In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Talking about the Trinity is a little like traveling to space: there are a lot of unknowns; it’s distant and mysterious; and there are probably a bunch of black holes into which you might disappear if you’re not careful. Talking about the Trinity is a little like that, particularly in light of the rest of the Church Year. The rest of the Church Year, we are down in the dust and dirt of creation; down in the realities of actual people and their lives. Jesus’ birth is a real human birth, like any other. Jesus’ death is an actual death. The nails actually pierce flesh; the thorns draw blood, like the whip; He really does breathe His last and die. When He is raised from the dead, it is a real—though glorified—body. When He sends the Spirit, the Apostles do not go looking for some vaguely defined Presence; the Spirit comes to them and makes them bold to speak the Gospel, not in some spiritual language, but in the real human languages of the people who hear them.
And then we come to Trinity Sunday and, all of a sudden, we’re yanked out of reality and set adrift in space. All of a sudden we’re lost in abstractions, symbols, and analogies. We’re not dealing with flesh-and-blood reality anymore, so we feel the need to bring the Trinity out of heaven and down to earth. We feel the need to explain, to make it understandable, particularly to children. So we try to figure out what the Trinity is like so that we can explain it better. But here’s a little dare for you: see if you can find a single place in the Scriptures where God is discussed apart from what He has done. I’m not ruling it out, but I’m skeptical. See if you can find a single Scripture where someone talks about what God is like, or His characteristics, or His attributes, without talking about what God has done in real space and time. Certainly Isaiah doesn’t have that problem. Isaiah 6 is not an academic exercise; Isaiah is not “doing theology”; theology is happening to him. Isaiah doesn’t ascend to heaven to see God and figure out what He’s like. God throws back the veil between heaven and earth, and Isaiah discovers heaven is not a distant place, but wherever God is. And God is exactly where He said He would be: where His Name is, in the Temple. The earth is, in a very real sense, God’s footstool. The hem of His robe fills the Temple, and He’s right there. The throne of God is right there, and the angels are right there. There they are, singing their eternal song: Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh of the heavenly armies; the whole earth is full of His glory! It was always true, but Isaiah never saw it.
The whole earth is full of God’s glory, but it is unseen. And notice that it is not exactly good news that God is everywhere. Isaiah certainly doesn’t think it’s good news. He thinks He’s dead. Woe is me! I am undone; I am destroyed! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips, and I have seen Yahweh, the King! Isaiah knows what God said to Moses: No one can see My face—My full glory—and live. And so Isaiah expects to die because of what he has seen. But God has not met him to consume him or to kill him, but to cleanse him. He sends an angel, a messenger, a six-winged seraph, with a burning coal from the altar of God. The angel carries it with tongs, and touches Isaiah’s unclean lips, and the angel speaks to him: Look, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for. Although he should be consumed, he is cleansed.
Isaiah and we are not lost in space, trying to figure out what God is like. That’s what our sinful nature always wants to do: speculate about God as He is in Himself, and then we say what He is doing or must be doing. That’s exactly backwards. We do not find out what God is like and then say what He is doing. God acts first and then we find out what He’s like. And the way that He has acted reveals the Trinity—not as an abstraction, but as the God who saves us. Only because the Son became a Man, and some denied that the Son was eternally God, did people began to talk about the Trinity. Only because people denied that the Spirit was God did the fullness of the Apostolic, Nicene, Athanasian Faith come to be confessed. Although it can seem to us that the Creeds are dry and uninteresting, that is only because we have lost the drama of the fight for the Scriptural Faith. I promise you that those who first confessed those creeds spoke and held them as a matter of life and death. Had God acted in these ways or not? Had God—Father, Son, and Spirit—saved us, or not? Were they baptized into the Name of the one God, or into the Name of God and two of His creatures? No, Trinity Sunday is as much a matter of concrete, physical action in this creation as any other time of the Church Year.
It means that the fear of Isaiah at the consuming fire of the living God is joined together with the salvation for which the pilgrims on Palm Sunday longed. The Holy, Holy, Holy that we sing every time we gather around this altar is the song of the angels, and it means that heaven and earth are joined together in Christ. He is the Head of the Church and He fills all things. It is Jesus, the Holy Son of God who comes in the Name of the Holy Father, wrapped up in flesh. And it is the Holy Spirit who brings us to such faith, reconciling us through Christ to the Father. As far as we are concerned, there is nothing abstract about the Trinity because there is nothing abstract about our salvation. We do not know the Trinity by speculation or analogy or symbol. We know our God only by the unanimous action of the Father and the Son and the Spirit to save you and all creation. That is the same God who puts His Name on you, and it is only that God who can be worshiped with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Holy, Holy, Holy. Hosanna. Blessed is He.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/30/15