The other day I was walking through the second floor hallway at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, where I serve as Dean of the Chapel. I was surprised to see a class being taught in our largest classroom during the short break between our Spring semester and our first session of Summer intensive courses. “There are no classes now,” I thought to myself, “why on earth is there a class going on?” Well, it turned out that Northwestern University was using one of our rooms to hold a mathematics class. This immediately cracked me up. I imagined charging into the room and shouting, “Stop! No math here! You can’t do math at a theological seminary, for heaven’s sake, we believe that 1=3!”
The trinity is indeed a bit of a stopper when it comes to logical explanations. Someday I hope that a book of dreadful children’s sermons is published, entirely devoted to pastors attempting to explain the trinity to those who can still be publicly honest about their opinion of its comprehensibility.
In 2009, L. Ann Hallisey suggested that preachers eschew discursive language on Trinity Sunday, and instead avail themselves of the gifts of artistic language on this most most mysterious of festivals.
The language of poets and artists works better for preaching this mystery, I believe. Dante speaks of rainbows and fire in the Paradisio of the Divine Comedy. Saint Patrick used the shamrock. Others have likened an explanation of the Trinity to three states of water, these being ice, steam, and liquid, but still the same molecule. There are descriptions of God’s activity (Creator, Redeemer, Sanctified); and St. Augustine’s divine psychology - God the First Person of the Trinity as the giver of love; the Second Person of the Trinity as the receiver of love; the Third Person of the Trinity as the love that exists between them. Then there is an exquisite icon of the Trinity, pained by the fifteenth-century Russian artist, Andrei Rublev, entitled “The Old Testament Trinity.” It is a graceful image of the three angels who visited Abraham under the oaks of Mamre. In this icon, the three angels attentively incline their heads toward one another, forming a circle by suggestion. The community formed by the three angels is there for all to see, as is the circle that holds and defines the unity of all three.
Come on now - you know you’ve done it! What was the silliest Trinity Sunday children’s sermon you ever attempted? Mine involved one of those big fat candles with three wicks.
L. Ann Hallisey (2009): “7 June 2009; Trinity Sunday,” Homily Service, 42:3, 19
L. Ann Hallisey is an Episcopal priest of the Diocese of Northern California, and Dean of Students at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.