Trinity Sunday 2013: Reflection

Explaining the elephant

6 people visited a zoo. They’d been told about elephants. The explanations confused them. They needed to experience an elephant. As they were blind, they used their hands to feel the elephant.

“Elephant is like a wall” said the one stroking the elephant’s side.

“No, elephant isn’t like a wall, elephant is like a rope”, said the one clutching the tail.

“A rope? No, elephant is like a sheet” said the 3rd, holding the ear.

“Elephant is like a soft, thick hose” said the 4th, grasping the trunk.

No, elephant is like a tree” said the 5th, his arms wrapped around a leg.

“Elephant is definitely like a solid pipe,” said the 6th, holding a tusk.

What's an elephant story got to do with Trinity Sunday?

Well, sometimes preachers try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity. After all this is the only special Sunday in the year when the focus is on a doctrine rather than an event. I'm relieved not to be preaching today. The problem with explaining the doctrine of the Trinity is that we start to think we can explain God. Just as there really is such a mammal as an elephant and it is not an invention of the human mind, so God is not a construction of the human mind, though some people think so. There really is God, but our understanding of God is limited. Teaching about the Trinity describes what Christians believe about God. We believe in one God who is creator, redeemer and life-giver.

God beyond, beside and within

You won’t find the word Trinity in the Bible, but the concept is Biblical. The doctrine is about how we may experience God. It’s a way to say: God is beyond us – Creator of all; God is beside us in Jesus - fully God and fully human; God is within us as Holy Spirit. These 3 persons of one God are a relationship of love at the heart of everything.

Oneness in Community

And we’re invited to share in that harmonious community. God is bigger, much more wonderful than we know. Andrej Rublev's famous icon of the 3 angels who visited Abraham is often interpreted as being about the Holy Trinity. 

There is space for a 4th person at the table, for you or I as we are drawn into the relationship around the table. You can read an interesting reflection on this icon here. 

You can’t explain Trinity.

Any analogy has flaws as the video clip in 'Preaching on Trinity Sunday' shows. Faith not like a theological puzzle to be solved. It is more like a love affair than believing facts or understanding doctrines. I’m not saying facts like Jesus’ death and resurrection don’t matter. They do. I’m saying faith is like when people fall in love and commit to each other before they know everything to be known or understand about that person. So, we can be drawn into relationship with God and struggle later with explanations.

Another Picture

An early church father, Iranaeus meditated on Jesus' parable of the Prodigal son and the two hands of the father in that story. His thoughts were that one visible hand welcoming is like Jesus the Son, sent down to lift us up. The other hand, unseen behind the sinner’s back, drawing him back to family, is the Spirit. The Father breathes out the gift of his Son to us, then draws us into the lungs of divine life in the returning Spirit.

Trying to pour the sea into a small hole

Once upon a time - many times, the world over, a child dug a hole in a beach. She went to the sea, brought back water in a bucket to fill the hole. The water disappeared. She went back for more, then more. The same thing happened. The child began to cry. But the tide was coming in, so her father helped her dig a channel to the sea. The seawater  then flowed into the hole and filled it.

We may get tired filling our minds with theories about God. We may talk too much, read or write too much. Trying to understand theology is like digging the hole, filling the bucket over and over again. Meanwhile God in love comes to us. Trying to understand the Trinity is like trying to pour the sea into a small hole. But praise God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that God the Holy Trinity understands and loves me - and you.


2 recent posts by others on this subject are well worth reading:

  • Trinity Sunday 2013 by Digitalnun on the iBenedictines' blog calls for reverence and silence rather than words on this day.


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