Trinity: The Wisdom of Relationship
June 12, 2022
This image we have today on the front of the bulletin is the Oklad cover of a famous icon of the Trinity. Oklad means that it’s a metal covering designed to protect the icon.
There are three figures sitting around a low table, on which there is a cup or bowl of some kind. When Rublev wrote this icon, he was depicting the three angels who visited Abraham. If you remember your Abraham stories, after the visitation of these three angels, Sarai, who had lost all hope of conceiving, became pregnant with Isaac shortly after their visit. These three angels signaled hope, you see.
The Hope of Abraham being the belief in One eternal, ever-present, boundless God. The God of Life, who is the Ground of All Being, who is the God of Love. Because Life does not flourish without Love. This is Abraham’s promise – that Abraham’s progeny, that is, those who inherit Abraham’s belief, will number like the stars in the sky. These angels are messengers of Life and, together, they are a symbol of Love.
This image has become an icon of the Trinity for us, as Christians. An icon is an object that acts like a lens through which we can glimpse truth. So, even though this is a depiction of 3 angels from a story about Abraham, we are invited to witness a deeper truth in it.
So, what are we really looking at in this image? What visual clues has Rublev given us to help us glimpse a deeper truth? If you look, you’ll see that there is a sense of stability in the image – like three legs of a table, perhaps. If the image were clearer, you’d see that each person is looking downward, focused inward in contemplation. The central character’s hand is blessing the substance in the cup.
And the heads of the two that flank, are bent in seeming reverence to the central person, but all three are on thrones, symbolizing equality. There are wings and halos for each one and, if we were looking at the icon itself in color, you’d see robes are variations of bright blue (divinity), bright green (new life), brown (earth), and gold (royalty).
Moreover, the bodies of the angels are created to reflect a perfect circle, the roundness of their backs, connecting to the front edge of the table and the top of the central person’s head in the back. Each person is distinctly indistinct in their gender.
What we are invited to see, is the three persons of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Or Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, if you’re using non-gendered language.
And the most significant aspect of this image is that these three persons are in relationship with one another. Each one is acknowledging the other two in some way. There is interaction without motion. Connecting. Inviting. Sharing. Serving. They are present to each other. There seems to be regard. Trust. Caring. Interdependence. Love.
In the Episcopal Church, each congregation is a member of a diocese – a large group of congregations in a geographical area that all have a relationship with one Bishop. We are a member of the Diocese of New York – a diocese that covers as far south as Staten Island, includes Manhattan and the Bronx, and covers all the counties going up the Hudson River to the edge of Ulster and Dutchess counties. Which means, of course, that we here in Kingston are at the upper end of our diocese.
I talk about this because, the lesson today about the Trinity is one about relationship. Our understanding of God is not one thing. God is multifaceted and each facet exists in relationship to the others. They do not exist alone, but can only exist… can only BE… if the other IS.
There is a Zulu term for this: Ubuntu. It’s a term that is used for our English word humanity. But if you translate it, it literally means: “I am because we are.” Or “I am because you are.” There is no me, unless there is a you, unless there is a we.
So, back to the structure of the Episcopal Church for a moment. Within each diocese, there are usually deaneries. A deanery is not like a diocese because it doesn’t function around the relationship to the Bishop. A deanery is simply a collection of congregations, again in a similar geographical area, who can be of support for one another because they are close in proximity. We often use one another’s copiers. Or, if we’re in a bind and have forgotten to order palms for Palm Sunday, we share our palms… or our ashes for Ash Wednesday. Etc. But a relationship that is built on Christ can and should be more than neighborly sharing.
Yesterday, we had our second meeting of the Ulster County Deanery. It might seem weird to say that it was only our second meeting, but it was. Prior to this, only the clergy had been meeting. But what the clergy in our deanery discerned was that it was time to move beyond the silos of our singular congregations and start looking at how can we share resources with one another, how can we share ministry with one another, how we can share wisdom with one another.
So, we have begun conversations with both clergy and lay leaders. Our first was on March 19 and our second was yesterday. Our third will be in September.
Why are we doing this? I mean, we can do ministry as a lone congregation called St. John’s. But, what if we look toward each other, like the figures in this icon? What if we realize the blessing we are to one another in this richer, deeper, broader community?
We have Trinity in Saugerties and St. Gregory’s in Woodstock. We have St. Andrew’s in New Paltz and Christ the King in Stone Ridge. We have Christ Church in Marlboro and Ascension in West Park. And we have Holy Cross/Santa Cruz and us, St. John’s, here in Kingston.
And so we are exploring how we will be working with one another more often and in different ways. One of the ways is to develop a deanery-wide youth program, one of the items on our agenda yesterday. We will hear more about that in the coming months. So a ministry that St. John’s cannot support by itself, is begin born because we are able to look beyond our own walls and move outside of the silos of our singular congregation… because it’s about relationship. We cannot do this life alone.
We are not built to be without each other. God as Trinity is this dance of life that cannot happen without genuine love for one another. And that means, it cannot happen without relationship.
It means that those commands Jesus gave us – The first is, Love God with all your heart, with all your strength and all your mind. And the second is like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself. It means that these two commandments are more than just a nice sentiment. These two commandments are, actually, the whole point of Life. Because life cannot flourish without love.
And it is in and through this love that we are given the gift of Wisdom. Wisdom, which is spoken about in today’s reading from Proverbs. Wisdom reminds us:
God created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth–
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep…
Wisdom comes in the midst of Love because Wisdom is a part of Love an aspect of Love. Wisdom comes through relationship then, not as a solo act, never as a solo act. I am because you are. Interdependence. Love. Regard. Caring. Listening. Sharing.
Wisdom comes only when we are in relationship with one another. When we have enough regard for another that we can be truly vulnerable with them and lay down our opinions and ideas so that we might hear another voice besides our own. Wisdom, that which has been since the beginning, comes to us when we are at Table, like these three figures in Rublev’s icon. When we break bread together and share ourselves with one another and receive that which the other is offering.
This model we have of the Trinity, this idea we have of God, teaches us that we truly are made in the image of God. Not because we are individuals, but because we need one another. Because we function best when we are in relationship with one another.
Because we are blessed, deeply blessed by one another.