St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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Trinity Sunday 2019 : Fr Tony Hogg

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 Trinity Sunday began to be observed in England under St Thomas Becket and then spread to the rest of Western Christendom. And yet, there is a tradition that this Sunday the task of preaching is a short straw, not a joy and delight. Why is this?

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, highest and most central of Christian doctrines has not enjoyed a good reputation in the last century or so. I am still fascinated by the endless paradoxes in the Athanasian Creed: ‘not three eternals, but one eternal, not three uncreated, but one uncreated.’ If you want to see what I mean have a look at your prayer book when you get home! The whole thing sounded like some great riddle. And let’s be honest, congregations have a tendency to glaze over when we come to the finer points of doctrinal and philosophical theology. But the point runs deeper than this: for many, the doctrine was seen as a later invention of Greek philosophy far removed from the simple faith of the Galilean fisherman. The Trinity has been seen as part of the ecclesiastical baggage of dogma and metaphysics to be cast away in the return to the simple faith of Jesus. Why did the early church spend so many endless debates around the one word ‘houmoouision’ of ‘one being’ as we still say every Sunday in our creed?

So there is a challenge here. I believe that the Trinity is not one Christian belief among others, it is more like a short-hand for the entire content of our faith; it is not some late elaboration but the original and radical heart, coming not from Greek philosophy but developing from the revelation in the OT through to coming of Christ. Nothing less than our whole faith is here. We cast out the bathwater at our peril!

The Trinity is about the redemption of flesh – this strange fragile, stuff of blood and tissue, this matter is, extraordinarily, the Christian faith claims, the stuff of salvation; God became human so that we might become divine.

From that we do not believe that the world was created by some impersonal higher power, like the Force in Star Wars! Rather that our God is in some mysterious sense personal, that he is more like us than a rock, and therefore he communicates with us, rather than leaving us to figure everything out for ourselves. This is our belief in God as creator and loving Father which is so important to us.

Taking that further we become aware that God doesn’t just communicate himself in books and laws; rather he communicates himself as a life: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.’ This is God giving his very self in collaboration with us and so Christ can truly pray to the Father as fully human, while still being divine. This is what St John grasps in that extraordinary opening of his gospel: ‘In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.’ And this is the point that all NT writers grasp in different ways: this is the one through whom God acts, this is the one in whom the Kingdom has arrived and so on. The presence of God that led the people through the wilderness and dwelt in the Temple is now perfectly united with a human nature, finds perfect expression in this life; bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.

This idea of God uniting himself to frail flesh was something that the church took some time to put into words. We are not on lookers at some marvelous acts of God performed through the person of Christ, but rather we are partakers of those divine acts because God became human so that we might become divine. We are all called to join in the work of redemption. This is the work of the Spirit which has been poured into our hearts making us too temples of the divine presence, truly members of Christ’s own body, the church, united to God. ‘The Spirit makes us children’, as St Paul tells us, ‘so that we can cry Abba, Father’. God comes to us not just to lecture us, but to save us, to unite us with himself and make us divine.

From this we can see that God is love, God is personal: Love is not mute but expresses itself in a life; a life which is a mystical union between divinity and humanity in Christ: love invites us, frail creatures of flesh and blood, to join in that mystical union in the Spirit, to enter into the divine life and to be made sharers of that Eternal life of Love.

This is our faith.

AMEN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, highest

 

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