In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today in the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his followers, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
He’s saying goodbye on the eve of his Passion, aware his disciples aren’t ready to bear the truth of his life. Nor has the Spirit come to help them.
This tells you something true about Christian theology, too: we can only approach it through what we know and who we are. And in our effort to understand anything, we must rely on the Spirit of truth to guide us.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a day when churches often invite seminarians to enter their pulpits. It’s a standard practice: asking the lesser experienced to explain the inexplicable and bear the unbearable so that everyone else can sit back and watch them flail their way toward heresy. The implication is no one really knows what they’re talking about on Trinity Sunday.
In our tradition, Trinity is another name for God. It’s why we began our service today, saying Blessed be God, and followed it up with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the Trinity has always been caught up in quarrels, hammered out in arguments. The danger is mistaking the wordy doctrine for the lived mystery. The Trinity, you see, expresses the actual life of God, a mystery we confess to believe in every Sunday when we recite the Creed.
And yet we know only a little of this mystery. And what little we know, we know by and through the Holy Spirit at work in our lives, inspiring us to return again and again to God our maker, calling us into the communion of Christ – calling not only you and me into its fellowship but the whole of creation.
The point of the Creed isn’t memorization, though. It’s to draw our lives into the triune life of God. It’s not meant to explain everything, as if all you need are definitions to live by. No, it’s meant to draw the whole of your experience into the loving care of God.
In reciting the Creed – in approaching any subject, really – it’s a good practice to remember how little you know. Think here of your own life, how sometimes you’re a mystery even to yourself – and then go ahead and admit how often you’re also a mystery to other people, and they to you.
Thomas Merton once asked, Who am I? and answered, My deepest realization of who I am is that I am one loved by Christ.
Whenever you start wondering who other people are and what they’re about, you’d well to remember how much God loves them. That’s a start.
This year we celebrate the Trinity on Father’s Day. And last year it fell on Memorial Day Weekend. It’s important to remember that every Sunday is the Lord’s Day and every Sunday confesses the mystery of Trinity. Not the usual trinities of Mom, Dad, and me. Or of God, Country, and Family. But the Holy Trinity of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
One possible invitation this morning is to take time to remember the triune mystery of God working in all people, and today to remember especially its presence in the lives of our personal fathers. We cannot say how our fathers came to be ours. We cannot say we know everything about them. We may actually come closer to love by confessing how little we know about them, and by giving them room to be a mystery to us, too.
I have a friend named Lilly who never knew her father and lived with a sense of loss, absence, injury. She’d say, I wish I had known him. You know, really known him.
I used to try to coax her toward peace about that. I’d say, You know, Lilly, even when you have a father that raised you, it’s not like you really know him.
One day Lilly told me a story from her childhood. She was with her mother and grandmother. Her aunts and uncles and cousins, all there. And they were watching old 35-millimeter movies, wordless moving pictures taken before Lilly was born. And at some point, she saw her mother on the screen, back when she was a young woman. She was dancing with a man nobody seemed to know.
Everyone grew quiet, and in the silence unfolding, Lilly heard her mother say, Allen. And her grandmother whisper, Shhh.
Lilly stood up, in front of the screen, and stared into the light of the moving pictures. Her mother later said she could see, projected onto Lilly, her own Wayback Self falling in love, spinning in the arms of Lilly’s father.
It was the first time my friend had ever seen an image of her father. And for Lilly, that moment didn’t lessen the mystery of who he was. It deepened it. It made whatever certainties she’d come to have about his absence more difficult to hold onto.
When you think about it, it’s a form of idolatry to think you can ever know anything or anyone completely. Only God can do that.
Jesus asked his followers to speak of God as Our Father. Most often this comforts us. But God the Father is primarily a mystery that challenges us. A mystery that means to grow us into deeper union with God and with each other. We’re all the mysterious work of God’s mysterious life.
And though we cannot know the fullness of the Trinity, we can approach it in silent adoration. We’d do well to approach God and the whole of creation with more silence and fewer words. Our national quarrels need more of the same: more silence, fewer words.
We rush from one explanation to another, from one argument to another, from one certainty to another. The great Mystery of the Trinity should humble us in our talk of God. It should humble us in all we say about anything or anyone. It should remind us that St. Francis was right to say, Preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.
Daily, if not hourly, we need the cleansing power of confessing how little we know. We need to bathe our hearts and minds in the silence of holy adoration. So, here a few practices the Triune God might well commend to us at the intersection of our holidays and holy days:
Take the time to loosen your certainties about who’s right and who’s wrong.
Surrender your quarrels now and then, and listen to God instead. Hear God say he loves you, loves those who bless you and those who trouble you.
Take time to see every person as a child of God.
Do your best to behold the people you love as little mysteries relying as you do on the eternal Mystery of God.
And, sometime today, do the same for your father: see him as a little mystery relying as you do on the eternal Mystery of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.