Trinity Sunday 2021. Isaiah 6.1 ‘holy, holy, holy..’
The vision of Isaiah is one we deeply familiar with; ‘holy. Holy, holy is the Lord’, the Lord of hosts; in every Eucharistic prayer it is sung, and often we use it to acclaim God, holy God, holy and strong, holy and almighty have mercy on us. Perhaps we may think of the way composers have set it to music, that wonderful setting Bach does in the B minor mass, where you can sense the swinging of the thuribles from side to side as the words are sung. It is a vision which comes unbidden,through the silky curtain of the divine train, cascading down from fifty metres above, all around him; and though there is no account of what of God he saw, we know that the seraphim were up there, two winged creatures with three sets of wings. One set of wings covered the face; one set of wings covered the feet; and the other set of wings were used to fly. Incense everywhere
It is still, however far our familiarity goes, an amazing account. It is quite hard to imagine– how do you get an exalted throne, the top of an altar, angels, incense and flowing silk into one frame? Yet this is a glimpse of the one God, the One to whom no image or likeness can be made; no-one can see, can know God and indeed as we know, traditionally according to Hebrews Isaiah is killed, by Manasseh for saying that he saw God (Hebrews 11.37-8) and according to John 12.41 Isaiah saw Jesus’ glory.
Yet of course it is far from clear, far from clear that Isaiah does any such thing. He is blessed with a vision, but what we take away is the image of the seraphim singing holy holy holy, the trisagion of Christian worship and our worship is of the one God to whom no image or likeness can be made.
Yet these three holies, have been taken to indicate that Isaiah, howsoever dimly, howsoever haltingly, is given insight into the three of the one, the one of the three; it is not the only view but certainly this one has much to be said for it, for the God of Isaiah is the same as the God of Oor Lord and Saviour; the one source, the one reconciling and the one holy- and peace-making God, three focuses of the one God in Old and New Testaments.
I do not use the word ‘person’ as it is hard to use the word without thinking of an individual and the last thing the God of JS is, is three individuals. The God who is the source of all, who is the source of Jesus is the one God to be sure, but as Jesus way of living and worshipping with God shews us, there is in Jesus a way of living and dying which communicates the message of God, that what is lived by Jesus is such a resource of life and meaning, that it calls to be seen as being of the same ‘stuff’ as God, the one whom He and we address as Abba, ‘Father’. God communicates to us completely in Jesus Christ, Father who is all Father is because the Son is all who the son is because the Father is all who the Father is. The great glory of the three and one which Isaiah glimpses, that we see in the way from Nazareth to Calvary and Emmaus and to Pentecost.
(I hope that you are as unsettled as I am by the ease people think that ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ describe God? Can you imagine? God is not male,not female either. God is not gendered, no less the eternal Son; that is counter fashionably time serving, stupidly inapposite, wind and air. It is about as sensible as to say God is a drag superstar.
There is a deep focus which is source of all, a focus or communication, word and that is two; but it is three which we sing, ‘holy, holy, holy…’ There are three; the Spirit is not just an afterthought. The Spirit is where we start after all; we would not be remotely interested in the Trinity if the Spirit had not already touched us, As St Paul teaches us: ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God’. As Christians we are already involved with God, the Spirit has already got inside us.
The Spirit lacks a special name; the Father, the Son are also Spirit and holy but they are who they are because of the other. This cannot be said of the third. Theologians wrestle with this and happily not without good result. (when you hear something like that you know that the preacher is going to mention St Thomas Aquinas). St Thomas thought that gift was marked the relation of the Spirit to Father and Son,full gift; gift of the giver, the giveness of God, God as donation, something which far exceeds our weakness for binaries or for getting things too fixed
The Spirit is called gift without reserve, wholly and without remainder, the sending of the Father-Son, utterly irreducible to either, not a gift, but gift fullstop. That same Spirit which is between the angels, which pours out the gifts and which teaches and nurtures, world-mothering and glory-templed, the Spirit which may also sinks to the deepest of dark depths and holds at once the peace and joy of fulfilment together with the groaning of what God has created; The Spirit, perhaps that place holder where God seems absent and seriously so.
The Spirit Creator of course, of all things, diversity and unity, all of it, not just things that are natural but all the things which have something of the human in them – towns, societies, cultures the lot. God is as much the creator of Maghull,Takeley or Romford of toothpaste or the B minor Mass as of mountain ranges, of Mars or of Betelgeuse.
It is in that context that we confess the One in Three, the One God who is indeed personal and whom we recognise in three focusses, of God’s working in old and new testament; they are as one as one can get and in that same, unfathomable love, that mystery which is so universe dwarfingly vast – that is what love is -, we will give thanks for God and all God is and does and we join from where the seraphim sing and join in their everlasting praise; we will receive its real signs, of source, word and gift, ‘holy. Holy, holy…’