The collect of the day proclaims that God has given us “grace, by the confession of a true faith.” Yet for many preachers this is the most daunting Sunday of the year. Easier by far to preach to hundreds at Christmas than to discuss the doctrine of the Holy Trinity for a handful on a warm, drowsy morning in June! We wonder whether it is worth trying to parse what is and is not and craft careful language to avoid the minefield of heresy, all to end the sermon by hiding behind the Athanasian adjective “incomprehensible.” Meanwhile, we hope that word will not be used during coffee hour to describe our own homiletic efforts.
The Trinity is worth a sermon a year — and considerably more than that. The truths of God are simple and designed to be held in simple faithfulness despite apparent contradiction, not unlike the real presence of Christ in the consecrated elements. “What the truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold,” says the hymn’s exhortation.
Within the three divine persons is the entire story of God’s interaction with humanity, from creation to the second coming. The lectionary reinforces this: we hear “in the beginning” and “even to the end of the ages.” It is not that the Trinity is in the whole Bible: rather, the whole Bible is in the Trinity. For the Father to be the Father we know through Jesus Christ, he can be no other than that God revealed from the law of Moses to the Apocalypse of John. For Jesus the Son to accomplish what we believe he did, there can be no other Father and Spirit than those whom he revealed. The Spirit we know could proceed from no other Father and be sent by no other Son than are revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Change any of the details as we know them and the whole system mutates.
The Trinity encapsulates the difference between our religion and all others. It was for this Father, Son, and Spirit that the confessors endured persecution and the martyrs were willing to shed their blood. Inspired by this idea of the Father, this belief in the Son, and this experience of the Spirit, missionaries spread the word to innumerable others. The early Christian apologist Arnobius, reflecting on the virility of the Church in its infancy, wrote: “Already, there are no people so backward and fierce that they have not been changed by His love. There are no people that have not subdued their fierceness and become mild in disposition, with a tranquility previously unknown. … It has subdued the fires of passion and caused races, peoples, and nations that are the most diverse in character to hasten with one accord to accept the same faith” (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs [Hendrickson, 1998], p. 140).
It is well that we hear the Great Commission on Trinity Sunday. The Trinity still has the power to dazzle, inspire, ennoble, subdue the fires of passion, and spread from soul to soul. This Father still loves. This Son still saves. This Spirit still emboldens and empowers. There is no less grace in the confession of a true faith today.
Look It Up
Arnobius wrote his treatise against paganism to prove to his bishop that he had converted to the faith.
Think About It
Is there any less latent potential even in the well-worn Sunday worship of your local parish than in the Church of the Apostles?