Trinity Sunday

Fractal image of the Holy Trinity © Sybille Yates

Fractal image of the Holy Trinity © Sybille Yates

‘The average Christian is as well equipped to meet an aggressive atheist or agnostic as a boy with a peashooter is to meet a tank’. So wrote my former Diocesan Bishop, Rt Rev’d John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford. I am sure that comment could be a deemed a little unfair by some Christians but, when it comes to the doctrine of the Trinity, I fear that in most cases, Bishop John is probably right. For the doctrine of the Trinity is one that Christians know they ought to believe, but which many will tell you is one they have not, or cannot, fully grasp, let alone adequately explain.

Today, the first Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, is always kept as Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday in the Christian calendar dedicated to a doctrine. It is the annual occasion when I have to preach, and hopefully explain, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. How God is revealed as Creator and Father; took human form in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh; and is at work in the world today by the person and power of the Holy Spirit who indwells each believer. Three persons yet, one God!

How well I succeeded in my task, I’ll leave to those who heard me preach today. Or you can judge for yourself as my sermon has now been uploaded to our Church website and you can listen to it by clicking on this link. However, I am always reassured by the quotation, attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo – ‘If you can understand it, it isn’t God’. It is a reminder that, by his very being and nature, the infinite Triune God is beyond our finite human understanding.

One of things I do enjoy about Trinity Sunday, is the opportunity it gives to sing some of the many wonderful Trinitarian hymns which are part of English hymnology. So it was that today we sang, ‘Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty’, ‘Thou, whose almighty word’ and the more recent twentieth century hymn, ‘Father, Lord of all creation’. But we ended with what is my favourite Trinitarian hymn – ‘We give immortal praise’, by the late seventeenth/early eighteenth century hymn writer, Isaac Watts.

The hymn has four verses, the first three of which are individually addressed to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. It is normally sung to the tune, ‘Croft’s 136th’, an organ rendition of which can be listened to here.

But the fourth and last verse, which gives praise to the Holy and Undivided Trinity, expresses both praise, but also the limits of our human understanding.

Almighty God, to thee

be endless honours done,

the undivided Three,

and the mysterious One:

where reason fails

with all her powers,

there faith prevails,

and love adores.

This side of heaven, we will never fully understand the Triune God. But where reason fails, faith does prevail, and love does adore.

12 comments to Trinity Sunday

  • Paul

    Ricky, One of our family traditions is to discuss the Sunday address over Sunday lunch and our most interesting discussions were always on Trinity Sunday! The boys remember and still talk of those discussions and recall how we always reverted to St Patrick’s explanation using the shamrock and of course St Patrick’s Breastplate. Your sermon today brings that same explanation right up to date by explaining one of the great mysteries of Faith in a very relevant way. I also just love the art work by Sybille that illustrates very clearly the depth yet simplicity of your sermon. Thank you! Paul

    • Ricky

      Paul – your family tradition is what I often refer to as ‘having roast preacher for Sunday lunch’. 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words about my sermon. And I share your love of Sybille’s artwork, hence I asked if I could use it to illustrate this post. We also used the same fractal for the front cover of our wedding ‘Order of Service’.

  • Paul

    LOL ! ..Well put Ricky……..,some have been “underdone” some “overcooked” but I thought that your message was as well as being digestible “cooked and presented” to perfection ! ! Every Blessing. !!

  • What? You didn’t sing “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”?! That was always my favorite Trinity Sunday hymn!

    • Ricky

      Sorry Stephen – we couldn’t sing every Trinitarian hymn in the hymnbook 🙂 However, we did sing ‘I bind unto myself today’, to the the tune ‘St. Patrick’s Breastplate’, earlier in the year on Sunday 17th March 2013 – St. Patrick’s Day.

  • I enjoyed this, Ricky, especially as I no longer have to wrestle every year with a fresh way of preaching about the Trinity. 🙂 I hate to say this, but in the service I attended, though the hymns were all explicitly Trinitarian, the preacher ducked the issue and the sermon was from the New Testament reading!

    Incidentally the Watts hymn is one I have for some reason never encountered, either words or music, so it was good to be introduced to it.

    • Ricky

      It’s alright for retired priests who can quietly avoid having to preach on ‘difficult Sundays’ 😉 Some of us can’t!!!!

      To be fair, I myself mainly concentrated on the New Testament reading, Romans 5. 1-5, because there you have St Paul explaining about the three persons of the Holy Trinity, working together in the life of the believer.

      I’m surprised you haven’t previously encountered the hymn ‘We give immortal praise’ by Isaac Watts. It appears in a variety of hymnbooks, including ‘Ancient & Modern New Standard’, its successor ‘Common Praise’, and ‘Complete Anglican Hymns Old & New’. We sang it on several occasions during my time as Rector of the Shelswell Parishes and I introduced the Prague Anglican congregation to it soon after my arrival here.

  • I guess I asked for that, Ricky. 🙂 Actually I rather enjoy trying to explain the inexplicable on Trinity Sunday and at other times. To be fair to the sermon I heard, it did deal well with the passage, but a way which was less explicitly Trinitarian than I might have done myself, if that makes sense. As for the hymn, I think I must never have been at a service for which you chose it, which is my loss.

    • Ricky

      You did leave yourself rather wide open Perpetua 😉 As for the hymn, that’s almost certainly the explanation.

  • Oh, blast!!! I really want to see your YouTube sermon for Trinity Sunday, but my darn dial-up internet won’t upload 🙁 So… you have a high voice, or a low voice? 😉

    My favorite Trinitarian piece of poetry is the fourth verse of “Come, Holy Ghost”:

    “Praise be to Thee, Father and Son,
    And Holy Spirit, with them One,
    And may the Son on us bestow
    The gifts that from the Spirit flow.”

    I remember singing it at a concert during a time when I was having a difficult time with the doctrine, and it somehow made me feel a lot better.

    • Ricky

      Pearl – it isn’t a You Tube sermon 🙂 Purely a sound recording made using the Church sound system. I expect that you would need broadband rather than dial-up, in order to listen to it.

      That’s a slightly different version of Veni Creator Spiritus to the one I know but just as appropriate.