Embraced by the Holy Trinity
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Many years ago, on an “ordinary Sunday,” as was our tradition, our family attended worship at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Raleigh. It was the day of a baptism; I have no recollection of the identity of the child being baptized; in fact, I don’t remember anything else about the service except for one particular seemingly simple, mostly unnoticeable incident on that day that carried a profound message of welcoming embrace – a slice of life on which I continue to reflect especially as it relates to our baptism.
The baptismal font at the Church of the Good Shepherd is (or was) in a small raised niche to the far right of the main altar. At all baptisms the children in attendance are invited to come and gather around the baptismal font for a close up view of the baptismal sacrament.
On this day, as the celebrant gathered the children into a circle around the font, two preteen girls in their summer gingham were standing side by side with their backs to the congregation. Getting settled, one of the two glanced back to see another girl of similar description approaching. She drew in her breath and her eyes brightened at the sight of another friend coming forward. Tapping the shoulder of her circle mate, she pointed discreetly to the approaching friend; her whispered words were clear to anyone watching closely, “Look who’s here!” The delight of all three was palpable as the circle parted, the friend was embraced into the circle, and the attention of all turned once again to the focus of the celebration as yet another of God’s children was baptized into the Body of Christ.
We find similar theological reflection of even greater welcome and embrace into the kingdom in the Holy Trinity, which we celebrate today on this principal feast of the Church. In one example, this welcome and embrace is depicted in the fifteenth century Russian icon by Andrei Rublev entitled “The Holy Trinity.” The famous quite familiar icon depicts three rather primitive characters with rudimentary angel wings seated on three sides of a square table. The characters obviously share mutual respect and affection; they are three distinct characters yet their wings are overlapping as they are united in relationship by their mission symbolized in their shared presence at the table.
Significantly, the fourth side of the table – the seat open to the viewer – has no occupant. This fourth side remains open for the viewer; one could perceive that the other occupants are gazing expectantly toward the empty seat; these three seated at the table invite the viewer to join and complete their circle. I love imagining one in the group whispering to the others, “Hey, look who’s here!’ as each of us is welcomed and embraced into the sacred setting – the fourth who completes the circle of God in three persons – each of us as the fourth within the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – the Holy Trinity.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – was not known to the Apostle Paul or even, in these terms, by Jesus. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was not conceptualized until centuries after the earthly life of Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Yet, Paul, at the conclusion of his second letter to the people of Corinth, expressed his understanding of the three persons of the Holy Trinity as he ended with the beautiful benedictory words, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
And, similarly, Jesus in his last words to the disciples commissioned them to go into all the world, making disciples of all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity was conceptualized by the early Church as Christians began more and more to seek a clearer understanding of their relationship with God – finding their place at the table. As our faith journey leads us to greater depths, we seek a more tangible understanding of what it is to be God’s children. How is it that God desires and provides what is best for us? In the most basic simple terms we glory in the one inseparable God who, through the grace and mercy of the Father, creates us; who, through the Son, redeems us; and who, through the Holy Spirit, sustains us.
The three persons of the Holy Trinity depicted by Rublev do not sit at a tiny separated table with their attention and their gaze trained upon one another, ignoring all else as if their purpose is serving one another. The three wait expectantly, beckoning each of us to join them – to complete the circle – to open our lives to the love of God the Father, our creator; the grace of Jesus Christ, our redeemer; and the communion of the Holy Spirit, our sustainer.
All three were present in God at creation. As we read this morning in the account of creation, God’s breath swept across the formless void, separating the dry land from the waters and day from night, bringing light to the darkness, bringing life to every plant yielding seed and to all creatures of the air, land, and sea. And, then, one the 6th day, God created humankind – as we are created we are embraced by God’s glorious creation that awaits us, AND we are given responsibility for the care of all creation.
The three persons of the Holy Trinity embrace each of us as the three meld together into one God. Like the rainbow, we cannot distinguish endings or beginnings; they meld into one another and embrace us into their eternal existence.
In our baptism by water and the Holy Spirit, we are embraced into the Body of Christ. Our place at the table is a place of welcome and, therefore, a place of responsibility. In his last earthly words to his disciples, Jesus leaves to all of us the Great Commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you in all ways and for all time, to the end of the age.”