Unbearable No Longer

Holy Trinity Sunday C-22

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

In fifth grade, my teacher, Mr. Greiner, was into applied learning.  In one memorable assignment, he taught us to identify plants and insects and to classify rocks and minerals, by assigning each student one square foot of soil in the three-acre wood next to the Cache La Poudre River outside the school. I can still picture my little plot of earth beneath the shade of a large cotton-wood tree beside a narrow irrigation ditch outlined in yellow yarn. I was astonished at the scope and diversity of what I found.  Just twelve inches square, it seemed to include worlds within worlds. How miraculous is the mind of God to be connected and aware of it all?

The memory of that enchanted spring day, 50 years ago, returned to mind while I stood among a flock of Lutherans wearing paper, 3-D glasses, at the Adler Planetarium, in an imaginary spaceship from earth flying through a star map in a computer-generated virtual universe.  Scientists had painstakingly mapped the exact location of each known star relative to every other. It nearly took the wind out of everybody in the room, as we flew, faster and faster, past stars and constellations, and then outside our own galaxy, and then, past galaxy after galaxy, which themselves seemed to out-number the stars.  How wonderful, how terrible is the universe? How small an insignificant is our tiny planet?  How far beyond mysterious is the life and mind of God?

In Christ Jesus, we have seen God’s face.  We have peered into this divine mystery.  The life that is the light of all people shines in the darkness. God, our intimate and constant companion, is at work now and throughout history to pull and cajole everything to live, to live better, and to live well.

Jesus told the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).  We are a community that bears up together when life gets too big.  The intensity of life’s joys would be too much for us if we had no one to share them with.  The depth of our sorrows would overwhelm us if we had no one to listen.  Because we hold together in God, the painful pruning winds of life can strengthen us.  They bear fruits of wisdom, compassion, and understanding.  Even death, our greatest foe cannot defeat us as we take shelter in one another and in God.

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus knew it was not the proper time to talk about all the great things the young church would accomplish after he was gone.  The night before he died, Jesus was going on and on about how he and the Father were one, about how the Advocate, the Holy Spirit would come to be with them and to teach them.  It was all just too much for the disciples to take in.  It was unbearable even.

Jesus was going to the cross yet all that he still had to teach the young Christian community would not die with him but wait to blossom and be born at the proper time through the work of the Holy Spirit. It took hundreds of years for the Christian community to take hold of the weighty realization: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one.  Together, they are One God in three persons we call by the name of Trinity. What might the still-speaking God have yet to teach us through the sustaining power of the Paraclete?

It was our Greek ancestors who first used the term perichoresis to describe the Trinity. Perichoresis can mean ‘to dance.’  Nothing created is a mere spectator of this dance.  The living God flowing from the center of the universe opens a hand now and invites us to join in the dance of all creation.

This name Christians have chosen for God, Trinity, has many implications to for how we live now.  It means, as Wendell Berry observes, in his book, How To Be A Poet, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”  It means the same is true of time — there’s no such thing as wasted time or empty time.  That’s why in her poem Today Mary Oliver can forsake the “voodoos of ambition,” take the day off, “fly low,” and celebrate doing nothing at all.  That’s why “There are no ordinary people” either, as CS Lewis in The Weight of Glory writes, “You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

For too long we have carried on a nearly pointless discussions about the Trinity as if its whole meaning could be reduced to a mathematical formula: 1+1+1 = 1 (not 3).   Then we compounded the error by insisting that acceptance of such bad math is a test of our faith in God –-either believe it or be damned.  Such nonsense has run the church off the road and mired us in the ditch.  We pray for the Spirit’s guidance today to return us to the right road more in the mainstream of early Christian tradition.   By the Holy Trinity we mean to point at much grander, cosmic-sized truths.   We mean to say that the swirl of interplanetary dust and gas at the very depths of the universe and in every square foot of earth reflects the divine character of God.

We baptize in the name of the Trinity. A Trinity-shaped life kindles hope and courage to face the painful pruning winds of daily life.  To unpack the meaning of the Trinity, let us fix our gaze behind the stars. Let us ponder the myriad diversity of life that is all around us.  Let us peer into the universe that lies within each other’s eyes.  Let us consider the miracle and wonder that our own lives are to each of us.  Let us listen to the deafening roar that lies on the other side of silence.  Let us seek the Lord, as the Lord has sought us, through bonds of intimacy, kinship, and love.  Let us clasp hands and hearts in mystic union with all the saints of every time and place and join in the endless dance of Trinity, which began before all worlds were begun, which was revealed in the face of a newborn babe in Bethlehem, which is poured out in, with, under and for you today. You, who are the body of Christ, and food for a hungry world.