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Holy Trinity Sunday

Dr. Thome will lead the congregation—and the children!—in an exercise to make the sound of a rainstorm.

Some things can’t be well-explained. To me, the Holy Trinity is one of those things. How do you make sense of something that makes no sense? How can God be one and also three distinct persons—God the Creator, God the Son How do you make a concept into a tangible thing? It’s math that doesn’t work: 1 + 1 + 1 = …1?! It’s not logical.

And who can tell me where the word “Trinity” appears in the Bible? Anywhere in the Scriptures? Trick question: the word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible! It’s not there. We get descriptions of God as Creator or named as Father or Parent, and there’s testimony about Jesus Christ the human being who walked on the earth, and there’s a Holy Spirit that is talked about and shows up in various places…but we don’t get a well-developed theology of the Trinity.

And people have been trying to explain it for centuries. There were arguments about this in the first centuries of Christianity—that’s why we have creeds. Our church—the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, of which Gethsemane Lutheran Church is a congregation—confesses three ecumenical creeds, which means we share these same beliefs with many other Christian groups around the world. Can you name the three creeds? Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian.

The Apostles’ Creed is the shortest of the creeds, and the one that Martin Luther uses in the catechism to explain faith. The Nicene is the longer creed that we use on festival Sundays, like today. And the Athanasian Creed is pretty long, pretty repetitive, and if it ever gets used, it’s traditionally used on Trinity Sunday. I’ve been told that isn’t a tradition here, so we’re not going to read it together today. Maybe next year!

But even in the early centuries of Christianity, people wanted words to explain the Holy Trinity, and one of the words used in the eighth century by Greek theologian John Damascene was this word: perichoresis.

Theologian Catherine Mowry LaCugna explains it this way: “Perichoresis means being-in-one-another, permeation without confusion. No person exists by him/herself or is referred to him/herself; this would produce number and therefore division within God. Rather, to be a divine person is to be by nature in relation to other persons. Each divine person is irresistibly drawn to the other, taking his/her existence from the other, containing the other in him/herself, while at the same time pouring self out into the other.”[1]

So that’s how God is three and God is one at the same time. Makes sense right? Not a lot? Well here’s another way to understand perichoresis: like a dance. The way humans can dance together in a choreographed way, where no one is leading and no one is following but there’s constant movement and interplay between bodies—movement. Relationship. The Holy Trinity is not hierarchical, 1-2-3, first-second-third in a ranked order. But the Holy Trinity is a relationship.

It’s like a dance. And you’re invited to the dance. The weird thing is that we can’t dance around here in the sanctuary together—we’re still trying to limit our movements around so that we don’t put people at unnecessary risk while we’re trying to find our way out of this ongoing pandemic. And I haven’t been here very long, but I feel certain that IF WE COULD, we totally WOULD be dancing during worship, right? I can’t wait to see it!

And there’s something about participating in a dance, working together with a community, that expresses enduring truths but also creates something new. Theologian Ann Pederson uses the example of jazz music to explain how creation happens through improvisation. She writes, “The model of jazz emphasizes cooperative and creative relationships, empower the individual while preserving the community and adapts to novelty while conserving tradition. Jazz has always developed within a diverse musical community using a diversity of players. The players become internally related to the composition and the composer itself.”[2]

So imagine how jazz music could be a way of understanding the way God continues to create: God sets the beat and the rhythm, and others of us bring our various instruments and pick up the rhythm and take turns improvising. When we’re all grooving, it sounds great and makes other people want to listen. Maybe someone hits a dissonant note once in a while, but we keep on going, always creating together something new.

It isn’t about understanding or making sense, comprehending any particular confession. Life in God, and life in the Trinity, is about participating in the dance of the Trinity to which you have been invited.

“Do not be astonished,” Jesus said to Nicodemus, “that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.”

What if we stop trying to make sense of the Trinity and simply receive God’s grace instead? What if the Trinity is only difficult to understand because humans made it difficult to understand? God doesn’t appear to have any trouble understanding—God just keeps doing God’s thing. And God just keeps inviting us to play.

And we all have a part. And right, we don’t have enough jazz instruments here at our disposal to hand out string instruments and saxophones and clarinets and drums to everyone. So we’re doing the next best thing: each playing a part in the sound of a rainstorm. Your clapping, your hands, these are valuable and important.

The dance and the music are a metaphor, of course, for the work that God is doing to continually restore creation. Your song might be visiting someone who is sick, or bringing food to the hungry. Your dance might be befriending someone who is lonely. It isn’t a small thing—it is the healing of creation.

Your music is part of the great symphony of creation. God is the conductor, the dancer, and the dance itself.


Pastor Cheryl

[1] LaCugna, Catherine Mowry, God For Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, 1991, page 271. [2] Ann Pederson, God, Creation, and All That Jazz: A Process of Composition and Improvisation, 2001, page ix.


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