This weekend features the first Sunday after Pentecost which is officially known as Trinity Sunday. Unlike other festival days in Christian worship tradition, Trinity Sunday isn’t commemorative of an event (as are Christmas or Easter, say, or Reformation Sunday), but of a theological idea.
Theology is scaffolding
That’s because there is no explicit scriptural teaching about the Trinity. Rather, conventional thoughts about the Trinity are only arrived at by biblical dot-connecting, in other words—through theology.
But theology is merely of human construct, a scaffold for the understanding of God (an overly-optimistic idea if there ever was one). And it is only useful to the extent that it also gets out of the way.
How many of us have undertaken a geographical inconvenience to visit a famous historical building or structure only to arrive and find it obscured by a system of scaffolding? Closed for repairs. Necessary, yes. But not what you came to see.
In the same way, theology is not the point. God is. And explaining the mysterious One in Threeness in Oneness requires major scaffolding.
Trinity Sunday should be abolished!
That’s why the tradition of Trinity Sunday was generally slow to come about. It wasn’t until the 10th and 11th centuries that it became adopted as a holiday. Even now, it is often skipped over, or reduced to the singing of Holy, Holy, Holy — the great Trinitarian hymn.
But ask a few average church attenders when is Trinity Sunday. Most will probably only shrug.
It is precisely at this moment (as I’m explaining all this to my beloved as we drive to the store) that she says: “Trinity Sunday should be abolished!”
I read a sermon about the Trinity by Martyn Percy recently in which he likened it to Jazz. Evoking the musical relationship between composer, performer, and listener, jazz is both formal and innovative, transforming yet traditional, reliable but not predictable, scripted and improvised. It is the perfect coexistence of order and freedom. It is creative and useful for the whole compass of experience. It happens in time, yet creates its own time.
Jazz is an amazing and vast form of expression that one does not need to understand in its complexity and simplicity to appreciate and be moved by.
As Percy said, “To worship the Trinity is not to understand each note and sequence, nor is it to deconstruct the score musicologically: it is to listen, learn and participate.”
It’s not about the scaffolding. Not about the theology. It’s about God. It’s about God’s dance with us.
The subtle jazz of the new familiar
In his poem, “Out Of the Blue,” Micheal O’Siadhail writes:
Suddenly in the commonplace that first amazement seizes
me all over again — a freak twist to the theme,
subtle jazz of the new familiar, trip of surprises.
Gratuitous, beyond our fathom, both binding & freeing,
this love re-invades us, shifts the boundaries of our being.
This is a poem about falling-in-love, and yet it captures the arresting nature of both jazz and God’s love for us.
I looked for a jazz recording of Holy, Holy, Holy in the writing of this. Couldn’t find one — which is too bad, because I firmly believe that Trinity Sunday would become many people’s favorite Sunday of the year if it regularly featured the jazz of the new familiar.
If anyone has some Trinity jazz to recommend, please share in comments below!
“Trinity Sunday,” by The Very Rev’d Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.