May 30, 2021
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
The Rev’d Charles Everson
Happy feast day to you! The feast of the Holy Trinity is the only feast in the church year dedicated to a doctrine, rather than a saint or an event in Jesus’s life. Today’s feast has roots in the fourth century when one of the earliest heresies surrounding the nature of Jesus Christ’s relationship with the Father – Arianiam – became rampant. Arius and his followers believed that the Son of God was created by the Father and was therefore neither coeternal nor of one substance with the Father. Out of that controversy, the Church prepared a suitable version of the Daily Office to be prayed in honor of the Trinity. This Office was often used on the Sunday after Pentecost (this Sunday), and like much of the liturgy we celebrate today, continued to develop over the centuries. On this day in 1162, Thomas Becket was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, and his first act was to order that this day should be celebrated as Trinity Sunday throughout all of England. The observance spread rapidly throughout Western Europe until finally, in the 14th century, Pope John XXII declared that the Feast of the Holy Trinity be celebrated on this day throughout the entire Church.
While I thought briefly about explaining the doctrine of the Holy Trinity in great detail, I decided it might be easier to avoid heresy by defaulting to a symbol right here in our church that never seems to lose its flavor. There is a window just above the narthex doors, and you have to stand over here to see it. It’s much easier to see now that the old air conditioning unit in front of it has been removed. You can see a copy of it on the front of your service leaflet.
The Shield of the Trinity shows us that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all fully God by linking each of the outer circles – Pater, Filius, Spiritus Sanctus – to the center circle, Deus – “God” with the three connecting lines in which is written “est” meaning “IS”. Hence, the Father IS fully God, the Son IS fully God and the Holy Spirit IS fully God. The outer lines connecting the Three have written in them “non est” – “IS NOT”. Hence, the Father IS NOT the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son IS NOT the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit IS NOT the Father or the Son. Each Person in the Godhead is each fully and completely God, one not more so than the other. But they are also distinctly unique from one another.
This image shows us that the Trinity is all about relationship. God the Father is with the Son who is with the Spirit who is with the Father, self-communicating, self-giving, self-receiving. When we profess belief in the Trinity, we affirm that it is of the essence of God to be in relationship. Not only a relationship, but many relationships, beginning with the communion of the three Persons within the Godhead, and expanding to the relationship between God and all of creation.
How does this beautiful connectedness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit manifest itself to us? St. John says in chapter 3 of his gospel, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” The Son of God was eternally begotten of the Father and made incarnate by the Holy Spirit because of love. The loving relationship that exists between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit isn’t meant to be merely observed from afar, the way we gaze upon a beautiful stained-glass window. The perfect state of loving communion between the three Persons of the Godhead is made known to you and me in the person of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. To use traditional theological language, God is not only transcendent, but also imminent. The God that St. Athanasius called “incomprehensible” in his creed wants to be intimately involved in our everyday lives.
On Trinity Sunday, we aren’t just grappling with an abstract, theological idea. Rather, we are celebrating the relationship of self-sacrificial love that begins with the perfect communion of the three Persons within the Godhead, and expands to the relationship between God and humankind both in and beyond time.
In a moment, we will go unto the altar of God. The altar where God the Father communicates his love to us by giving us the precious gift of his Son by the power of the Holy Spirit via the recently anointed hands of a new priest. We are invited to bring ourselves, our souls and bodies, just as we are, to intimately encounter the God of the universe in a moment when we are somehow transported outside of time into God’s wider existence. As we kneel at the rail and receive the Almighty into our very selves, something happens. You’ve heard the expression, “You are what you eat.” The more and more we encounter God’s grace, the more and more we are transformed into the image of the One who created us…the One who humbled himself to share in our humanity, that we might come to share in His Divinity. St. Paul says, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Despite the fact that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is difficult if not impossible to comprehend, on this great feast, in the words of the opening prayer, we “acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty…[we] worship the Unity.” The mystery of exactly what happens to the bread and wine at communion, and how it happens, is as much an inexplicable mystery as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and yet, it is perhaps at the rail as we intimately receive the body and blood of our Lord that the mystery makes the most sense. Amen.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 47.
 Full Homely Divinity. http://fullhomelydivinity.org/articles/Trinity.htm
 John 3:16.
 Full Homely Divinity.
 2 Cor 3:17-18.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!