This Sunday is Trinity Sunday on the Christian calendar, the only feast day in the liturgical year devoted to a doctrine of the Church. Many on this day will be tempted to dust off the clumsy analogies: The Trinity is like a three-leaf clover. The Trinity is like the three phases of water—liquid, solid, steam.
No wonder people in the pews often rebel against doctrinal sermons.
But the problem, of course, is not with doctrine. The problem is that many Christians consider doctrine (whether we’re talking about the Trinity or salvation or the nature of the Church) as something extraneous to the Christian life—something for the scholars and theologians to argue about; something to be tolerated, as in the case of Trinity Sunday, in a tedious sermon once year on the Sunday after Pentecost.
Christian doctrine—conventional wisdom assumes—is inscrutable and irrelevant. What people crave are principles to live by, “values” to give their lives purpose and meaning. “Give us experience, not doctrine!”, many church-goers seem to say.
The doctrine of the Trinity is foundational for Christian discipleship and for the ongoing shaping of Christian community. And yet our grasp of this doctrine is not merely a mental operation by which we give intellectual assent to the historic claim that God exists as one ousia and three hypostases. The truth of this doctrine is not available to us outside of our own participation in forms of life that bear witness to God as triune.
Earlier this week I attended a seminar on immigration sponsored by the North Carolina Council of Churches. The title of this event was “From Hostility to Hospitality:
Immigration and People of Faith.” In listening to several presentations, I thought about hospitality in relation to immigrants in relation to the Trinity.
In Rublev’s famous icon we are invited to “see through” the art itself (something every icon asks us to do) and to recognize that the divine life is one of eternal communion in which we are invited to dwell.
Hospitality is the nature of God’s triunity and is the call of the Church in the world.
Indeed, it is the work of God as Trinity to make icons of us—to conform us to the image of the crucified and risen Jesus (image= eikon).
It is Jesus the Son, our hospitable host, who, through the will of the Father and the power of the Spirit, meets us at the table and transforms us into icons of Trinitarian hospitality in and for the world. When we offer such welcome to others—to immigrants, beggars, strangers of all kinds, we “entertain angels unaware” and we practice the Holy Trinity.
So no clover this year, please.
(Originally Friday, May 16, 2008)