Getting to Know the Trinity

Getting to Know the Trinity

Homily for the Trinity Sunday

May 26, 2024

Getting to Know the Trinity

Homily for Sunday, May 26, 2024
Trinity Sunday
John 3:1-17

“Nicodemus said to Jesus, ‘How can these things be?’”

Perhaps you heard the interview several weeks ago on the “New York Radio Hour” in which host David Remnick asked Dame Judi Dench how it was different to do Shakespeare on stage versus on film.  

“Much easier on stage,” she said, “because the audience is so much part of it.  The audience is there, and you know if you’re telling the story properly.”  “So it’s not a matter of endurance,” Remnick asked, “it’s a matter of the audience presence…”  “That’s entirely what it’s to do with,” Dench said…

That’s the only reason.  Otherwise, I’m not going to get dressed up and go out on stage and do it for myself, am I?  I would do it for you, David.  If I know you bought a seat, I’d say, “Oh, my friend David is here.  I’ll do it for him.”  I once was feeling very off-color,and I said to Ian McKellen, “I’m going to pretend that Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost and God the Father have bought three seats in the front row, and I’m going to do it for them tonight.”  Ian said, “Judi, that’s terrific, although they’ll need only one seat.”

Aside from speaking to the “three-in-one and one-in-three” nature of the Trinity, whom we celebrate today,Judi Dench’s distinction between acting on stage versus acting on film speaks also to the distinction between the so-called “economic” and “immanent” Trinity, terms that denote, on the one hand, God’s acting among us in time and place (the “economic” Trinity”), and on the other hand, the inner life of the divine persons (the “immanent” Trinity).  Either the Trinity interacts with us as an “audience,” as it were, (the “economic” Trinity), or the Trinity is simply doing its thing with no audience present (the “immanent” Trinity).  

Before we continue, I must say that I know the so-called “Rahner’s Rule,” that the “economic” Trinity is the “immanent” Trinity, and vice versa.  And I also know that the Bible does not speak of the Trinity – at least not directly – but rather that the Church later discovered the Trinity.  And I feel for the framers of the lectionary, who – even though the Bible does not speak directly of the Trinity – yet had to find lessons for today, Trinity Sunday.  

They did a great job.  Turning to today’s lesson from John chapter 3, John writes about 1) Jesus, who refers to the 2) “Spirit” (that blows where it chooses), and who speaks also of 3) “God” (who loves the world and has a Son, John writes).  

And I like to think that the framers of the lectionary chose this morning’s Gospel reading from John chapter3 not only because in it John refers to Jesus, God and the Spirit; not only because it hints of the so-called “economic” and “immanent” Trinity – Jesus speaks about “earthly “things” (the “economic” Trinity) and also “heavenly things”(the “immanent” Trinity);  but I like to think that the framers of the lectionary chose today’s reading for Trinity Sunday because in it we find one to whom we can all relate, someone who is perplexed and doing his best to understand when Jesus speaks about God, the Spirit and the Son.  

Maybe there are some smart students in the front of the room who understand the Trinity.  But my hunch is that most of us sit with Nicodemus  toward the back of the room.  We don’t understand when Jesus says, “What is born of the Spirit is spirit;” we don’t understand, “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.”  And we all ask (as did Nicodemus), “How can these things be?”  

There is hope for us confused at the back of the room.  By the end of the Gospel, our fellow back-row student Nicodemus, at the so-called “Deposition” of Christ – the taking down of his body from the cross – [by the end of John’s Gospel at the Deposition of Christ] Nicodemus…

…came,bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus, and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:39-40)

And they laid Jesus in a tomb in which no one had ever been laid (19:41). At some point between Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus in chapter 3 and Jesus’ burial in chapter 19, the wind that blows where it chooses brought Nicodemus not only to “know” Jesus, not only to “believe” in Jesus, but also –considering the extravagant, thoughtful and caring burial Nicodemus gave Jesus– [the Spirit also] brought Nicodemus to love Jesus.  We don’t know what happened,but the Trinity whom at first Nicodemus was unable to understand, at some point became “economic” – something he could feel and to which he could respond – which in turn led Nicodemus to love, which is a sign of the “immanent” or inner Trinity.  Now at Jesus’ burial, Nicodemus,the “patron saint” of those hoping to better understand the Trinity, knows the Father, Son and Spirit “economically” and “immanently.”

If the wind that blows where it chooses blew on Nicodemus in the back of the classroom, there is hope, then,that that same wind might blow on us.  We don’t know what happened with Nicodemus – John doesn’t say.  But in his “hidden” life, Nicodemus must have been faithful in seeking Jesus, and he must have been open to the movements of the Holy Spirit.  And so I pray that we, too, may be faithful in seeking Jesus, and that we also may be open to the movements of the Holy Spirit. For though the Trinity often may seem “hidden” and unknowable, by our faithfulness and openness Jesus just might lead us, as he led Nicodemus, to a felt, interior knowledge of the love that God has for us.  And the inner life of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, might be something we can taste even here, even now, you and me.


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