity by getting to know myself as I struggle to understand it. That struggle finds its deepest joy in the Grace of being justified by Faith, not by knowledge or good works...and trusting that Truth. 

If this is exhausted acquiescence, it is acquiescence only my own limitations. It is the end of the work one human being can do, grateful that the Truth does not depend on him, or end with him, but on God. 

Think on these things. Love you. See you in Church. 

FBC3+, 22 May 2016 being Trinity Sunday

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, pg 852

[2] A cursory search of The Episcopal Church Annual compiled by The Rev’d Christopher Yaw of Battle Creek, Michigan suggests that Holy Innocents’ is 60th, St Richard’s is 100th, and St Theodore’s is 121st. Until I did the research, I’d have thought that Trinity and Christ’s Church would have been tied for first, with perhaps St Paul’s in third place, but there you have it.

[3] Founded by Henry VIII in 1514 as The Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity, and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford-Strond in the County of Kent

[4] Warner Brothers, 1999

[5] 16 July 1945, White Sands, New Mexico

[6] John 16:13, NRSV

[7] Proverbs 8:22-23, NRSV

[8] As opposed for example to binitarian Christians who recognize God the Father and God the Son, while suggesting that the Holy Spirit is somehow subordinate, as the animating personality of Jesus, rather than a fully distinct Person..this is a form of semi-Arianism

[9] The Book of Common Prayer, pg 373

[10] William Mounce, Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, Zondervan, 2006

[11] Deuteronomy 6:4, NIV

[12] Craig Uffman, The Living Church, 17 July 2012

[13] Romans 5:1-5, NRSV