Written Service for Trinity Sunday

On this Trinity Sunday, 7th June 2020, we welcome you to join us as we worship with this written Service with a reflection from Fr Mattijs Ploeger.

We meet in the name of God:
God the Father, God the Son,

God the Spirit: God is one.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.

Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength;
ascribe to the Lord the honour due to his name.
The whole earth is full of his glory.

The Lord shall give strength to his people:
the Lord shall give his people the blessing of peace.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 40. 12–17, 27–end
Matthew 28. 16–20

Written sermon by Fr Mattijs Ploeger

  1. Trinity Sunday – a “popular” feast of getting to know God and praising him

What always strikes me about Trinity Sunday, is that it was introduced into the calender of the Christian Year on the request of the people. Not on the request of theologians or bishops, but of the so-called “ordinary people”. I wonder whether that would happen now. Is the Trinity – one God in three persons – still popular among church people, or is it rather regarded as a technical piece of theological construction without much relevance for us today?

Unlike Easter and Pentecost (which are Jewish festivals, continued to be celebrated by Christians with a partly different content) and Christmas (introduced in the fourth century), the feast of the Holy Trinity “only” dates from the Middle Ages and was not introduced into the calendar before the fourteenth century. That is more than just a bit of historical information, for it tells something about the not-so-central position of this feast in the context of the Christian Year. For a very long time, is has been the conviction of the church that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are to be celebrated best in a direct relation to salvation history. The Father reveals himself in the Son and this happens through the Holy Spirit – and this revelation of God is most appropriately celebrated by following the Christian Year: from Christmas to Easter and Pentecost. Those feasts follow salvation history step by step, and that is the way in which we get to know “who God is” and “how God is”.

In contrast, the feast of the Holy Trinity does not celebrate an aspect of the course of salvation history, but gives a summary of salvation history as a whole. This is probably the reason why the feast was eventually given its place on the first Sunday after Pentecost. After having celebrated Father, Son and Holy Spirit step by step, we now summarise the Christian Year by celebrating them together. And it is probably, I assume, for this reason, that this feast was so popular among “the people”. Because on this feast we can celebrate “in one go” everything the tri-une God has done for us, and everything we have learned – in the preceding course of the Christian Year – about who God is for us.

Another reason why the feast of the Trinity was popular among the people, might be the fact that the liturgy presents the Trinity not as dogmatics (doctrinal teaching) but as doxology (praise). We stand up, and sometimes make a deep bow, at the traditional doxology “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost”. Also in other liturgical texts and hymns, we encounter the Trinity in the context of praise and worship. Far from a dry theory, the Trinity is an inspiration for thanking and praising God.

  1. The Trinity – the biblical basis

Of course, the late development of this feast does not mean that the doctrine of the Trinity was only a medieval invention. We find the tri-une identity of God already in Scripture. For example at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1), the gospels draw – so to speak – a “picture” in which we can “see” the Holy Trinity: Jesus stands in the river Jordan, the Holy Spirit descends upon him in the form of a dove, and the voice of God the Father sounds from heaven and declares Jesus to be his Son.

Other biblical references to the Trinity are, for example, the command to baptise “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28,19) and greetings at the end of letters, like the final verse of St Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you”. Not surprisingly, the church has chosen such texts as the basis of well-known prayers and blessings. Because such texts perfectly summarise who and how God is for us: he is one God, but we know him als Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  1. The Holy Trinity – God is personal relationship and love, and he wants to share it with us

Perhaps you are waiting for me to start writing about the intriguing question how 1 can be 3 at the same time. Then I will disappoint you. I do not think that the “mathematical” side of the doctrine of the Trinity helps us to focus on what this doctrine is about. To the contrary: I am convinced that too much talk about 1=3 only obscures what the doctrine (developed in the Bible and the Early Church) wants to tell us. It is not about numbers, it is about persons.

What the Trinity tells us, is that God is a personal God. He is, in himself (as Father, Son and Spirit), wholly defined by relationship and love. And he wants to share this relationship and this love – which is (as Trinity) his very self – with us. One way of making sense of creation – including making sense of our own existence – is to see creation as the overflowing of love: Father, Son and Spirit want to share their relationship and their love with creation, and particularly with humanity. We are called to share and spread forth this trinitarian love throughout humanity and creation.

So, rather than talking about numbers, let us talk about persons. God is a personal God. As Trinity he is, in himself, relationship and love. And he invites us to share in, and to spread forth, this love.

That is another reason why we should (physically or mentally) stand up, bow down, and sing: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost”.     Amen.

Prayer in praise of the Trinity by Brian Wren

Living Love,
beginning and end, giver of food and drink, clothing and warmth, love and hope:
life in all its goodness,

We praise and adore you.

Jesus, Wisdom and Word, lover of outcasts,
friend of the poor,
one of us yet one with God, crucified and risen:
life in the midst of death,
We praise and adore you.

Holy Spirit, storm and breath of love, bridge-builder, eye opener,
waker of the oppressed,
unseen and unexpected: untameable energy of life.
We praise and adore you.

Holy Trinity, forever one,
whose nature is community,
source of all sharing,
in whom we love, and meet, and know our neighbour: life in all its fullness, making all things new,
We praise and adore you.

Anthem : Vox Christi – Philip Wilby

Hymn: NEH 146 – Holy, holy holy, Lord God Almighty

Prayers of Intercession

High and holy God,
robed in majesty,
Lord of heaven and earth,
we pray that you will bring justice, faith and salvation to all peoples.
Especially we pray for those countries which are already affected by war, poverty and drought and which are ill-equipped to cope with the added pressures brought about by Coronavirus.

Silence is kept.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

You chose us in Christ to be your people
and to be the temple of your Holy Spirit;
we pray that you will fill your Church with vision and hope. Especially we pray for the worship and mission of the church, as we seek new ways of blending a continuing online presence with the gradual return towards meeting together in person.

Silence is kept.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Your Spirit enables us to cry, ‘Abba! Father!’,
affirms that we are fellow-heirs with Christ
and pleads for us in our weakness;
we pray for all who are in need or distress.
Especially we pray for all those who have suffered illness or loss as a result of the Coronavirus epidemic.

And in the silence, we name before God those known to us.

Silence is kept.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

In the baptism and birth of Jesus,
you have opened heaven to us
and enabled us to share in your glory;
the joy of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
from before the world was made.
May your whole Church, living and departed, come to a joyful resurrection in your city of light.

Silence is kept.

Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

To finish, we say  The Grace

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all evermore.