This is Memorial Day weekend. And today is Trinity Sunday. It occurred to me that there are some interesting connections… Memorial Day, if you’ll allow me to speak idealistically, is about remembering and giving thanks for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. Whether a soldier agreed with or even understood the policies and politics of what was going on at the time, they stepped out and went forth and died for the highest ideals which our country is built upon: e.g., democracy and equality, liberty and life; freedom of expression and of belief. We hold them and their sacrifice in our hearts and we are grateful. Their offering of themselves affords us the opportunity to continue to enjoy the rights they died to preserve.
And we know that without our vigilance, our devotion, our gratitude, and our remembrance of their sacrifice we stand to lose what was so hard-fought for and won. If we ignore or neglect our freedoms, we will lose them. At least: they will be taken away; at worst: they will atrophy. Either way, we will be lost…
The doctrine of the Trinity is in similar straits. It is the core of Christian belief that without our vigilance, our devotion and gratitude, without our remembrance, we stand to lose what was so hard-fought for and won and which defines us.
There is One God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Now I could speak philosophically and at length and find myriad quotes about freedom and democracy, liberty and equality. I could speak theologically and at length about the Trinity. For instance one of the most succinct statements about the Trinity is from Sergei Bulgakov: “God is one in his holy trihypostasizedness.” His essence or beingness is threefold… But eyes would glass over and snores might rise. Isn’t it better when we offer examples of these things? Isn’t it more helpful to illustrate and demonstrate than pontificate?
So let’s show how the Trinity is applicable. There is pragmatic reality and consequence to believing the Trinity. For instance I strive to use the Trinity to guide how I live my life, understand my job, celebrate the Sacred Mysteries, and worship God in the fullness of His beauty.
In my public life: I try to think of economics and politics with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as my grounding: The Father is the source of a morality of love, Jesus is shows a morality of self-sacrifice and the Holy Spirit instills a sense of altruism.
In my vocation, which includes social work & “ministry”: Hope is the ground of all my labor. God did not give up on His creation. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” But I fall short of that love and come under indictment: Jesus said “if you love me you will keep my commandments.” While forgiveness through Jesus Christ is given, that is not enough to motivate me and so Jesus says “the Holy Spirit will remind you of everything and inspire you to do more…” If this is how God treats & leads me, shall I not do the same for others?
In my worship: Worship is all about how we honor and respect and love God. It is the worth that we place on our relationship with God. Typically we refer to the major liturgical styles as “high” or “Anglo-Catholic/Orthodox,” “evangelical,” and “charismatic.”
At its very best, high church worship with its majesty, its jewels, precious metals, and incense, its ceremony and ritual, trumpets and chants, at its very best, high church worship is an enthronement service for God the Father.
At its very best, evangelical worship with its unapologetic proclamation, the appeal and invitation for Christ the King to become Lord of our lives, the invitation to ask Jesus into our hearts, the preaching of the word of God: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. At its very best, evangelical worship is the exaltation of God the Son.
At its very best, charismatic worship is about the enjoyment, the sharing, the spontaneity and the manifestation of the gifts and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The healing, the compassion and guidance, the power, the freedom, the joy: at its very best, charismatic worship celebrates the presence of God the Holy Spirit.
Christians believe that God is eternally revealed as Holy Trinity: One in Three and Three in One—God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. So if we would worship all of God, we must honor the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Otherwise we must decide what part of God, do we not want in our worship?
The ramifications of this are profound. Without the Holy Spirit, high church worship for all its splendor, can become rote ritual. Without the Holy Spirit, evangelical worship can become legalistic and puritanical.
Without God the Son, so-called Spirit-filled worship, with all the freedom and joy, is susceptible to being ungrounded and individualistic. Without God the Son, high church worship for all its splendor can become merely precious.
Without God the Father, evangelical worship can become rule driven and reward focused. Without God the Father, charismatic worship can become chaotic, detached from Truth, and far too subjective.
This isn’t just a matter of taste or style. And it sure isn’t about just what we like; there are practical repercussions. One of the most important goes back to the principal reason for why Jesus came to die for us in the first place, and what we accomplish when we come together to worship Him. He came to save us from our sins. His sacrifice provides us with the possibility of a personal relationship with God, and to make our union Him and with one another a reality. This is why we worship regularly and frequently together. And this is why liturgical worship is not democratically or dictatorially derived. As faithful worshippers and followers of Jesus, we need ancient hymns: their very deep theology and the connection they preserve for us with our ancestors. And we also need new songs. Every generation has to write its own affirmation and love song to God. I’ve noticed that most ancient hymns tend to speak about God and about our faith; whereas many new hymns tend to sing to God, and address God as “You.” A steady diet of either, and either without the corrective of the other, is problematic. We need the grounding and we need the relationship. We need the strident majesty and subtle beauty. And we need the exuberant praise.
At its heart then, Christian worship is all for God and affords us the opportunity to express our relationship with Him in the community of brothers and sisters. I want to worship all of God. I want to experience God in His fullness. I know that our personal tastes don’t plumb the depths or exhaust the range of all that the Lord wants us to know or experience.
So the last manifestation of the Holy Trinity is the patience and love and humility we all need to respect one another in the myriad idiosyncrasies which we manifest in our worship. Some stand, some sit, some kneel. Someday someone may dance. Some fold their arms. Some fold their hands. Some lift their hands and raise their arms. Is any of this wrong? Does any of this not fit? I don’t think so. Is there room for variety, for differing expressions? I hope so. Without it, we run the risk of missing the Kingdom of God and not noticing Heaven in our midst.
May the Lord bless us each of us and all of us as we seek ever more faithfully to serve and worship Him in the fullness and the beauty of holiness: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.