The Challenge of Trinity Sunday

2016-05-16 08.15.42

According to Wikipedia, that great source of all church history and theology, the First Sunday after Pentecost has been known as Trinity Sunday since the Pontificate of John the 22nd in the early 14th century, but its roots go all the way back to the Arian Controversy at the turn of the 4th.  You would think that in the course of more than 1600 years, someone might have found some better lessons than those assigned for Trinity Sunday in Year C.  I mean, the day is already rife with difficulty, as anything created in opposition to something else would be, but as a preacher committed to the text and the author of a “blog about the Bible,” the Scriptural basis for Trinity Sunday seems to be woefully lacking.

I’ve not gone back to look at the Propers for Trinity in years A and B, but it is clear that the focus in year C is on the Third Person of the Trinity.  On the back of Pentecost, we’re invited to ponder the Holy Spirit from three distinct angles.  First, the lesson from Proverbs that borders on the Macedonian heresy, invites the preacher to deal with the co-eternal nature of the Trinity that gets priority billing in the Proper Preface for Trinity Sunday.  If the preacher is hesitant to dive headlong into a systematic theology of the Trinity, then perhaps the Gospel lesson, our fifth straight from the Farewell Discourse in John, will prove more fruitful.

Here, in the 16th chapter of John, Jesus is explaining the work of the Holy Spirit to his disciples, all the while realizing that the events of the next 24 hours are going to make most of what he has told them seem moot.  “I have much more to say to you, but right now it would be more than you can understand,” might just the be best word a preacher could say to her congregation on Trinity Sunday.  Embracing the mystery of the Trinity is part and parcel of a faith that is built on mystery: of the Incarnation, of sanctification, and of the real presence in the Eucharist, just to name a few.

If mystery isn’t for you, then you might consider the lesson from Romans 5, which is the most explicitly Trinitarian lesson of the three, but only because it names all three Persons (assuming by God, Paul means the Father), not that their natures or relationship are explained in much depth at all.  Avoiding Modalism will be the challenge here, as the preacher tries to highlight the distinctions of the three Persons, while steering clear of bad analogies like the three phases of water or Saint Patrick’s classic three leaf clover.  No matter what you choose to preach this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, especially in Year C, presents many challenges, but your hard work will be worth it, dear reader, I promise.  My prayers are with you, and I welcome yours with me.

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5 thoughts on “The Challenge of Trinity Sunday

  1. I write this in fear that whatever heresy I am committing will be pointed out to me – but I just focus on the relationship that the Trinity is – the perichoresis – the circle dance that the Cappadocian Fathers talked about. It doesn’t explain the Trinity (I don’t think it can be explained – it is a mystery beyond our explanations) but it does give us a relationship that we can be invited to experience. Prayers for everyone as we tiptoe through this minefield of heresies!!

  2. I’m preaching on the Spirit as experiential. You can “have” a concept of God, you can can also accept Jesus on many levels (teacher, miracle,worker, savior), but the Spirit cannot, and perhaps should not be conceptualized (Lord help the many congregants who will be forced to hear a seminary lecture during sermon time), but lived. My early musings fool me into thinking this will work. At least the same Holy Spirit, through God, and in the name of Jesus Christ, will help deliver something the people need to hear!

  3. thanks Steve, just finished my written sermon. i feel better.

    On Mon, May 16, 2016 at 9:57 AM, Draughting Theology wrote:

    > Steve Pankey posted: ” According to Wikipedia, that great source of all > church history and theology, the First Sunday after Pentecost has been > known as Trinity Sunday since the Pontificate of John the 22nd in the early > 14th century, but its roots go all the way back to the Ar” >

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