This coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday, when the readings that we hear and the prayers that we pray all proclaim that God is both three and one. It’s a funny thing to celebrate a doctrine. All year long we set aside days to remember and celebrate people and events—the birth of Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection, saints. But on Trinity Sunday we celebrate neither an event nor a person, we celebrate a mysterious theological concept: the Trinity.
When I was a child, that deep mystery seemed easier to believe. Although I couldn’t quite grasp it, I could accept that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit were all equally God and yet equally themselves. But the mystery of the Trinity began to grow harder for me as I got older. I began to ask a lot of questions: what exactly does it mean to say that I believe in a God who is not one, but three? How are those three persons still one God? How can a Father and a Son be part of the same Godhead?
Much smarter people than I have struggled to clearly and succinctly articulate answers to these questions, so in this brief reflection I won’t get down into the theological weeds. But I must confess that Trinity Sunday doesn’t strike fear in me as it does to so many. While I may not fully grasp the mystery of the Trinity, pondering God’s triune nature reminds me that faith is a mystery that I can never fully grasp. It is one of the things that we believe that reminds us, in this very grown-up world, that even today, we have to become like a child in order to believe.
But there is one aspect of this crazy three-in-one God that I do understand. At the heart of it, the mystery of the Trinity speaks to us of the power and importance of relationship. The fact that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit means that God’s very being is about relationship. God is not a lone ranger, but a team. God is not only an individual, but also a community.
That’s a pretty powerful thing to hear. In a world that is all about “me” and “I,” we worship a God who is about “we” and “us.” In the midst of our modern, individualistic society, we believe in and proclaim a God who thinks community is so important that it is a part of who God is. One of the major challenges to the modern Christian faith has been the disgruntlement with the institutional Church. Many people have abandoned organized Christian communities to practice their faith individually, or at least, independent of a church. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have with people who feel they need church anymore, because they are good people and they have their own, personal faith. The bottom line of Christianity for most of them is being a good person, and you can just as easily do that on your own. But when we ponder that God is Three, that God is a community—that God cannot exist without reciprocal love and affection—then we are reminded that it really is impossible for any of us to go without community ourselves.
This is similar to the South African (Xhosa) concept of “Ubuntu.” Ubuntu is difficult to translate into English, but pretty much means “I in you and you in me.” Ubuntu is an understanding that I am because we are, that I can only become a whole person in relationship with others. When applied to our lives as Christians in the Church, this notion of Ubuntu means that we cannot truly be a Christian alone, because being a Christian requires being a part of a community.
When we ponder the mystery of the Trinity, we begin to understand that God is about community far more than individuality, because community and relationship are at the very heart of who God is. It would be much simpler to worship a God who is one, but not three; it would be a less confusing God, certainly. It would also fit in better with our prioritization of the individual over the community, our focus on “me” and “I” rather than “we” and “us.” But we don’t worship or proclaim a God who is easy, who is designed to fit in with what we want and value. Instead, we worship the Living God, the Three in One, the Unity in Community: the Trinity.
That is the beauty and challenge of Trinity Sunday. We are reminded, once more, that we can’t do this thing called life alone. We need God, and we need one another. Think about it: if God can't be without a community to give and receive love, why would we think we can? What we do and believe in our individual lives is certainly important, but it is not the entire story. I am not my best, most made-in-the-image-of-God self, when I am alone. I am my best, most-made-in-the-image-of-God self when I am with you.
When we worship together.
When we learn together.
When we serve together.
When we eat together.
When we celebrate together.
When we mourn together.
When we go through this messy business of life, not alone, but together.
Not as lone rangers, but as community. Not as those who worship God who is one, but God who is Three-in-One.
The Rev. Casey Shobe is the Rector of Church of the Transfiguration in Dallas