HOMILY FOR TRINITY SUNDAY (B)
– preached at a retreat for Keele University Chaplaincy
One morning, back when I was a novice in Cambridge, I was staring at my mug of steaming coffee. And in the bright sunlight I watched the vapour coming off the surface of the liquid. And, as you do, I started musing on what this might say about God!
You see, although the Trinity is a mystery of faith that cannot be worked out by human reason but only known through revelation, the Catechism also says that God “has left traces of his Trinitarian being in his work of creation…” This tantalizing idea of St Augustine’s that the Trinity has left vestiges, literally ‘footprints’ in creation means I’m not so crazy to contemplate God through that mug of steaming coffee! After all, St Patrick famously used the shamrock to think about the Trinity. But I’m not thinking of coffee, but something that’s so close to us in this seaside town: Water. Let me explain…
Water, or to be more precise the chemical compound hydrogen oxide (H2O), is essential for all life on earth. And God, of course, is truly essential for all life. God is Life itself, the source of all life and being. We can also speak of hydrogen oxide in three distinct states sharing the one substance, which reminds me of God who is three distinct persons united in the one divine being.
However, we most often think of H2O in its liquid state, as water, and this is its most commonly-found state. And when people think of God across many cultures and religions, people commonly think first of God the Father, who is invoked in the Second Eucharistic Prayer as the “fount of all holiness”. Again, the image is of liquid water. H2O that is cooled becomes ice, something solid and the most tangible of the states of water. So, the descending temperature that cools hydrogen oxide reminds me of the eternal Word who came down from heaven, taking on the solidness of our human flesh. God the Son, who can be touched, seen, and held in the person of Jesus Christ. And finally, when H2O is heated it becomes a gas: steam. Here, I think of the boiling water as reminiscent of the excitement and tongues of Pentecost, of the heat as the passion and love of God that produces, as it were, the Spirit, the breath of God. And steam, of course, is a powerful force that drives great engines and machinery, just as the Spirit empowers us, and inspires and drives the Church.
However, any image of this great mystery has its limitations, of course. You can probably think of many, but to name just three: Firstly, God is not a created thing as H2O is. Secondly, the Trinity is not three successive states of God but is always three Persons in One divine Being. Rather tantalizingly, under the right thermodynamic conditions there is a state of equilibrium called the ‘triple point of water’ at which liquid water, solid ice, and water vapour can stably coexist. So, maybe this isn’t such a limitation to my image of water. But, surely, the third and greatest limitation is related to God as Three-on-One. There is no personal relationship between Water, Ice, and Steam. But revelation tells us that God is Father, Son, and Spirit and these essentially relational terms do matter. God is not just described functionally as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier – especially since the entire Trinity does these things – but as Father, Son, and Spirit, as One divine communion of Persons who can be known.
The fact that we can celebrate Trinity Sunday at all is because, in the first place, God who is wholly Other from his creation, chose to make himself known in creation, and to his people. The people of Israel knew God through his works as he gave them a land of their own, and so called them into being as a free people, and through the giving of his Law which was a mark of God’s wisdom and care for them. So, that’s the first positive thing that we can say about God – that he can be known, and that he wants us to know him. But our God not only wants to be known, he also wants to be loved; he wants us to have a personal relationship with him. Which is why Christ commands his apostles to go and “make disciples” and baptize them.
In order that we can love him, God reveals himself as a communion of love, sending his Son into the world. Once we recognize this, then we can see clearer signs of the Trinity in the world. Again, I want to just name three: The family, which is the communion of love into which we are born. The Church, which is the communion of love into which we are re-born through baptism. And it’s not just the Church as a visible human community, but, more vitally, it’s the Church as the Body of Christ. So that in and through her we draw life and share in the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit”. Because it is in the Trinity that we Christians have been re-born, embraced into the Trinity’s own communion of love, and made sharers of God’s divine life. And thirdly, we see signs of the Trinity in our friendships, in those relationships where we show love, and so, build a communion of love. For it is in loving that we are being signs of the Trinity… Signs of the God who is active and present in the world and in our lives, making us divine through love. For where there is true charity, there is God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
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