Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the Church Calendar that marks a concept, not a person or an event. The Trinity is foundational for Christianity, but a stumbling block for others. And frankly, it can be a stumbling block for Christians, as well. How can we say we believe in one God, and yet talk about three persons? Are we monotheists, as we claim? Or are we polytheists, as others label us?
Some of Christianity’s best theologians have wrestled with the concept of the Trinity. My best way of describing how something can be one and three at the same time is the water-ice-steam analogy. Recently, a mathematician explained how it makes perfect sense if you understand higher math.
With all due respect to theologians and mathematicians, I suggest that we look at the Trinity through the eyes of poets. I am thinking of Richard Leach, who wrote words to an English folk tune, and created an expansive experience of Trinity.
In Evangelical Lutheran Worship, “Come Join the Dance of Trinity” (ELW 412) doesn’t try to define or explain the Trinity. Rather, it demonstrates it. It begins:
Come, join the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun-
Already in the first line, we are invited not to ponder, not to theorize, not to question, but to join in the dance! All are welcome, whether we understand it or not, whether we can explain it or not. Have you ever been in a setting when you got drawn into a dance you didn’t know and couldn’t explain? It happened to me at a youth gathering. I was standing there on the plaza in Detroit amidst thousands of orange T-shirted youth when they began to dance. In spite of myself I was drawn in, clumsy, self-conscious, sometimes going left when everyone else was going right, but in.
This dance of Trinity is not something new—it is from the beginning of time, “before all worlds begun.” It reminds me of the text from Proverbs 8 appointed for Sunday: “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth…”
The hymn continues with an image of weaving as a way to describe the Trinity:
The interweaving of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
Weaving holds the integrity of the individual strands, but it is also true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The next line expands into the universe, reminding the listeners that it is not random, that God has a purpose in it all
The universe of space and time did not arise by chance,
And then the song returns to the dance, as an expansive, all-inclusive activity of the Godhead.
But as the Three, in love and hope, made room within their dance.
The next verses of the hymn describe the Jesus as the “face of Trinity” and the Spirit as the “wind and tongues of flame that set people free at Pentecost.”
Come see the face of Trinity, newborn in Bethlehem;
Then bloodied by a crown of thorns outside Jerusalem.
The dance of Trinity is meant for human flesh and bone;
When fear confines the dance in death, God rolls away the stone.
Come, speak aloud of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
set people free at Pentecost, to tell the Savior’s name.
We know the yoke of sin and death, our necks have worn it smooth
Got tell the world of weight and woe that we are free to move.
The hymn concludes with a return to the theme of the dance, and the theme of weaving. Now the weaving is the voices of those who have been set free by the dance of the Trinity.
Within the dance of Trinity, before all worlds begun,
We sing the praises of the Three, the Father, Spirit, Son.
Let voices rise and inter-weave, by love and hope set free,
To shape in song this joy, this life: the dance of Trinity.
This hymn expands my imagination about the Trinity, and encourages me to think a little less, and experience a lot more. May God the Three-in-One be praised.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA