Sermon for Trinity Sunday – May 27, 2018
“And they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come. Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are, and were created.”
THE KINGDOM was being invaded, from the east and from the west. The invaders brought their outer world appearances, ginger hair from the west from over that sea, curly sable hair from across the channel. But they spoke of the same God, and a strange tale they told in common about a man who had been brutally executed. And three days later that man came alive out of the ground. The story was quite true for them, an unshakable belief they all held. The gods of fire, tree and storm were nothing in comparison to their One Almighty God, whose image they were afraid to draw, yet from the ground they’d plucked a leaf of clover, holding it up and telling about a Triune God. Three leaves or One leaf? they would ask. It’s three and it is one, they’d answer themselves, drawing in the air a line around the Shamrock.
The Celts, a race of people out of a mountainous region in central and eastern Europe, had traveled west centuries before, made themselves boats and crossed the English Channel to inhabit the green islands of Britain and Ireland. They had a nature-based religion, feeling that everything held some spirituality, and for them magic and life were intertwined. We call their religion Druidism. They were the people first identifiable as a true civilization on those islands. Later waves of Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Normans and French would overlay these Celtic ancestors, but the Celtic lives on in the culture and language of the Welsh, Cornish and Irish.
There’s stout stuff in the Celts. It is a tradition from Arthurian legend that St. Joseph of Arimathea brought Christianity and the Holy Grail, the Communion Cup of Christ’s Last Supper, to Salisbury near the end of the 1st century. In any case, the Celts were being invaded by an idea, and by the start of the 7th century AD, the land would be claimed for Christianity, its final and most successful missionary in Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury.
Given that name, no doubt, after the more famous and influential 5th century saint, Augustine was the Prior of the same monastery in Rome that his pope, Gregory the Great, had once ruled. Gregory had a passion to bring the faith to the lost people of the Angles, where Anglo-Saxons now ruled since Germanic tribes overran most of Europe, claiming Britain as well, but not Ireland. Gregory sent Augustine with an order to bring the true faith to these fair-haired, blue-eyed people. Augustine took ship to the southern shores of Gaul, today France, and sharing his quest with the French he found the reputation of the Angles to be fierce and savage. He heard so much anti-Celtic and Saxon rhetoric, in fact, that he turned and fled back to Rome, seeking the Pope’s reconsideration of the mission.
Gregory instead gave him letters written to the nobles along his way to assist him, and said, Go! So, Augustine went and crossed the Channel, landing at Kent where the king, Aethelbert, ruled with his wife, Bertha. Augustine gave homage to the king and told him of his mission. When the tale of Christ was told, the king said, “Ah! You’re a Christian! My wife too is Christian.” And it was sealed. Aethelbert and 3,000 of his subjects were Christened the next Christmas Eve, and Augustine was made the first Archbishop in England, making his See in Canterbury. He would later establish two more bishoprics before his death in 604.
As Anglicans, therefore, we trace our official status back through him. And not him alone, but to the tale he told and the truths he was willing to die for. To these Druids, Augustine taught of God as One Supreme Being, who created everything, who was the only God, and who held within Himself Three Divine Persons. It was a mysterious story. Spellbound, the pagans listened and considered this new magic. They had heard similar accounts from the Irish who’d been sending missionaries across the Irish Sea for a century or more, founding monasteries in Scotland and Northern England. Their colorful books of words and illustrations, their skillful handling of Latin, and their weaving of holy truths, with natural features like the clover leaf, entranced the superstitious Angles and led them to Christ.
A kind of Christianity, therefore, was created by the confluence of streams from Irish monks trained by St. Patrick in the 5th century, overlaying their Druidism with divine truths, earlier primitive Christian stories from the first Roman ships, and now this Italian monk bearing gifts and greetings from the legendary kingdom of Rome. In a notable letter by Pope Gregory, Augustine was empowered to allow local customs of worship to remain with these Celtic and Saxon peoples, so long as the truth of Catholic Christianity remained in place. It’s been an Anglican cornerstone since then. We may go our own way within Catholicism. We have done so.
Augustine brought the Trinity to the Celtic tribes and the Angles, teaching them Christ’s final command to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19 He showed them the Baptism of Christ Himself, who rose from the Jordan’s waters as the Spirit descended upon Him, and His Father’s voice spoke out of heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Matt 3:16-17 This Holy Spirit came just as Christ had taught His disciples, upon His request of His Father, the Spirit of Truth who would indwell all believers.
This Triune nature of God was not understood or fully believed by the Jews who had first followed Yahweh, although their literature and divinely ordered scriptures held many clues to His being just so. The very first words of the Hebrew Bible held indications that three Persons were acting in the Creation of the worlds. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The Spirit was hovering over the surface of the waters,” or deep space. God spoke the Word, and John tells us the Word was God. “Let there be light,” and there was light. All things were created by that Word, who took flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory. Gn 1, John 1
While the Bible doesn’t use the word Trinity, it is an expression of the many verses that refer to two or all three of the divine Persons, all holding the same nature and possessing the powers that only God has. All three Persons—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—are cited as being the Creator, all three are unchanging and eternal, all accept worship and all have distinct will. Each of the Three Persons hears prayer, is the Savior of our souls, has the power to resurrect from death. All three are God, are called Mighty, are omnipresent, omnipotent, all knowing; each loves us, gives us life, gives us faith and hope. Each Person is separate and divine. Each is the judge, and each may forgive sins. Each Person is eternal, uncreated, and each lives within faithful people. Each may be called the I AM. They all make us holy. They all know the future, and have fellowship with the other Divine Persons.
And with all these Scriptures that we can cite, it’s still impossible for us to conceive of a Three Person God who is One. It’s hard not to think of Him as three gods. Hard, but not impossible. As a box has three independent dimensions, yet it is one box. There I just described the entire universe with three axes, x, y and z. Three and one. Likewise Time is past, present, and future. Nearly every element comes in gas, liquid and solid states, yet is only one element. Humans, it is said, are composed of body, soul and spirit. And Jesus taught us these mysteries. And He proved it by dying and rising to life again. You can’t argue with the Lord of Life who can do that and promise to do the same for you.
And so we were taught and so we believed. The Trinity is our shorthand for a vast doctrine of faith in a God who embodies love within Himself, each Person for the others. The teaching is more fully stated in the Athanasian Creed, which as Anglicans we recite this Sunday every year on Trinity Sunday at this point in our service. So let us rise with the bulletin inserts in hand, and face the Altar together, saying…
The Athanasian Creed
Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic faith. Which faith, except everyone do keep entire and inviolate, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. Now the Catholic faith is this: that we worship one God in trinity, and Trinity in Unity. Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one Eternal. As also they are not three uncreateds, nor three incomprehensibles; but one Uncreated, and one Incomprehensible.
In like manner the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Ghost almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one Almighty. So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three gods, but one God.
So likewise the Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Ghost is Lord. And yet they are not three lords, but one Lord. For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every person by himself to be God and Lord: So we are forbidden by the Catholic religion to say there are three gods or three lords.
The Father is made of none, neither created, nor begotten. The Son is from the Father alone, not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is from the Father and the Son, not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding. So there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
And in this Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less; but the whole three persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. So that in all things, as is aforesaid, the Unity is to be worshipped in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity. He, therefore, that will be saved, must think of the Trinity.
Furthermore, it is necessary to everlasting salvation that he also believe rightly the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now the right faith is, that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man. He is God of the substance of his Father, begotten before the world; and he is man of the substance of his Mother, born in the world: Perfect God and perfect man; of reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting: Equal to the Father according to his Godhead; and less than the Father according to his manhood. Who, although he be both God and man, yet he is not two, but one Christ: One, not by the conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by the taking of the manhood unto God: One altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person. For as the reasonable soul and the flesh is one man, so God and man is one Christ.
Who suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead. He ascended into heaven; he sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty; whence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies, and shall give an account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully and steadfastly, he cannot be saved.
Glory be to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.