|Peter Bruegel, "The Wedding Dance," DIA|
During this season of Epiphany we’ve been reflecting on our “God-Talk.” Even though our words are inadequate to the task, we do speak about God. We use metaphors and analogies and stories to give voice to what lies beyond human understanding. We are like Peter, who came up to Jesus after watching him being transfigured on the mountain and offered to set up tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. He made this offer because “he did not know what to say.”
Can you identify with Peter? Do you find it difficult knowing what to say about God? And yet, we do speak of God. We speak of God the creator, the God who is love, the God who judges, and the God who saves. As Christians we often point to Jesus and say, whoever God is, God is like Jesus!
That is why most Christians use the word Trinity to speak of the God whom we experience in Christ and through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Most of us were baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It doesn’t matter whether you were dunked or sprinkled. It doesn’t matter if this happened in infancy or later in life, most likely the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were spoken over you. We also give praise to God as Trinity when we sing Thomas Ken’s Doxology or the traditional Gloria Patri.
This morning, as we conclude this “Speaking of God” series, I would like for us to consider what it means to speak of God using Trinitarian language. I know that not all of you see yourselves as Trinitarians. I think one of the reasons why people struggle with Trinitarian language is that it seems so abstract, but in recent years theologians have begun to connect the way we speak of the Trinity with its practical implications. Among those implications is that even as God’s nature is relational, and not just relational, but equal and mutual, we who are created in the image of God are created to live in mutual and equal relationships with each other.
One of the most important statements on the Trinity is found in the Nicene Creed, which was developed in the 4th century to resolve a debate about God’s nature. While I grew up reciting that creed, along with the more concise Apostle’s Creed, Disciples rarely if ever recite any creed. We tell ourselves that we’re non-creedal, and therefore we don’t have to take time out to recite something that’s not part of our tradition. But many Christian communities do recite the creeds and they are often used as the basis for ecumenical conversations and agreements.
I was going to have us recite the Apostle’s Creed this morning, since it appears in our hymnal, along with several other faith statements, all of which are Trinitarian in form. But, then I took a look at the Preamble to the Design of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which can also be found in our hymnal. It also takes on a Trinitarian structure. Since we rarely recite this statement of faith that helps define our Disciple identity, I’d like to invite you to turn to page 355 in your hymnal and recite with me the Preamble to the Design.
So what do you think? Did it sound sort of like a creed? If it did, were you comfortable reciting it? Did it help you better connect with what it means to be a Disciple?
As you think about that, I’d like for us to turn our thoughts to our reading from Ephesians 1, which offers us a Trinitarian formula of sorts. This opening paragraph serves as a call to worship, inviting us to bless the name of God, who is the Father of Jesus Christ, because God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. After those blessings are named, we come to a statement about the Holy Spirit, who serves as “the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people.” The grammarians in our midst might notice an abundance of prepositions in this passage, especially the word “in,” which is used multiple times in reference to Christ. It would seem that we are invited to see ourselves living in Christ, and therefore enjoying fellowship with God.
The word Trinity is the name that Christians have used to make sense of our monotheistic inheritance from Judaism, along with our recognition that God is present to us in Christ and through the Holy Spirit. In the fourth century, as Christian leaders wrestled with the question of Jesus’ identity, they came up with a formula to explain how Christians should understand who Jesus is. One of the reasons why they had this conversation is that a priest from Alexandria, Egypt named Arius was teaching that while Jesus was more than a human being, he didn’t think Jesus was equal to God. There was another priest in Alexandria named Athanasius, and he felt that Arius’s God couldn’t save us, because Arius’s understanding of God put a barrier between God and humanity. Athanasius insisted that if we are going to be in relationship with God, there has to be a point of contact. Athanasius believed that since God took on flesh and dwelt among us in the person of Jesus, then we have access to God.
Theologian Catherine LaCugna captures this vision quite well: “He is who and what God is; he is who and what we are to become” (God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, p. 296). In other words, Jesus is the intersection where God and humanity meet, and because of this meeting we experience salvation. We experience reconciliation. We experience redemption. As for the Spirit, the Spirit is the one who seals our inheritance. The Spirit in the ever-present pledge who reminds us that we are ultimately God’s children, chosen “before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.” That is our identity. We are God’s adopted children, and Jesus is the one in whom and through whom God has chosen to adopt us, making us sisters and brothers of Jesus.
When it comes to speaking of how there is can be one God and three persons, theologians turned to a Greek word to explain the connection of the three persons in the Trinity, and that word is perichoresis. This is a great word because it speaks of interrelationship and interdependence. It speaks of community and communion. It speaks of fully sharing in the life of the other.
One way of understanding this relationship is to use the metaphor of a dance – especially a folk dance. While they aren’t directly related, there is a connection between the word perichoresis, and the word choreography. Since this is Valentine’s weekend, what better time than today to think of God in terms of a dance?
Catherine LaCugna puts it this way:
Not through its own merit but through Christ’s election from all eternity (Eph. 1:3-14), humanity has been made a partner in the divine dance. Everything came from God, and everything returns to God through Christ in the Spirit (God for Us, p. 274).
So, let’s envision a folk dance. Think about God as three persons sharing in a dance. They circle each other and they weave in and out. As you watch, you begin to notice a pattern and a rhythm. Maybe you start to clap along as you catch the rhythm, and then the Spirit begins to pull you into the dance. Now, you’re involved. You’re circling and weaving and you find yourself a part of the holy community that is God. This is the circle of redemption.
We often talk about God being in us, but in this metaphor of the dance, we find ourselves in God. And because we are in God, we find that our lives are being transformed. This is salvation. As we live in Christ, our relationship with God takes on a new form, but so does our relationship with our neighbors. Where there has been brokenness, we begin to see wholeness. This invitation to wholeness is mediated to us in Christ, in whom humanity and divinity meet. Yes, this is the circle of redemption and of love – One God, Blessed Trinity.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
February 15, 2015