Here’s a picture of God that our son drew when he was about 6, I think. It was entirely unsupervised and entirely his own work. As you see, God is very mighty, covered in muscles (those blobs are muscles) with lots of eyes to see everything, and hands and fingers. And he told me that those are step on Gods right-hand-side because God is very tall. We can see what had caught his six-year old imagination.
Today on Trinity Sunday we celebrate the ways in which God is revealed to us, and has been revealed to us, in scripture, as we have heard this morning from St Johns gospel, and from St Paul speaking to the early church in Rome.
Christians believe in God who is revealed to us as in three Persons: as Father, our Creator, as the Son, our Saviour, and as Holy Spirit, the one who gives life.
This belief comes from the teachings of scripture, from the traditions of the church and through our own lives and experience. It is uniquely Christian, Christianity offers a unique understanding of Gods being and activity
And although Tom’s drawing of God makes me smile because it so clearly reflects the perceptions and interests of a six year old boy, of course its impossible for any of us to ever depict or describe God adequately, in images, or in words, we can only ever try to reach out towards God.
Here’s an illumination from a 15c manuscript with familiar imagery. God the Father, an elderly and wise creator, bigger than, Christ the Son who is suffering for us, and the Holy Spirit, hovering as a tiny dove, and all looking down on the world in compassion.
And this offers us truth, but not the whole truth, because of course, God is impossible to depict. God is eternal, uncreated, and not contained in, or constrained by physical bodies. Our words and images are signs, symbols and metaphors reaching out to God reflecting as well as we possibly can, our human understanding of Gods self-revelation.
God is impossible to depict but we’re ingenious. Look at this wonderful medieval attempt at showing God in three persons, the face turning three ways at once. And then there are symbols.
When I was little my Mum had this book, Saints, Signs and Symbols, it intrigued me because it’s like a book of codes, with a shield for each of the apostles, and then lots of saints, each with a symbol of an object or concept, on their shield and then Symbols for God, Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And this is the symbol for the Holy Trinity, and I didn’t know Latin but could work out, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the corners, with God at the centre, and then there are paradoxical truths, which I found very exciting, that Father and Son and Holy Spirit are not ‘non Est’ one another, but all are God. This was a ‘wow’ experience for me, intriguing beyond my comprehension. An invitation to something beyond.
There’s a story from the middle ages about St Augustine when he was working on his book On the Trinity, taking a walk by the sea to meditate on how God could be three Persons yet One. The saint came upon a child who was digging in the sand and he asked the child ‘What are you doing? ‘I’m going to watch the tide come in so it can all pour into this hole.’ ‘But that’s impossible’ said Augustine, ‘The hole is small and the sea is enormous.’ ‘Indeed’ said the child, ‘So how do you think that you will comprehend the endless wonders of the Holy Trinity with your limited human mind.’
In the end, God the Trinity is not a puzzle to solve, but a mystery to worship, a community of love. It is our great privilege to be invited in to greater understanding and deeper experience of the loving community of God. When we come to God in prayer we open ourselves to the creator who comes to be with us in Christ and seeks to dwell within us through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Day by day as we turn to God and receive from God we will be changed. As St Paul writes, ‘Gods love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’
Our calling as Christians is to become more like Christ. As Thomas Merton, said, ‘Christianity is Christ living in me.’ This matters so much.
As you may know I’ve just come back from a visit to Poland, I went with an ecumenical group of Christians of different traditions to learn from Polish Jews about the Holocaust that took place in their country during WW2, when the Nazi regime in occupation pursued its desire to eradicate Jewish people, wipe them out, along with other groups of people. We learnt about this and about the after effects, the absence of Jews, and how Jews and Christians in Poland now are seeking to remember what happened, honour the dead, and build for a better future now.
As we travelled we saw the preserved remains of labour camps and gas chambers, we tried to comprehend the industrialisation of killing, and the scale of evil inhumanity. Our human capacity for evil and for inflicting suffering is profound.
It seems to me, with increasing clarity that for our very survival, we must chose the ways of love, including the costs of love. Love that creates, repairs and builds community, bridges difference and gives hope. God’s love for the world.
This is the point of the church. The church will thrive here and everywhere as we become more Christ-like, more loving, because love is irresistible and people will want to be part of God’s great movement and work of love.
I want to close with a verse of a great hymn by Bishop Timothy Rees:
God is love; let Heaven adore him;
God is love: let earth rejoice;
Let creation sing before him,
And exult him with one voice.
He who laid the earth’s foundation,
He who spread the heavens’ above,
He who breathes through all creation, He is Love, eternal Love.