The Song of Three Young Men


One can quibble with the contents of the Veggie Tales video series.  The theology is, at best, moral therapeutic deism.  The worldview is fairly closed minded.  It might occasionally border on supercessionism.  This is all true, but is also true that some of the songs are downright catchy and that some of the dialogue can be pretty funny.  I don’t make a habit of watching Veggie Tales, but over the years, I’ve seen several episodes, and even own the Jonah movie.  For all of the good and bad, one episode in particular holds a special place in my heart.  “Rack, Shack, and Benny” tells the story of three friends of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar.  It is perhaps most famous for the “Bunny Song.”  I won’t get that stuck in your head, but I will suggest that another apocryphal song does.

In several Greek and Latin versions of the Hebrew Bible, in between Daniel 3:23 and Daniel 3:24, has been inserted a long passage that includes a song, purported to have been sung by Rack, Shack, and Benny.  It is called “The Song of the Three Jews” or, as the Book of Common Prayer calls it, “The Song of Three Young Men.”  On Trinity Sunday, a portion of that song, Benedictus es, Domine, is an optional responsory text.  John Rutter, the king of modern Anglican music, whose catalog made an appearance at both the Royal Wedding and my daughter’s dance recital on Sunday, set it to music, which can be found at S236 in the Hymnal 1982, and should be sung in every Episcopal congregation this week.

The canticle is appropriate for Trinity Sunday because it makes a passing reference to the Trinity (though that’s really just an appended doxology), but what makes me so bold as to suggest it should be sung everywhere this week is the clarity with which it handles the glory of God.  Trinity Sunday reminds us, preachers especially, that God is totally beyond our comprehension.  God is the creator of all things, the redeemer of our sinful lot, and the one who lifts us toward sanctification.  God is present in all things everywhere.  God’s throne is so large that earth is its footstool and yet God is so present as to be a still, small voice.  Because of how great God is, when we try to explain God with certainty, we fall into trouble, and so, the Benedictus es, Domine, helps to remind me that when words fail, praise can take over.

Trinity Sunday shouldn’t be about explaining the triune nature of the Godhead.  Instead, the telos of Trinity Sunday should be awe, wonder, and praise.  To my mind, there is no better form of praise than the note found at the 1:14-5 mark of the video above.  This week, dear reader, don’t get lost in the details of the Trinity, but rather, rejoice and praise.

Grace. Love. Communion.

As I suggested in yesterday’s post, the Lectionary texts for Trinity Sunday aren’t exactly rich and/or full.  I’m a fan of the Genesis text for the reasons I explained, but it must also be noted that the Epistle and Gospel lesson are really, really short.  Thankfully, I’m taking a class here at Sewanee in which the professors are suggesting that the texts take a back seat on feast days like Trinity Sunday, and that the preacher should instead focus on a (notice that this means one) theological theme that the feast day raises and then see how the Biblical texts might inform that conversation.

For example, on Trinity Sunday, a theme might be: “How Christians engage with the Trinity.”  Plenty of examples of parachoresis exist, and I’ll let someone else do the liturgical dance number for that.  Instead, I’d jump to the lesson from 2nd Corinthians and explore how Paul’s closing words to the conflict-ridden Church in Corinth help us understand the role of the Trinity in community.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Through the Second Person of the Trinity, we receive the unmerited favor of God.  By grace, we are restored into full communion with the Trinity and invited to take our place in the work of restoring creation to the fullness of God’s dream for it.  Through the First Person of the Trinity, we learn about love: perfect and unconditional love that gives of itself fully for the other; love that is so overwhelming that it flows forth and creates new things to love.  Through the Third Person of the Trinity, we receive admittance into the Communion of Saints, we take our place in the Church throughout all ages, and seek unity with the faithful in every generation.

Obviously, this is a work in progress, but hopefully you get the idea.  This Trinity Sunday, perhaps we should ask our people, “How do you engage the Trinity?”  I’m guessing we’ll be surprised by their answers.

The Challenge of Trinity Sunday

Today marks the opening day of the Advanced Degrees Program at The School of Theology at Sewanee: The University of the South.  Classes run for three weeks on a  variety of topics, of which I’ll be taking two: “Ordination and the Eucharist” and “Preaching the Feasts.”  What that means for you is that you’ll probably be stuck reading blog posts that feature themes I’m learning about in my classes: It is the nature of the beast, I’m afraid.  Today, I’ll spare you my course work and instead highlight that the ADP schedule for both 2014 and 2015 are set up perfectly for me because the first weekend both years is Trinity Sunday, and I hate preaching Trinity Sunday.  Inevitably, I turn my sermon prep into the research for a theological treatise on the nature of the Trinity and then scrap it all because nobody wants to hear 45 minutes on the Trinity from the pulpit.  Of course, the problem with going the other way is that the preacher will usually end up in heresy.

The fact of the matter is that Trinity Sunday is hard to preach, but thankfully there are some great texts to preach from in Year A.  I’ll get to Matthew’s “but some doubted” later in the week, and instead focus my attention on trying to convince you to preach from Genesis this Sunday.

I think that exploring the Trinity in the context of the Creation Story is the most fun you can have on Trinity Sunday, Year A.  The role of God, the Word, and the Wind both before and during Creation make for an interesting study in how we relate to the Trinity to this day.  Do you find your relationship with God more through the Creator, the Creating, or the … (see the above video for various heretical ways to finish this statement).  What I’m getting at is that the Trinity has its thumbprint on creation itself, and the Genesis story invites us to take some time to carefully consider this fact.

In reality, however, you should watch Rob Bell’s video Everything is Spiritual and then preach Genesis 1 saying “hovu vah tovu” as often as possible.