Trinity Sunday—Year C
June 16, 2019
How do we talk about the Trinity? It’s a valid question on all Sundays, not just on “Trinity Sunday.” But since it is Trinity Sunday, the topic seems a good one to tackle.
One of my favorite examples of just how challenging it can be to describe or explain the Trinity has been making its rounds again this week. It’s a cartoon video created by a group called Lutheran Satire entitled “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies.”* It features to Irishmen, Donall and Conall, dressed in simple peasant garb. They approach St. Patrick and ask him to tell them more about the Trinity. They also remind him that they’re simple people who are learning about the Trinity for the first time and they want a simple answer.
Patrick responds that there are “Three persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; yet there is only one God.”
As you can imagine, Donall and Conall are a bit bumfuzzled by this answer and ask for an analogy.
And this is where the wheels come off the wagon for poor Patrick.
He first attempt to explain the Trinity as being like water, which can be found in three forms—liquid, ice, and vapor is called out by Donall and Conall as the ancient heresy of modalism.
Patrick goes back to the drawing board and attempts to the explain the Trinity as being like the sun in the sky—the star itself, light, and heat. Once again he is called out by Donall and Conall, this time for the heresy of Arianism.
So Patrick tries again, “The Trinity is like a three-leaf clover.” But he doesn’t get much farther than that as he’s called out again, this time for the heresy of partialism.
Patrick keeps trying different analogies, but each one leads him back into another heresy.
And therein lies the problem with trying to explain the Trinity, even with something as seemingly innocuous as an analogy—because the Trinity isn’t explainable, not really. We can try to put some shape around it with things like the Athanasian Creed
“We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.”
We can also use visuals to help define it, like our Trinity window at the back of the church. But at the end of the day, The Trinity is a mystery, as Patrick finally concedes, which can only be comprehended within the realm of faith.
Except none of these really get us there. And to be honest, trying to explain the Trinity ends with me feeling a bit like St. Patrick at the end of the Donall and Conall video—any explanation I could give is going to fall short, and likely land me in the middle of heresy! So what is a priest to do on Trinity Sunday when we’re expected to “talk about the Trinity.”
For me, I’m left with only one real option—to live it. We are Trinitarian Christians, and if that’s true, then I have to live my Trinitarian faith, and to live it means to live fully into its most essential characteristic—and that characteristic is love. Love that is beyond comprehension. Love that is known not by the words that define it, but the actions that live it.
I saw a story this week that drove home what it looks like to live this kind of love. The story has added meaning, I think, because as today is not just Trinity Sunday, but Father’s Day as well.
It’s a story out of Philadelphia, one you may have stumbled across this week because the story, which started out as a simple post on social media, has gone viral.
It’s the story of a straight man in a T-shirt at a Pride parade
Scott Dittman, who goes by Howie, is a straight man, married to a woman, with two kids. A female friend who is part of an LGBTQ-ally organization called “Free Mom Hugs” shared that she was headed to Philly’s Pride Parade to, what else, offer free hugs.
Howie decided to tag along. He donned his own “Free Dad Hugs” t-shirt and headed out, completely unprepared for what he was about to experience, and how he was about to impact the people gathered in Philly, and around the world.
His first hug of the day was with a young woman. Here’s how Howie described what happened next.
“I turned around and she’s just standing there in front of me with tears in her eyes. She just threw her arms around me and just thanked me over and over and over again.”
This began two and a half hours filled with over 700 hugs. Some were happy, filled with joy. Some had tears; tears of grief and loss. And then there was the young man, only nineteen when his parents kicked him out.
In Howie’s words,
“They haven’t spoken to him since. He cried on my shoulder. Sobbed. Squeezed me with everything he had. I felt a tiny bit of that pain that he carries with him every minute of every day. He was abandoned because of who he loves. And on June 9th, 2019, he was participating in a celebration of love when he was brought to his emotional knees by a shirt that said “FREE DAD HUGS” on a complete stranger.”
The photo that accompanied Howie’s description shows a young man with an iron grip around Howie’s neck. And Howie is holding on just as tight.
That is Trinitarian love; the essence of our faith. Now go, and do likewise
*Watch the full “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies” video here.