The day we call “Trinity Sunday” is upon us. It's a day to celebrate one of the most basic and beloved of Christian beliefs; it's also a day to furrow your brow and tolerate one of the most difficult of concepts for anyone to understand, and for good reason. The idea of God as "One-in-Three" is only obliquely discussed in scripture; it is better known as a doctrine cobbled together between various fighting factions of the Church as she was establishing herself as Rome’s “state religion” in the 4th Century AD. Acknowledging God as simultaneously absolutely One and distinctly “three persons” made enough of the people in power happy enough, and for a variety of reasons, so that’s what was voted to be at the heart of the creed everyone must regularly recite, and love, or else.
Sounds a lot like what happened in the Medicare prescription benefit overhaul of several years ago as well as present-day Affordable Health Care.
As a pastor it’s always been stressful trying to figure out, as “Trinity Sunday” approaches, how I’m going to explain the paradox of the "Three-in-One" in my sermon, and why would I want to? When I think of the wars that have been fought and lives that have been ruined throughout the ages over the refusal to be Trinitarian, as commanded, I start to feel like more of a “company shill” than a preacher.
This goes double – triple – when trying to figure out if I have the slightest chance of explaining the Trinity, with integrity, to kids during the Children’s Sermon.
Thank goodness I love Jesus junk, and have plenty of it.
I don’t remember if I was in the bathroom agonizing over that year's Trinity Sunday children’s sermon or not. But one Trinity Sunday Eve, an atomic flash went off in my head as I remembered a very special bit of kitsch that’s in my powder room, just above my “Wash Your Sins Away” soap: a plastic Jesus Night Light. When I purchased it at the $.99 Store several months previous, I was excited just to have this as my guarantor of safe late night trips to the loo. Now I got to use it to explain the hopelessly dense and thorny doctrine of the Trinity!
I couldn’t help but hope Aquinas himself would be proud.
That next morning, just after singing "Holy, Holy Holy," and with much confidence and poise, I whipped my night light out as the children gathered round in the front of the sanctuary, explaining that although there was but one Jesus Night Light, there were three different-but-equally important energy sources that made the Jesus Night Light a Jesus Night Light. Without all three, and the equally important participation of all three, it would be nada.
Energy Source 1: The mysterious power behind the wall that you have to plug Jesus into in order for light to be possible.
Energy Source 2: The bulb inside the casing that then alights, allowing us to see the tangible form of Jesus. In this case, the plastic Jesus.
Energy Source 3: The beam of light that emanates from the now-glowing Jesus, allowing us to see where we’re going (and by theological extension, where Jesus, powered by God, would have us go).
Voila! There you have it: Three-in-one. One-that’s-three. God-Christ-Spirit. Absolutely essential relationship for Light to be available. Something even a child can understand.
I continue to gloat a little every time I walk into my bathroom and see my Jesus Night Light plugged into the wall. (He now at night shines light upon the "Pope on a Rope" that's in the shower stall at the far side of the room). I know, “Gloaters never prosper,” but anytime religious kitsch can be found to provide true service to serious theology it brings one into the deepest depths of holy mystery, and that's the sweet sweet place contemplation on the Trinity, regardless of one's politics, seeks to lead us.