Sunday, 15 June 2014

From Carlow and Cambridge to the city
centre and the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath

Walking in the summer sunshine in Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a roller-coaster weekend that has taken me to Carlow on Friday, to Cambridge on Saturday, to two inner-city churches in Dublin for Trinity Sunday this morning, and to the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath and the beach at Bettystown this afternoon.

Two of us drove down through Co Wicklow, by the Blessington lakes and through Co Kildare to Carlow late on Friday afternoon for the funeral of a neighbour’s father.

We arrived in Carlow in time for a short stroll through the cathedral town and had an early dinner in Brasserie 15, a new restaurant in Tullow Street in the heart of the town. It was interesting to be reminded as we strolled back along Tullow Street that Carlow is proud of its strong links with George Bernard Shaw.

On the way back to Dublin, the countryside in Co Carlow and Co Kildare was basking in the late evening summer sunshine in an array of greens and yellows and browns.

With Archbishop Rowan Williams, Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, Metropolitan John Zizioulas and other participants at Saturday’s conference in Westcott House, Cambridge

It was an early start on Saturday morning to get to Cambridge for the conference in Westcott House organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies.

This one-day conference was a celebration of the life and work of Metropolitan John Zizioulas, who is perhaps the leading living Orthodox theologian. I arrived in time for the Divine Liturgy the college chapel at which Metropolitan John presided and later in the day he speak on “Eschatology: A Challenge to Orthodox Theology.”

At the Divine Liturgy in the chapel of Westcott House, Cambridge, on Saturday morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

In the morning, the Revd Dr Bogdan Bucur, of Duquesne University, spoke on “Eschatology Now: Observations on the Emmaus Story in Luke and Mark’s Longer Ending,” and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Rowan Williams, now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, spoke on: “The Eucharist and the End of All Things.”

In the afternoon, Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware) of Diokleia, who is a speaker at IOCS summer school in Cambridge each year, spoke on: “Eschatology and Eucharist: Time and Eternity in the Divine Liturgy.”

At lunchtime in the dining room, the monks of the Monastery of Saint John in Tolleshunt Knights sang a special birthday tribute to Rowan Williams.

There was a little time to stroll around Cambridge in the afternoon sunshine. The place was busy, with garden parties in many colleges, and a sense of weekend fun around the May Bumps and the May Balls.

There was even time to drop into Sidney Sussex College, where I have stayed regularly since 2008. But I was sorry to miss dinner in Westcott House in the evening, but had a flight to catch at Stansted to be back in Dublin this morning.

Bicycles on Sidney Street outside Sidney Sussex College during Saturday’s sunshine in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

This morning was Trinity Sunday, and I presided at the Eucharist and preached in two city centre churches, Saint Werburgh’s in Werburgh Street at 10 a.m. and All Saints’ in Grangegorman at 11.30 a.m.

Saint Werburgh’s Church is close to Dublin Castle and is one of the oldest churches in Dublin, dating back to 1178, when a church was built on this site shortly after the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Dublin.

The church is named after Saint Werburgh, the Abbess of Ely and patron saint of Chester, who died in 699 AD, and is first mentioned in a letter of Pope Alexander III dated 1179. However, the parish dates back much further than the Anglo-Norman foundation, In Viking Dublin, the parish church was named after Saint Martin of Tours, and the church stood near the south end of Werburgh Street.

The original Saint Werburgh’s was burned down in 1300, along with much of Dublin, and was rebuilt. From the time of Archbishop Henry de Loundres, who died in 1228, Saint Werburgh’s was linked with the Chancellors of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

When the church of Saint Mary del Dam on nearby Dame Street was closed by 1559, the two parishes were merged and Saint Werburgh’s became the parish church of Dublin Castle.

The clergy of Saint Werburgh’s in the past have included Archbishop James Ussher, who was appointed to the church in 1607; and Edward Wetenhall, later Bishop of Kilmore and author of the well-known Greek and Latin grammars; Dr Patrick Delany (1685-1768), was rector in 1730; and his friend Jonathan Swift was baptised there.

In the 17th century, there were conflicts between Saint Werburgh’s and the neighbouring parish of Saint John the Evangelist in in Fishamble Street over parish boundaries involving houses in Copper Alley and around Essex Gate and Essex Bridge.

A new church was built on the site in 1719, at a cost of £8,000. It was damaged by fire in 1754 and reopened in 1759.

The majestic interior of Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin, this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Later in the 18th century, Saint Werburgh’s became a fashionable city centre church, attended by the Lord Lieutenant and his entourage, and with a reserved Viceregal pew. Saint Werburgh’s was the Chapel Royal attached to Dublin Castle, and in 1767 the Royal Arms were carved on the west gallery, under the vice-regal pew in which the Lord Lieutenant sat when he came to qualify himself for his high office. Viceroys were sworn into office there, and seats were reserved for the officers and soldiers until 1888.

The pulpit was first designed for the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. It is said to have been carved by the celebrated Jacobean wood-carver, Grinling Gibbons, although it may have been the work of one of his students, Richard Steward.

The intricate carvings include the arms of the bishops of Ireland and the heads of the four evangelists, Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke and Saint John. The pulpit was moved from the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle when Lord Carlisle decided he preferred a pulpit of Portland stone.

One of the carved heads on the pulpit in Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The organ was first built in the 18th century by Ferdinand Weber and, like the organ in Saint Michan’s, it too claims links with George Frideric Handel. It is said Handel used this organ for the rehearsal of his Messiah before its first performance in the Great Music Hall, Fishamble Street, in 1742.

The church also holds a 15th or 16th century tomb of the Earls of Kildare which was moved there from the Priory of All Hallows after the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII.

The vestry in the church looks out onto a small churchyard and there are 27 vaults beneath the church. The burials in Saint Werburgh’s include: Nicholas Sutton, (1478) Attorney General for Ireland, whose family had lived in Werburgh Street for generations; Sir James Ware (1666), historian; John Edwin (1805), actor; Lord Edward FitzGerald (1798), leader of the United Irishmen; and his captor, Major Sirr (1841).

Lord Edward FitzGerald is buried in a vault that was reserved for the Rectors of St Werburgh’s. His coffin bore no name but the initials ‘E.F.’ were scratched onto it by an old man who recognised Lord Edward’s aunt, Lady Louisa Connolly, as the sole mourner at his burial.

The church spire was removed in 1810 as a security measure because it overlooked the grounds of Dublin Castle, and the tower was removed 26 years later. The church also boasts two of the earliest fire engines in Ireland, dating from a time when parishes were responsible for putting out fires in their areas.

This morning, I preached in a smaller pulpit rather than the grand carved Gothic pulpit. Later, as the Post-Communion hymn was being sung, there was a surprise Father’s Day present from the children of the parish. And there was a surprise Father’s Day present later in the morning from a parishioner in All Saints’ Church – a “Father’s Day present for Father,” the Romanian woman told me with a smile as she gave me Italian truffles.

Looking across to the Mountains of Mourne from the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath, this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

The sunshine was bright as we left Phibsboro and Glasnevin in the early afternoon. After a short visit to Glasnevin to inquire about available historical tours, two of us continued north to the ‘Gold Coast’ of Co Meath and Bettystown, where we walked the beach and had lunch in Relish.

As we walked the beach, the Mountains of Mourne were clearly visible along the Co Down coast in the distance to the north.

We returned through Balbriggan to Skerries and finally got back to south Dublin to enjoy a glass of wine in the garden in the evening as the sun faded slowly.

Trinity Sunday: should we be heavy on the
celebration and light on the explanation?

A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 15 June 2014: Trinity Sunday

11.30 a.m., All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Dublin, Holy Communion 2

Readings:
Genesis 1: 1-2: 4a or Isaiah 40: 12-17, 27-31; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13: 11-13; Matthew 28: 16-20.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Although Trinity Sunday is one of my favourite Sundays in the liturgical year, I am aware that many clergy are reluctant to preach on this Sunday for fear of heresy.

The difficulties of preparing for this Sunday are compounded because this is the only festival in the Church year that celebrates a doctrine rather than an event or a person.

But perhaps if we approached Trinity Sunday thinking about how to celebrate our life in the Trinity rather than explaining our doctrine about the Trinity we might have very different sermons, with a very different approaches.

Heavy on the celebrations, light on the explanations – would it work better?

In the Western traditions of the Church, Trinity Sunday is the Sunday following the Day of Pentecost.

Interestingly, Trinity Sunday is a very Anglican day too: Thomas Becket (1118–1170) was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost, and his first act was to ordain that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honour of the Holy Trinity. This observance then spread from Canterbury throughout the Western Church.

Trinity is a popular name for churches and colleges throughout the English-speaking world. The official name of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, is actually the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. But it is also the official name of Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, and there are Trinity Colleges in Dublin, Cambridge and Oxford as well as a Trinity Hall in Cambridge.

Trinity College, Cambridge … Trinity is a popular name for cathedrals and colleges, so why do we shy away from talking about the Trinity? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

So, why are Anglican clergy, and clergy in general, so reluctant to talk about the Trinity, or so turgid and tortured when they do so? I know that for some preaching can be a difficult task. But sometimes preachers make it difficult – not only for ourselves, but for those who must listen to us.

And I wonder why so many clergy who get into the pulpit to preach on Trinity Sunday either descend to the depths of heresy or rise to the heights of lunacy.

The novelist and Anglican spiritual writer, Dorothy Sayers, wrote a humorous essay, ‘The Dogma is the Drama’ (Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos, London: Methuen, 1947), on the relevance of Christian doctrine to real life. In that essay, she drew up a kind of questionnaire with the sort of answers she felt ordinary people would give to questions like this. She wrote:

Question: What does the Church think of God the Father?

Answer: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfilment. He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgment and miracles, distributed with a good sense of favouritism. He likes to be truckled to, and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary.

Question: What does the Church think of God the Son?

Answer: He is in some way to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth. It was not his fault that the world was made like this and, unlike God the Father, he is friendly to man and did his best to reconcile man and God. He has a good deal of influence with God, and if you want anything done, it’s best to apply to him.

Question: What does the Church think of God the Holy Ghost?

Answer: I don’t know exactly. He was never seen or heard of till Whit Sunday. There is a sin against him which damns you for ever, but nobody knows what it is.

Question: What is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?

Answer: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible” – the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult. Nothing to do with daily life and reality.

Incomprehensible?

Nothing to do with daily life and reality?

Are these some of the difficulties you could imagine when it comes to thinking and talking about the Trinity?

In the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... officially known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It might be easier on Father’s Day to talk about our images of God the Father. But this is also Trinity Sunday, so allow me to introduce us this morning to some ways of thinking of God as the Trinity.

If I were to introduce you to my world, to my story, I might invite you to visit the places that have shaped and made me.

I might invite you to imagine what it was like for a small boy to lay awake in his grandmother’s farmhouse in west Waterford, it was so bright outside on a balmy summer’s evening. Downstairs, I can hear the old clock chiming out the time: it’s 10, and a hush descends on the house as the adults settle down in their chairs to listen to the news on the wireless. I hear the black kettle boiling on the open fire as someone prepares to make a pot of tea. Outside, a pigeon is still cooing in the thatch, I imagine I can hear the abbey bells ringing out the time across the fields, and I know I am safe and loved in this world.

Twenty or so years later, once again it’s late at night, in the top storey of a tall house in a narrow street in Wexford town.

It’s comforting to hear the clock of Rowe Street church count out the hours. Is that a late train I hear trundling along the quays? A lone voice in the Theatre Royal braving a late rehearsal for one of next week’s operas? And I am so looking forward to the Festival Service in Saint Iberius’s Church.

Let us move forward another two decades or so. I can’t sleep in this house in suburban Dublin. But I can hear my children snoring contentedly in their own rooms. Outside, the unseasonable rain is pelting down, the wind is rustling through the cherry tree outside, and I wonder whether all the cherry blossom will be shaken down and washed onto the grass below by the time morning dawns.

We can use words not only to tell our stories, but to paint pictures, to invite others into our communities, into our families, and into our lives. Now that you have heard and seen what has shaped me, where I have been formed, what made me feel loved and secure, now that you have been invited into my story, my family, and know me, we are ready to sing the same songs, to sit together at the same table. Why, we might even dance!

The Trinity is an image of God, a perfect community, a community of God that invites us to share God’s story, to sit at table with God, to sing songs with God, … all the things we’re doing at this Eucharist this morning. Why, as Karen Baker-Fletcher says in her recent book, the Trinity could be God’s invitation for us to dance with God [Karen Baker-Fletcher, Dancing With God: A Womanist Perspective on the Trinity (St Louis: Chalice Press, 2006; 2007)].

Two of the great Early Fathers of the Church, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint John of Damascus, use the term περιχώρησις (perichoresis), an image of going around, enveloping, to describe the mysterious union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Clark Pinnock writes: “The metaphor suggests moving around, making room, relating to one another without losing identity” [Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love, A theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996)].

There is a play on words – a pun on the Greek origins of the word – that allows us to think of creative choreography, to imagine a dance of reciprocal love. This divine unity is expressed in the relationship of the three as one, for relationship is at the heart of the unity of the three-in-one. It is a relationship that is mutual and reciprocal. The Trinity tells us that shared life is basic to the nature of God: God is perfect social relationship, perfect mutuality, perfect reciprocity, perfect peace, perfect love.

“As a circle of loving relationships, God is dynamically alive.” The three persons of the Trinity are caught up in an eternal dance of reciprocity, so intertwined that at times it may appear difficult to tell who is who. They move with choreographed harmony. The love emanating from within cannot help but create, for it is the nature of love not to harbour and to hoard but to expand and to create.

God has, from the beginning, been wooing creation to dance. The community of God desires community with us. You and I are being courted, God wants to dance with you, and with me. The love that created us and our world is the same love that longs to be in fellowship with us.

When we worship in spirit and in truth, do others, does the world, see us united as one, bound by love, dancing in harmony and flinging out new creation from within our midst? And do we call others to dance with us?

The Russian icon writer Andrei Rublev tried to create the same picture in a different way. In his famous icon of “The Visitation of Abraham,” he depicts three visitors who arrive at Abraham’s door. The guests become the hosts, the host becomes the guest, and Abraham is invited to a meal that is past, present and future. It is every domestic meal, it is a foretaste of the Eucharist, it is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

In welcoming strangers, Abraham is entertaining angels. But in entertaining angels, he is invited into communion with God as Trinity.

It is a moment in the past, a moment in the present and a moment in the future, when we shall all be restored to being in the image and likeness of God our Creator. God, in creating us, creates out of love, making our destiny eternal life with him. We are created to experience life within the Trinitarian communion of persons.

For there are three things we all encounter in our lives:

● we all need to be cared for;
● we all encounter suffering;
● we all need company.

God the Father creates us and cares for us; God in Christ identifies with our suffering, takes on and takes away our suffering; God the Holy Spirit enlivens our communities, gives us that divine measure. God has, in a very real way, entered into the mystery of our humanity, so that we may enter into the mystery that is his communio personarum.

“This deifying union has, nevertheless, to be fulfilled ever more and more even in this present life, through the transformation of our human nature and by its adaptation to eternal life.” [Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Press, 2002), p. 196.]

God invites us in creation, in Christ, in the Church, in the Word, and in the Sacrament, to be in union with God, to share God’s story, to sit down and dine with God, to sing and dance with God, to find our inner dwelling with God, and to be at one with God. And that is the purpose and the fulfilment of Christian life.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
Keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
may we who have received this holy communion,
worship you with lips and lives
proclaiming your majesty
and finally see you in your eternal glory:
Holy and Eternal Trinity,
one God, now and for ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Parish Eucharist in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Dublin, on Trinity Sunday, 15 June 2014.

Inside All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Trinity Sunday: made dull by celebrating
a doctrine rather than joining the dance?

A modern icon in the style of Andrei Rublev’s icon of the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 15 June 2014: Trinity Sunday

10 a.m., Saint Werburgh’s Church, Dublin, Holy Communion 2.

Readings:
Genesis 1: 1-2: 4a or Isaiah 40: 12-17, 27-31; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13: 11-13; Matthew 28: 16-20.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Although Trinity Sunday is one of my favourite Sundays in the liturgical year, I am aware that many clergy are reluctant to preach on this Sunday for fear of heresy.

The difficulties of preparing for this Sunday are compounded because this is the only festival in the Church year that celebrates a doctrine rather than an event or a person.

But perhaps if we approached Trinity Sunday thinking about how to celebrate our life in the Trinity rather than explaining our doctrine about the Trinity we might have very different sermons, with a very different approaches.

Heavy on the celebrations, light on the explanations – would it work better?

In the Western traditions of the Church, Trinity Sunday is the Sunday following the Day of Pentecost.

Interestingly, Trinity Sunday is a very Anglican day too: Thomas Becket (1118–1170) was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost, and his first act was to ordain that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honour of the Holy Trinity. This observance then spread from Canterbury throughout the Western Church.

Trinity is a popular name for churches and colleges throughout the English-speaking world. The official name of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, is actually the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity, but it is also the official name of Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, and there are Trinity Colleges in Dublin, Cambridge and Oxford as well as a Trinity Hall in Cambridge.
Trinity College Dublin ... Trinity is a popular name for cathedrals and colleges, so why do we shy away from talking about the Trinity? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

So, why are Anglican clergy, and clergy in general, so reluctant to talk about the Trinity, or so turgid and tortured when they do so? I know that for some preaching can be a difficult task. But sometimes preachers make it difficult – not only for ourselves, but for those who must listen to us.

And I wonder why so many clergy who get into the pulpit to preach on Trinity Sunday either descend to the depths of heresy or rise to the heights of lunacy.

The novelist and Anglican spiritual writer, Dorothy Sayers, wrote a humorous essay, ‘The Dogma is the Drama’ (Dorothy L. Sayers, Creed or Chaos, London: Methuen, 1947), on the relevance of Christian doctrine to real life. In that essay, she drew up a kind of questionnaire with the sort of answers she felt ordinary people would give to questions like this. She wrote:

Question: What does the Church think of God the Father?

Answer: He is omnipotent and holy. He created the world and imposed on man conditions impossible of fulfilment. He is very angry if these are not carried out. He sometimes interferes by means of arbitrary judgment and miracles, distributed with a good sense of favouritism. He likes to be truckled to, and is always ready to pounce on anybody who trips up over a difficulty in the Law, or is having a bit of fun. He is rather like a dictator, only larger and more arbitrary.

Question: What does the Church think of God the Son?

Answer: He is in some way to be identified with Jesus of Nazareth. It was not his fault that the world was made like this and, unlike God the Father, he is friendly to man and did his best to reconcile man and God. He has a good deal of influence with God, and if you want anything done, it’s best to apply to him.

Question: What does the Church think of God the Holy Ghost?

Answer: I don’t know exactly. He was never seen or heard of till Whit Sunday. There is a sin against him which damns you for ever, but nobody knows what it is.

Question: What is the doctrine of the Holy Trinity?

Answer: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible” – the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult. Nothing to do with daily life and reality.

Incomprehensible?

Nothing to do with daily life and reality?

Are these some of the difficulties you could imagine when it comes to thinking and talking about the Trinity?

In the grounds of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... officially known as the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It might be easier on Father’s Day to talk about our images of God the Father. But this is also Trinity Sunday, so allow me to introduce us this morning to some ways of thinking of God as the Trinity.

If I were to introduce you to my world, to my story, I might invite you to visit the places that have shaped and made me.

I might invite you to imagine what it was like for a small boy to lay awake in his grandmother’s farmhouse in west Waterford, it was so bright outside on a balmy summer’s evening. Downstairs, I can hear the old clock chiming out the time: it’s 10, and a hush descends on the house as the adults settle down in their chairs to listen to the news on the wireless. I hear the black kettle boiling on the open fire as someone prepares to make a pot of tea. Outside, a pigeon is still cooing in the thatch, I imagine I can hear the abbey bells ringing out the time across the fields, and I know I am safe and loved in this world.

Twenty or so years later, once again it’s late at night, in the top storey of a tall house in a narrow street in Wexford town.

It’s comforting to hear the clock of Rowe Street church count out the hours. Is that a late train I hear trundling along the quays? A lone voice in the Theatre Royal braving a late rehearsal for one of next week’s operas? And I am so looking forward to the Festival Service in Saint Iberius’s Church.

Let us move forward another two decades or so. I can’t sleep in this house in suburban Dublin. But I can hear my children snoring contentedly in their own rooms. Outside, the unseasonable rain is pelting down, the wind is rustling through the cherry tree outside, and I wonder whether all the cherry blossom will be shaken down and washed onto the grass below by the time morning dawns.

We can use words not only to tell our stories, but to paint pictures, to invite others into our communities, into our families, and into our lives. Now that you have heard and seen what has shaped me, where I have been formed, what made me feel loved and secure, now that you have been invited into my story, my family, and know me, we are ready to sing the same songs, to sit together at the same table. Why, we might even dance!

The Trinity is an image of God, a perfect community, a community of God that invites us to share God’s story, to sit at table with God, to sing songs with God, … all the things we’re doing at this Eucharist this morning. Why, as Karen Baker-Fletcher says in her recent book, the Trinity could be God’s invitation for us to dance with God [Karen Baker-Fletcher, Dancing With God: A Womanist Perspective on the Trinity (St Louis: Chalice Press, 2006; 2007)].

Two of the great Early Fathers of the Church, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus and Saint John of Damascus, use the term περιχώρησις (perichoresis), an image of going around, enveloping, to describe the mysterious union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Clark Pinnock writes: “The metaphor suggests moving around, making room, relating to one another without losing identity” [Clark Pinnock, Flame of Love, A theology of the Holy Spirit (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996)].

There is a play on words – a pun on the Greek origins of the word – that allows us to think of creative choreography, to imagine a dance of reciprocal love. This divine unity is expressed in the relationship of the three as one, for relationship is at the heart of the unity of the three-in-one. It is a relationship that is mutual and reciprocal. The Trinity tells us that shared life is basic to the nature of God: God is perfect social relationship, perfect mutuality, perfect reciprocity, perfect peace, perfect love.

“As a circle of loving relationships, God is dynamically alive.” The three persons of the Trinity are caught up in an eternal dance of reciprocity, so intertwined that at times it may appear difficult to tell who is who. They move with choreographed harmony. The love emanating from within cannot help but create, for it is the nature of love not to harbour and to hoard but to expand and to create.

God has, from the beginning, been wooing creation to dance. The community of God desires community with us. You and I are being courted, God wants to dance with you, and with me. The love that created us and our world is the same love that longs to be in fellowship with us.

When we worship in spirit and in truth, do others, does the world, see us united as one, bound by love, dancing in harmony and flinging out new creation from within our midst? And do we call others to dance with us?

The Russian icon writer Andrei Rublev tried to create the same picture in a different way. In his famous icon of “The Visitation of Abraham,” he depicts three visitors who arrive at Abraham’s door. The guests become the hosts, the host becomes the guest, and Abraham is invited to a meal that is past, present and future. It is every domestic meal, it is a foretaste of the Eucharist, it is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

In welcoming strangers, Abraham is entertaining angels. But in entertaining angels, he is invited into communion with God as Trinity.

It is a moment in the past, a moment in the present and a moment in the future, when we shall all be restored to being in the image and likeness of God our Creator. God, in creating us, creates out of love, making our destiny eternal life with him. We are created to experience life within the Trinitarian communion of persons.

For there are three things we all encounter in our lives:

● we all need to be cared for;
● we all encounter suffering;
● we all need company.

God the Father creates us and cares for us; God in Christ identifies with our suffering, takes on and takes away our suffering; God the Holy Spirit enlivens our communities, gives us that divine measure. God has, in a very real way, entered into the mystery of our humanity, so that we may enter into the mystery that is his communio personarum.

“This deifying union has, nevertheless, to be fulfilled ever more and more even in this present life, through the transformation of our human nature and by its adaptation to eternal life.” [Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (Crestwood, NY: Saint Vladimir’s Press, 2002), p. 196.]

God invites us in creation, in Christ, in the Church, in the Word, and in the Sacrament, to be in union with God, to share God’s story, to sit down and dine with God, to sing and dance with God, to find our inner dwelling with God, and to be at one with God. And that is the purpose and the fulfilment of Christian life.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Inside Saint Werburgh’s Church, Church Street, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
Keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.

Post-Communion Prayer:

Almighty God,
may we who have received this holy communion,
worship you with lips and lives
proclaiming your majesty
and finally see you in your eternal glory:
Holy and Eternal Trinity,
one God, now and for ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This sermon was preached at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Werburgh’s Church, Werburgh Street, Dublin, on Trinity Sunday, 15 June 2014.