Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox
In the third year of her widowhood, my maternal grandmother began “keeping company” with a widower gentleman in her town. One evening she went to his house to cook dinner for the two of them, as his housekeeper was away for a family reunion.
Cooking in someone else’s kitchen is always a dangerous proposition, because you never know what you’re going to find. What she found was a whole lot of not much. She reported later that “He didn’t have any onions, he didn’t have any celery, he didn’t have any bell pepper—I couldn’t even get started!”
This was a formidable accusation, as any cook from Louisiana or east Texas will tell you. Equal amounts of chopped onion, celery, and bell pepper form the beginning of many very fine recipes in that part of the world—and in fact, those three ingredients are collectively known as “The Holy Trinity.” Without them, my grandmother could not proceed. Nothing could happen in that kitchen without the Holy Trinity.
To prepare for many guests, you need a lot of it. To feed only a few people, you need less. Sometimes even one onion and one bell pepper would be too much, so you save what is left over for next time. And there will always be a next time, perhaps even the same day. The Holy Trinity is always needed; and the Holy Trinity is always available.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the day the Church recalls and gives thanks for THE Holy Trinity—the doctrinal confession of God as simultaneously One-in-Three and Three-in-One. Much ink has flowed to describe this doctrine; many tears and much blood have been shed in the promotion of (and resistance to) its formularies. (If you want a taste of some of the controversies, look on page 864 of the Prayer Book, where you will find the Athanasian Creed, a substantial—and complex—statement of Trinitarian theology.)
The early church had to wrestle with the question: If God is One, as the faith tradition of Israel confesses, then what do we make of Jesus, crucified and risen from the dead, ascended into heaven, who promised to come again to make all things new? And what of the Spirit of truth, promised by that same Jesus, evident among the followers of Jesus—is this Holy Spirit also part of God’s very self? And how is it so?
It took five hundred years, and a great deal of partisan political wrangling, to come up with a statement that everyone in the Church could sort of agree on. And even now it’s still up for discussion and debate. Even our regularly used faith statements, the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, say somewhat different things about that three-in-one relationship.
But really that’s the main point—that it is a relationship. As fine and well-crafted as our words on the subject may ever be, they are exactly that: our words. We are attempting to describe something beyond words; to say that which is ultimately unsayable, which is Mystery.
Some of the early Christian writers used a wonderful Greek word for this unsayable mystery: perichoresis. From the prefix “peri-”, meaning “nearby, around, in the same vicinity” and “chorein”, from the verb meaning “to move, to make space.” “To make space nearby; to move around in a certain area.” Dwight Zscheile, in his book People of the Way: Renewing Episcopal Identity, defines it as “circulating around the neighborhood.” It’s the word from which we get our English word “carol”, as in Christmas carol. A carol was a dance—the participants stood in a circle holding hands, a soloist would sing the verses alone, and then everyone would sing the chorus together while they danced the steps appointed.
You can’t “go caroling” alone. You have to have others with you. Perichoresis, the motion, the dance of the Holy Trinity, points to the lively relationship, and the constant movement and energy, present in the Godhead, into which we are invited as the people of God. So says St. Paul to the Christians in Rome in the epistle reading; so says Jesus to his friends at the dinner table in the gospel reading this morning.
The Holy Trinity is not something that “happened” long ago in history, or far away in Heaven beyond our reach. The Dance of Trinity is ongoing, and present even here and now. God circulating around, over and under and in and out, moving and grooving, hopping and bopping and reaching out to catch hands with those who stand nearby, to call each of us into the dance as well. To draw us into that lively, energizing, joyous God-life in this place, at this time.
My grandmother died in 2000, five days after I was ordained. About a year later, I had a dream about her. I saw her not as I knew her in life, but a much younger version of herself. She was seated at a table in a large ballroom, wearing a sparkling light blue party dress. Seated next to her was my grandfather, who had died many years before; on her other side was Henry, her “gentleman caller” who was my second grandfather in almost everything but legal fact. The music of Benny Goodman was playing in the background, as they all got up to dance. Sometimes Gram was dancing with my grandfather, while Henry stood by and bounced and clapped along; sometimes she danced with Henry while my grandfather did the bouncing and clapping. Sometimes Henry and my grandfather danced together, while Gram kept the rhythm going.
At the time, I took that dream to be one of reassurance, a word of comfort. “I’m all right, you don’t have to worry about me.” And I think that is still a right meaning, but there’s more to it.
I think that dream was a glimpse into the very life of God which we name as Trinity: the ongoing, active, joyous movement of God-in-Godself that creates and sustains and redeems the entire cosmos, and each of us in it. That reaches out to clasp hands with those who stand nearby, so that we may be drawn into that life and motion. So that we may reach out, to clasp hands with those who stand near, that they too may be drawn into this life and motion, this holy dancing life-giving energy we call the Trinity.
My brothers and sisters, may it be so for us. May it be so among us.
In the name of the Trinity: Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.