St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
Fr. Charles Everson
June 4, 2023
When I’m talking with seminarians about preaching, I often repeat what a now-retired bishop once told me. A good preacher preaches about two things: Jesus and 10 minutes. The second thing I say is that you can preach one of two things: you can preach one of the biblical texts assigned for the day, or preach the feast. What I mean by that is that there are some seasons and feasts in the church’s calendar that need to be explained, and this is certainly one of them.
Trinity Sunday is sort of a hinge day in the liturgical calendar of the Western Church. The first six months of the church calendar has been action packed: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. We’ve walked with Jesus from his birth to his death, resurrection, and ascension, and last week, we celebrated the gift of the breath of new life breathed by our Lord – the Holy Spirit. Now, as we enter into the long Season after Pentecost, we stand back from all of the action and explore the meaning of the word god itself.
And yet, I doubt many of us will leave church this morning with a better intellectual grasp of the Most Holy Trinity. Those whose academic discipline is theology, no matter how faithful and smart they may be, cannot make the notion of one God in three persons any less mysterious. Just ask any of the many preachers throughout history who have inadvertently committed heresy by using a flawed analogy. For example, water is often used to describe the Trinity in that H2O is still water whether it’s liquid, frozen, or steam. The problem is that it implies that God changes forms or modes depending on the situation, but does not exist as three persons at the same time – a heresy called modalism.
Rather than risk falling into heresy, I’m going to take a tried-and-true approach and talk about the Trinity using a symbol. Last year, I talked about the fleur-de-lys and Mary’s relationship with the three persons of the Trinity, and this year I’m going back to my favorite window in this church: the Scutum fideli, the Shield of the Trinity. You have to stand in the far back corner of the church to see it as it’s way up in the corner on the other side. 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 distinct 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 this 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 hands of a human 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. https://tinyurl.com/2jnz9hsa
 John 3:16.
 Full Homely Divinity.
 2 Cor 3:17-18.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!