One/three/seven billion

The readings for Trinity Sunday include Isaiah’s vision and call, the Spirit of adoption, and Nicodemus’ night visit to Jesus

The doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery, and in my oh-so-humble opinion, it should remain that way. It is part of our revelation as Christians, as witnesses to the godhood of Jesus, that the One, Indivisible, Eternal, and Only God comes in more than one shape, form, or person. How that gets worked out within the Godhead, within the divine economy, or the eternal dance, or the Holy Trinity, however you want to attempt to describe it – well, we can scratch at it and dissect it and reverse engineer it as a doctrine, but God knows what it all means, and for us, the more important question is, What does it matter?

What difference does it make in our lives that we worship a God whom we call Trinity, whom we call Unity, who comes to us in the person of Jesus, in the Spirit of the living God, in the name of our Father?

It matters because we are created in the image of that God. Everything we are and everything we are called to be, and to do, mirrors in some way that divine mystery of the Trinity.

It means that we are created by a God who does not rule alone like an egotistical despot removed from all reason but his own, but by a God who recognizes that the first need for life is love.

When Isaiah beheld the glory of God, he was terrified. “How will I live?” he asked. But God touched him on the lips, with a live, burning coal as unconsumed as the burning bush which faced down Moses. God touched Isaiah on the lips, speaking, “Peace, child. I’ve got this. I’ve got you.”

The terrifying, seraphim-defying, smoky and smouldering glory of God was tempered by the touch of tenderness, and of encouragement.

“Now, who will go for me?” asked God, and Isaiah, strengthened and emboldened by God’s love, which translated God’s glory into something he could work with; Isaiah said, “Send me.”

It matters because we may recognize the authority that comes from God when it power is tempered with compassion, and authority serves those who are under it, when status is not wielded for its own purposes, but in order to empower and embolden those in need of encouragement to find their own way, their own status as God’s children, God’s prophets, God’s beloved.

“It is not good for the human to exist alone,” says the God who has never known loneliness, and dreads it for God’s children. It matters that we know a God who will not allow for isolation, or desolation, who does not disown God’s children, but who sets out time and again, through the prophets, through the wilderness, through the sacraments, through the Spirit to remind us that we are not only created in God’s image, but that God has committed Godself to us, irrevocably, unbreakably. We are not alone. We always have someone to whom we can turn, who will listen, who will love us unconditionally. And that is very good news.

The Trinity matters because we are named for a God who knows how to wield humility. In the person of Jesus Christ, God made the ultimate sacrifice, to live for us, to live among us, with us, enduring the best and the worst of what the world has to offer us, faithful to us through death and beyond.

The Trinity matters because, when Nicodemus met Jesus that night after dark, Nicodemus did not meet one-third of God. In the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, through the mysterious mathematics of the Trinity, Nicodemus met the entire Wisdom of God in human form that night, and was schooled in the ways of the Spirit and in the mysteries of our spirituality, by the God who came not in clouds of glory to be worshipped, but clothed in flesh and girded to serve God’s own servants.

Each of these encounters: Isaiah’s experience in the house, the Spirit of God whispering through our prayers, Nicodemus seeking out Christ by night; in each of these God was fully present. Not one-third of a God, but the full and sufficient glory, mercy, and love of God; God’s wisdom, compassion, and grace, and yes, God’s judgment. Nothing was missing.

So it is that when we encounter a person, a living human being, we do not see one-seven-billionth of the image of God, but the complete, sufficient, somewhat tarnished and dented perhaps, but faithfully rendered image of God, not divided and diluted between individuals, but fully present in every person that we meet.

The Trinity matters because it not only inspires our worship of God, but it informs how we see one another; how much value we place on the least significant individual in our lives; how much grace, and how much praise, and how much encouragement we are prepared to spend upon the 7.6 billionth person in the world’s pecking order, compared to simply the billionth.

When we encounter the Spirit of God, in our prayers, on public transport, in the hymns of praise and procreation sung aloud by the birds – we know the whole of God’s love for us.

When we encounter the glory of God, in worship, in terror, in turmoil – we know the whole of God’s tenderness towards us, raising us back to our feet.

When we encounter Jesus, in the sacraments, in the songs of children, in the old stories – we know the lengths to which God will extend Godself in order to reach us.

The more we enter into the mystery which multiplies grace without dividing it, and

diffuses love without diluting it, the closer we come not to understanding, but to accepting and rejoicing in the manifold mercies and magnificent, mysterious love that is our gift from God.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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