Yesterday afternoon I was in Bristol Cathedral to see David Hoyle installed as their new Dean. It was a very splendid service, with lots of pomp and circumstance, some fantastic music – and a predictably excellent sermon from David himself. (This rather fuelled my determination to kidnap him and bring him back home where he belongs...I'd much prefer to listen to him preach this morning!)
He used the ceremony of the service itself as a starting place, making us laugh at ourselves as he described the intricacies of the processions, in which everyone from the Bishop to the Lord Lieutenant of Bristol and the smallest probationer in the choir knew their place and stuck to it...That maybe a concept that's hard for you to imagine here at St M's – but believe me, it does happen...and even your errant vicar was cowed into submission by the formality of the occasion.
So what? you may ask.
What has an installation service in Bristol to do with a Trinity Sunday sermon in Cainscross?
David's point, in describing the hierarchy of processions, was to remind us that we tend to use this sort of structure to clarify our relationships, to make it absolutely clear who belongs where and why. He said, with some accuracy, that we tend to use “polite proximity” as a substitute for real community...and I'm afraid that often this is the case, even in our churches. We like to be sure of exactly where we belong in relation to our neighbours – “She's a ChurchWarden, I'm on the PCC but you're just a holy duster” - and sometimes, if truth be told, we like to be sure that certain kinds of people won't try to belong at all. We talk about our “church community” but what we actually mean is a comfortable religious club that has rather forgotten that its only reason for existence is to serve those who don't yet belong...Community means holding all things in common, offering mutual love and support - but I don't think that's the norm for most church families, try as we might. The model of community that the Trinity offers to us is something very very different.
Every year, preachers across the world tie themselves in knots as they try to explain the Trinity to their congregations. I'm going to try to avoid that today...instead I want us to think about the essence of the Trinity...
God in relationship.
We have a God who lives in relationship - total, complete, self-giving relationship. This God is one who knows what it is like to give of oneself completely for the other and who can do that because the other is totally invested in giving its self for the the first. Here there is no hierarchy, no anxiety over precedence.
Instead the love that defines and informs the one reaches out and spills over into the other
Look, says the Father.......look at the Son........
Look, says the Son...........look at the Spirit
And so the Three gaze at one another in mutual love and delight – and invite us to do the same – to participate in their loving relationship and to draw others to do so as well.
That's the message of the gospel passage
All that the Father has is mine.........The Spirit...will take what is mine and declare it to you
I don't discern any anxiety about relationship here.
Instead of protective boundaries, - what's mine I hold - what is mine is not mine, because it belongs freely, completely, joyfully to you
It's such a long long way from the reality of life in the world, or even life in the church.......
But let's dream for a minute...a dream close to the heart of God.
Imagine a world, imagine a church, where I was able to totally and
completely care for and about you and not consider myself because you were totally and completely caring for and about me.
Imagine that degree of safety and security
No need to look out for number one, because you know that you are always and non negotiably “number one” for everyone else...so you can let go, and relax into placing the well being of the other before your own.
Absolute, genuine mutuality.
Wouldn't that be wonderful?
But for the moment we tell another tale.
For us, difference too often means competition...anxiety that our best is never good enough,or pride that we are so much better than our neighbour.
We look at the wonder of love and mutuality that is the Trinity and are silenced.
But that's wrong too........because the point about the Trinity is that though Trinity exists entire and whole and perfect in Godself, we are invited to share in God's creative enterprise.
The famous icon of the Trinity by Anton Rublev draws its power from the empty place at the table, the place reserved for US.*
The Trinity waits, eager to engage us in conversation, beckoning us to the vacant space at the table....The Trinity complete, unbroken, lacking nothing, still longs for us, and reaches out to draw us into its endless and creative dance.
As I thought about this sermon I talked, as I often do, to many friends across the world...Some are musicians, and they suggested that music might carry some helpful routes into understanding. One thought about the Trinity as a trio making music together – each instrument, or voice pouring out music perfect in itself but expressing its fullest beauty when the parts are heard together. That helped a little, - but carries within it the recurrent risk of breaking down the Trinity into three job descriptions (creator, redeemer, sustainer? Lover, Beloved, Love?)
Another wanted me to focus on communication...she plays best when she both loves her music and loves her audience, and her performance becomes an expression of that love. That took me further, for surely our experience of God is that of someone hearing the most perfect music, music that echoes ceaselessly through all creation, and gradually, haltingly, finding our own voice with which to sing.
So let's forget processions.
Let's forget shamrocks and triangles.
Let's even forget Mars Bars (chocolate, nougat, toffee - but one Mars!)
Let's forget the whole business of trying to understand or to express a beauty beyond words or understanding.
Instead, let us come to the table, let us join in the conversation, let us add our own voices as we cry “Holy, holy, holy”
* I had a copy of the icon at the back of church, & had printed tiny copies for everyone to take home