Trinity Sunday Sermon

This week we continued to witness more damaging facts emerging from the public hearing regarding the Royal Mail Horizon scandal. Ex CEO Paula Vennells not only struggled to explain how under her leadership over 900 postmasters were wrongly persecuted, hundreds convicted and many driven into a desperate breakdown of their lives. Mrs Vennells also tried to squarely put the blame for any wrongful persecutions on her then team of executives, claiming she had been misled by her colleagues. Until the emergence of the Horizon scandal, Mrs Vennells was considered to be an exemplary member of society and she was of course also an ordained minister in the Church of England.

Let us generously assume that people going through the trouble of training for ordination care about doing the right thing. At least to the extent where they are not actively contributing to one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in this country. So how is it possible that a “good person” ends up doing so much wrong?

Mrs Vennells’ case provides a range of reasons and incentives that might serve as explanations: status, reputation, financial incentives and power combine to form a potent mix. Admitting that the Horizon IT system implementation had gone wrong would have put Mrs Vennells’ CEO ship in question, would have left a dark mark on her track record and would have taken away all those good things and privileges she was enjoying. Perhaps most importantly it would have required her to abandon the image she had made of herself as a competent and conscientious leader of large organisations. In short, an identity crisis of the most fundamental kind. Let me be clear: I am not trying to find excuses for her actions and terrible wrongdoings.

What Mrs Vennells’ case provides, however, is a powerful illustration of how sin is always with us. I am convinced that each and all of us are capable of monstrous mistakes, veritable sins. Very often, as the saying goes, it is precisely our good intentions that lead us astray.

We are all in need of being redeemed, being kept and protected from temptation, in need of being forgiven. We are of all in need of salvation.

Trinity Sunday is all about salvation. It took the early Christian community hundreds of years and an array of amazingly creative thinkers to find ways of expressing the Trinity in words. Many new words like substantia, perichoresis, oiconomia, and immanence were invented or repurposed to do the mind-bending concept of the Trinity justice. The reward and promise for a full and earnest engagement with with the concept of the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is a glimpse of the salvation reality that is shining from the Godhead in the brightest colours.

Christianity comes into existence at the very moment God the Son dies on the Cross. At this precise moment two things happen for all believers plain to see:

  1. God the Son hangs on the cross separated from God the Father
  2. Jesus Christ has given his life for us

From this moment on those who saw and believed could not go back from the realisation that God was revealed to us in his Son, but that at the same time, God the Father did not die on that cross. The Godhead, the disciples realised, consisted of at least the Father and the Son.

We celebrated Pentecost last Sunday and I referenced Luther’s theology of the cross as a guide to understanding how dependent we are on the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to understand our experiences.

It is in the moment of Jesus’ death that the Holy Spirit works with truly divine power. The Holy Spirit enables the continuation of the Godhead despite Christ’s death on the cross; as Jesus explains to his disciples: the moment Christ departs the Comforter is present. We cannot make sense of Christ’ death until the risen Christ stands before his disciples and points to the Holy Spirit as the companion who will be at our side.

Salvation can only be where God is. Salvation is never in the absence of God. The moment on the cross when Jesus cries out “My God why have you forsaken me?” Can only be the moment of realised salvation if God is actually present. God’s presence as the trinity is given, because the companion, the Holy Spirit is with Jesus and the disciples at that very moment. The Holy Spirit is the companion whose presence assures us of the unbroken bond with God, a bond the torturers had no power to alter.

At the same time, Jesus’ dying for us is a supreme expression of his love for us and of his ministry of love – “Lord forgive them for they know not what they do”. The essence of the Trinity is lived out to the full by Jesus on the cross.

So does the Trinity only come into being in the moment of Christ’s death on the cross? Often our liturgy and certain strands of Christian theology seem to suggest this. Jesus’ existence and purpose seem to be limited to delivering the salvation moment.

We see him in the Gospel account but for a short period of time and on the cross only for those torturous hours of unfathomable suffering. Yet the gospel tells us that Jesus, the logos, was in the beginning, before the foundation of the world. Jesus is, like all the Trinity that which only God can be: the majestic “I am” life and existence outside of all time, eternal God.

The American theologian Catherine LaCugna, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, Paris in the 80s and 90s, argues that speculations about the inner workings of the Trinity are misleading. Instead, she proposes that our God is a God seeking relationship with us such that he not only reveals himself in his only Son, but also invests himself through the death on the cross in this relationship with us. From this revealed understanding of God we can trust in the Trinity being consistent with the revelation we perceive – God’s love revealed in Christ’s life and ministry is an outward expression of the Trinity’s inner essence. God is relationship; or if we want to use a stronger and more beautiful word: God is love. The Trinity is no theological brainchild nor conceptual challenge; instead it is the very expression of who God is.

God’s nature becomes revealed in the unconditional love of God the Son for each and all of us. The love of God overcomes death, betrayal, abandonment, lies, and torture. The moment of complete self-offering of Jesus is also the moment when the Spirit in his companionship is closest to us. The moment Christ is revealed, the Trinity is revealed with him because each member of the Trinity is in unity with each member of the Trinity.

Father, Son and Spirit are in unity with each other. The cross reveals how this unity is stretched to the point of causing Christ’s suffering in order to bring us, all of us sinners, into this unity with God. It is a divine pushing of the envelop to ensure that no-one, not a single one of us is left behind.

Think of that when you take communion in a few moments, move those words in your heart like Mary did the words of the angel announcing her being pregnant with Christ. The words we say before we eat Holy Communion: “we are one body because we all share in one bread”. That short sentence gives us the fulness of the Trinity – unity with God by the grace and love of the God which embraces us in remembrance of the salvation moment of the cross while we partake in the divine through Christ’s mystical body.

Holy Communion is our acceptance of the glorious expression of welcome God extends to us –welcoming us into the Trinity of our loving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.