Sermon preached at the Sung Eucharist on Trinity Sunday 2024

God is the great three-one, Maker, Redeemer, Sanctifier.

The Reverend Helena Bickley-Percival Chaplain

Sunday, 26th May 2024 at 11.15 AM

Welcome to Trinity Sunday! We have made it through Lent, Holy Week, Easter Sunday, all forty days of Eastertide, The Ascension, Pentecost last week and now we have the vast green fields of Ordinary time before us, which begins with this great feast of the Holy Trinity. It is a slightly odd feast. It is one of the only feasts in the Church’s year that celebrates a doctrine rather than a person or event, and it’s an old feast – special prayers and services for the Trinity seem to go back to the sixth century, but it was in the fourteenth century that Trinity Sunday settled to where it is now: The first Sunday after Pentecost.

That timing is no accident: The Feast of the Holy Trinity stands as a summation of all that has taken place before it in the Christian year. Through Advent, Christmas, and our more recent feasts of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, we see something of who God is revealed: and that God is the great three-one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Maker, Redeemer, Sanctifier.

To begin at the beginning: The Church year starts on Advent Sunday. Throughout Advent we are preparing for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ – A focus which might seem to exclude a concentration upon the Trinity, but which in fact is profoundly Trinitarian in its unfolding. We are aware during Advent of Mary, extremely pregnant with the second person of the Trinity, but also have hovering how that pregnancy began – the story we hear on the fourth Sunday of Advent.

‘The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.’

Holy Spirit, Most High, Son of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

That’s not the only time in Advent when we are aware of the workings of the Trinity. When Zechariah has the birth of his Son, John the Baptist foretold to him, the angel states that John will be filled with the Holy Spirit. Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and praises God when John the Baptist is born. When Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, and greets her, Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit, and realises who it is who has come to visit her:

‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.’

And then we have the birth of Christ at Christmas. God made man, Jesus Christ present with us, with angels and shepherds and wise men – The Holy Trinity of Crib services! But what does all this tell us about the Holy Trinity we celebrate today?

The Incarnation is an act of love:

‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son.’

As we heard in our Gospel reading this morning. And in that act of love the Trinity reveals itself as loving. St Augustine in De Trinitite defined the Trinity in terms of that love. Father as the Person who loves, The Son as the Person who is Loved, The Spirit as the love itself. But that loving, that relationship, isn’t just off in a bubble somewhere – separate from us and our joys and our woes, but instead is active in the world. Active in the annunciation, in Advent, and in the incarnation. If we look back at those Trinity-filled moments I have mentioned, when the Holy Spirit prompts Zechariah and Elizabeth to speak of the truth they now understand, their words are full of love.

‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel.’

‘Blessed are you among women.’

The Trinity at Christmas reveals itself to be loving – an active love that pours out into the world, such that God gives his only son, and that brings us to Easter. In Holy Week we experience a rollercoaster of events and emotions, from the institution of the Eucharist and washing the disciples’ feet, to arrest, trail, crucifixion and resurrection. We might hear Jesus’s words on the cross

‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’

and wonder where the loving Trinity is in that moment. But, in truth, without the Trinity, Jesus’s death and resurrection would be “just another miracle.” Amazing, to be sure, but without our redemption. Jesus tells Nicodemus:

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’

Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, is sacrificed for our sins.

One way of defining sin is that which separates us from God, and that which separates us from one another. Idolatry, for example, is when we consider something or someone to be more important than God in our lives – making whatever it is a roadblock that stops us from putting God in his place, which should be above all things. Jesus’s perfect sacrifice made once for the sins of the whole world removes all those barriers, so that we can be in the loving relationship with God our creator that we are made to have. Yes, we get it wrong and start building those barriers all over again, but that is why we come here, to say sorry, and to re-enter into that relationship that is always available to us because of the events of Holy Week. At Easter, we see that the Trinity is not only in loving relationship in itself, but it wishes us to be in loving relationship with it in return, and through its working enables us to be drawn to itself.

And so, we finally come to the events of the last couple of weeks – that drawing to itself in Ascension and Pentecost. Jesus warns his disciples more than once that he will have to go away, but in going away his father will send the advocate, the spirit of truth, who will teach us and will testify to us. So far, I have spoken of Jesus primarily as Son of God (which he is and was and ever will be) but part of the joy of the incarnation is that Jesus is also true man, united, but not mixed. Jesus is profoundly both God, and also one of us, made of the same stuff as we are, and that stuff is taken up to heaven with him at the Ascension. Because of this, there is the sure and certain hope that we might be drawn there also, that we too might receive eternal life.

‘For 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.’

Jesus became like us, in order that we might become like him. That it what we are called to, that is what we are drawn toward so that we might come to dwell with the Trinity in eternity. There is a prayer that is sometimes said at the altar when mixing the water and the wine that sums this up very well:

‘By the mystery of this water and this wine, may we come to share with Christ in his divinity, as he humbled himself to share in our humanity.’

But how do we do this? Through the Holy Spirit, poured out at Pentecost, who sanctifies us and works within us to make us more and more like Christ, drawing us into the life of the Trinity. Trinity revealed as loving relationship, that we are called to enter into, and into which we are drawn to dwell in eternal life.

Throughout the Christian year, the Trinity is revealed to us in the working out of our salvation through the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the pouring out of the Spirit upon us at Pentecost. What is revealed is that the Trinity is love: Lover, Beloved and Love itself. That love is not distanced from us, but instead is a relationship that pours out into the world, and which seeks a relationship with us. Not only that, but it actively works to remove those things that might separate us from itself, and draws us to itself, so that we might join with the angels and archangels in their everlasting hymn of praise.

The whole triumphant host
 give thanks to God on high:
Hail, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost',
 they ever cry:
hail, Abram's God and mine!
 (I join the heavenly lays.)
All might and majesty are thine,
 and endless praise.