Today is, as you will have gathered, Trinity Sunday. It's a sort of last hurrah between the end of the special seasons, which came to their climax last week at Pentecost, and the endless weeks of Ordinary Time that will run between now and Advent, way off at the end of November.
So we had Advent last year, then Christmas, then Epiphany, and then a few weeks of Ordinary Time as Easter was due to be late, then Lent, then Easter, and recently Ascension and then last weekend Pentecost. And now Trinity Sunday. All the other special seasons are either about, or preparing for, significant events in Jesus' life, but Trinity is a bit different.
The concept of the Trinity isn't really found in the Bible – the bit about doing things in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is as near as it gets. It's really the early church's efforts to put things into words that don't really go. They knew, as we know, that the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father or the Son. But the Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God. And yet we don't have three Gods, we only have one God.
That's basically what it's about, but it's very confusing. And the trouble is, most illustrations simply don't give you more than a tiny glimpse of it, if that. You can, for instance, say think of three tins of soup – maybe you have lentil soup, mushroom soup and chicken soup, which are all different but all soup. But that doesn't really help, as soup is soup, and whatever flavour you drink. Some people like to think of an egg – the yolk, the white and the shell. Or an apple – the core, the flesh and the skin.
My own preferred illustration is of water, ice and steam – all H2O but very different from each other and used for different purposes. Water is not ice, and water is not steam; ice is not water, and ice is not steam; steam is not water and steam is not ice. But water is H2O, ice is H2O and steam is H2O. Water is about drinking and washing; ice is about skating and cooling injuries. Oh, and cooling drinks, too, of course. And steam is about clearing your head when you have a cold, and showing you that the kettle is boiling.... So it is quite a good illustration.
But even that is merely a tiny glimpse of what the Trinity is all about. Maybe we shouldn't even try to explain the Trinity – it's what's called a mystery, meaning that while we can get a good working image of what it's all about, we know that it isn't more than an image and our conception may well change over time. We'll never know exactly what it's all about, because we are not God!
But, as St Paul points out, we can think of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit! That makes it easier, I think. We might not understand how we can have three Persons, as the technical term has it, in one God, but we can understand a little about the Grace. We will close this service, as we close so many services, by wishing one another God's grace in these very words.
I wonder, then, what we are actually wishing each other. Again, when you start to unpack it, it isn't as easy as it looks. After all, what, exactly, does “Grace” mean? We think we know – we have a working model of it – but again, it's one of those concepts that really doesn't go into words, as so many of the things of God don't. Oh, we say glibly that it's “God's riches at Christ's expense”, and of course that is very much part of it, but it's only part of it. Grace is about all that Christ gives to us in the package we call “salvation”. We can't earn grace, we can only accept it as a freebie. It is everything that Christ poured out for us on the Cross. And it is that that we pray for one another!
And then Love. Again, how can we put this into words? We know what love means – we think. But then, we love strawberries and we love our children and we love our spouses or partners, and it's not the same sort of love, is it?
If you want a general definition of love, one can say it is the condition whereby the happiness and safety of the beloved is of greater concern than your own. The happiness and safety of the beloved is of greater concern than your own. That, of course, can't apply to strawberries! And I would have difficulty in applying it to our love for God, I think, wouldn't you?
But I have no difficulty whatsoever in applying it to God's love for us. God's love for us is quite beyond our imagination. It is constant, unremitting. God loves each and every one of us as though we were unique. It doesn't matter who we are, or what we have done, or whether we serve Him or not – God loves us. In a way, our prayer ought to start with the love of God, for it is from that love that the rest stems. If God didn't love us, he would not have sent Jesus, nor the Holy Spirit.
Some of us here this morning have children, maybe grandchildren. Anybody have great-grandchildren? Well, I don't know about you, but I do remember that when my daughter was born, I began to have a glimpse, just a tiny glimpse of what God's love for us is like. That was a very long time ago, and I am a grandmother now, but I still remember it. That realisation that this, this is something a tiny bit like how God cares for me! Amazing!
So, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and then, of course, the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Some translations say the Communion of the Holy Spirit. You notice it's “of” the Holy Spirit, just as it is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God. The Holy Spirit sends, among other amazing things, fellowship, communion. Both with God and with one another.
Yes, of course, we are friends. And there are always going to be people in the church we are more friendly with and less friendly with, if that makes sense. But by our very human nature, we're going to like some people more than we like others. That's okay. But we are given the gift of having fellowship with everybody in the Church, whether we like them or whether we don't. We can sit beside them in worship, we can pray for them and their concerns, we can lift them to the Throne of Grace. And that is the gift of the Holy Spirit here.
And we can also have fellowship with God. That sounds even more amazing, doesn't it? Fellowship with God himself, the Creator. The Father – Jesus said to call God “Father”, and what better day to remember it as it's Fathers' Day. But I know that isn't helpful to everybody, if they have had a poor relationship with their own father, for instance. You may prefer a totally different name for God, and that's okay, too – and often, your preferred name for God changes as you travel along your Christian journey.
We know the Old Testament was full of different names, from the plain basic “El” that meant “The Lord” – you still get this in names like “Michael” or “Rachel” or “Gabriel”, or any of those Bible names that end in “El”. They all mean something about God – Michael, for instance, means “Who is like God?”, which is a rhetorical question because nobody is! Gabriel means “Strong man of God”, and so on..... Anyway, names for God – the plain basic “El” that I mentioned, and then a lot of other ones – shepherd, judge, redeemer, king, rock. Or there is “El Shaddai”, which has several different possible meanings, including God the Destroyer, or even God with breasts – but is mostly used to mean God Almighty.
And talking of God with breasts, there are a few feminine names for God, which you may or may not find helpful, including Lady Love, and Lady Wisdom. Some people refer to the Holy Spirit as “She”, on the grounds that the Hebrew word, Ruach, is feminine. Do so if you find it helpful, but if it irritates you or feels gimmicky, then don't.
I seem to have wandered rather far from “The fellowship of the Holy Spirit”. But today isn't really a day for understanding, you see. It's much more of a day for rejoicing. Someone years ago said it was a day to celebrate the whole Godness of God, and I rather like that definition. We will never even begin to understand who God is, and that's okay. We know that we have a loving Father in God – or whatever other title we wish to use. We we know that we have a Redeemer and a Brother in our Lord Jesus. And we know that we are filled with the Holy Spirit, who enables us to grow into the person God created us to be, and who gives us all we need, and more beside, to become that person.
And then, there is the fact that it is a mystery. That we can't understand or explain it. And that's great, too! So let us rejoice, and give thanks to God. Amen.