Most of the time, we celebrate what God does. Christmas is all about Jesus being born. The Easter season is all about Christ’s resurrection. Pentecost, which we celebrated last week, is all about the coming of the Holy Spirit.
But today is not about anything God does. Today is about who God is. Today we are invited to reflect on how we understand who God is. That matters because our picture of who God is effects our relationship with God.
We all carry an image of God in our heads that we may not have spent a lot of time thinking about, that we may not even agree with in our more reflective moments. I was once startled to realize, in a moment of reflection, that I feared God’s judgment. I didn’t normally think of God as a judge, but it turned out the image of God as judge was more deeply rooted in me than I knew. My relationship with God has improved since that realization because I have been able to address some of my own deep fears and cultivate a more positive relationship with God.
That is what Trinity Sunday is all about: reflecting on our images of God and how they shape our relationship with God.
As Christians, we start with the Trinity, which is a great mystery. We are, after all, talking about the very nature of God! The early Church struggled to come up with language to describe the Trinity that avoids many possible misunderstandings. We are the beneficiaries of their hard work.
It can be pretty technical and a little confusing. But there are a few main points. God is three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The three persons are perfectly united, so that we can describe God as either three or one. Finally, the three persons are perfectly equal in power, dignity, and authority.
That is our baseline. The question is, what do we do with it?
Here is one option, more or less orthodox: God as three persons sitting in splendor side by side on thrones. Theologically speaking, that is a little questionable because it emphasizes God’s threeness at the expense of God’s oneness. But for the moment, don’t worry about that.
If that is our image of God, we can worship God easily enough. It is easy to feel awe when we picture God as a three-part king in a throne room. That is the value of the throne-room image. But it is not easy to think of three persons sitting on thrones as very loving or nurturing. It is not easy to have an intimate, loving relationship with a divine king. We are more likely to admire divine kings from afar.
A second image, one more attractive to me, is God as a pair of friends, or maybe a married couple. In its classic form, theologians talked about the one who loves, the one who is beloved, and the love that unites them. So, in my marriage, I am the lover; Carrie is my beloved; and the love we share is what unites us together as a couple. In the Trinity, God the Father is the lover; God the Son is the beloved; and the Holy Spirit is the love that unites them.
I like this image, and it is thoroughly orthodox. But it doesn’t leave a lot of room for us. I basically didn’t date until Carrie and I got together when I was in my twenties. That meant I spent a lot of time with one or another of my male friends and his girl-friend. When two young people are in love, being the third member of the group isn’t great. If we picture the Trinity as lover, beloved, and love, we might feel left out in a similar kind of way.
My preference is yet another image. I like to think of the three persons of the Trinity as dancing together.
I like a lot about this image.
First, it is fun. That’s important to me. Our relationship with God is not supposed to be grim. Our relationship with God is supposed to fill us joy and love and abundant life. I like to think about God up in heaven, getting down. And for the record, says this Georgia man, I am pretty sure that if God is dancing in heaven, it is to country music.
Now, it will not surprise anyone to hear that I am not a good dancer. But watching good dancers is great. Good dancers move freely as individuals, but each responds to the other, so that they are in constant contact with each other. That works pretty well for the Trinity. The three divine persons act both individually and together. They are three, and they are one. They are equal, and yet they follow each other’s lead.
Best of all, in my view, there is room for us on the divine dance floor.
A few weeks ago I attended a family wedding in North Carolina. The reception had a great band which started playing after we finished eating. There was that awkward moment, when lots of people think about dancing, but nobody wants to be first. Finally, as seems often to happen, the bridesmaids went out in a group.
They were great. They were each doing their own thing and still somehow they were all dancing together. But I am pretty sure those young women started dancing with the assumption and the hope that others would join them. Eventually that is what happened. To their dismay, even Carrie and I got in on it for one dance before leaving the dance floor to the twenty-somethings.
That is how I picture the Trinity. They are the ones out on the dance floor, dancing for all of eternity. And their joy and their love and their sheer exuberance are so great that they just have to share. They want people on the dance floor with them, so they create us to be their dance partners in the divine dance of joy.
We botch it, of course. Sin is our problem. So we stand around the dance floor pretending that nothing much is going on. We certainly are NOT going to set foot on the dance floor.
But God refuses to leave us on the sidelines. Without breaking rhythm, Jesus boogies his way off the dance floor and scoops us up like he is pulling us into a conga line.
We fuss and protest and resist because we know, rightly, that we aren’t good dancers. But God won’t let us be. The dance is happening, and we are created to be part of it.
Thankfully, Jesus teaches us how to dance. The Holy Spirit gets in us like a strong beat. And if we let go just a little bit, the love and joy bubble up in us too, and maybe we bust a little move of our own.
That is my current image of the Trinity: three persons in a divine dance who are all constantly pulling us into the dance with them. I offer that image to you.
But on this Trinity Sunday, the main thing is that you reflect on your own image of God. Who is God to you? And how do you understand your relationship to God?
My prayer is that we can each and all come to know God as God is, and that we can share in God’s love more and more fully. And I pray that in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.