Andrei Rublev, a fourteenth century Russian iconographer, created an image of the Trinity depicting the three divine persons seated for a meal. Like most icons the image is painted on a gold background. Light seems to surround the figures. Icons are meant to give us a heavenly glimpse. These are not the standard Western representations of the Trinity, which tend to follow a pattern my Eucharistic Theology Professor, Sister Teresa Koernke, used to call: “Two Dudes and a Bird.” No, Rublev’s figures are angelic. Their gender is not immediately apparent. They are seated for a meal, their heads tilt in conversation, and they surround a table.
The genius of Rublev’s Trinity icon reveals itself when you consider the perspective. The divine persons are seated around the table, but at the front of the Icon is an open space. There is room at the table. The viewer is invited in, in to this intimate conversation. We, the onlookers, are invited to participate in the divine life. This is really the mystery at the heart of the Trinity. Through all of the grand theology, the questions of persons and substance, and co-existence, the real teaching is this: God is all about relationship.
Meister Eckhart the Christian monk and mystic once explained the Trinity poetically this way, and please excuse the gendered pronouns. Eckhart lived a long time ago:
“The Father laughed, and the Son was born. The Father and Son then laughed together, and the Spirit was born. The three then started laughing and humanity was born.”
That description is one of the better explanations of God’s life, because the Trinity is all about relationship. God is not some static principle, but as they say in Spanish “es una dynamica.” God is dynamic.
The phrase in Spanish is more than just the English word “dynamic.” In Spanish “dynamica” calls to mind the beauties and the difficulties of relationship. Anyone who is in, or has been in a serious relationship can tell you…there are lots of “dynamics.” I am always surprised when people tell me they don’t believe in God anymore because something happened that caused them to doubt. I want to say, “have you never been in a relationship?” Or “have you never had a deep friendship.” Like any relationship, the relationship God invites us into is not easy. I suspect there are quite of few of us, who, if asked to specify our relationship with God on Facebook, would select the option “it’s complicated.”
But that is more than okay, that is what God wants. God, following the Christian tradition, and the doctrine of the Trinity, our God is the God who is constantly present to the messiness of history, the God who is constantly present to the messiness of our lives. God is always already with us.
As the Spirit of Wisdom says in our first reading this morning. By the way, did you notice that the Spirit was referred to as “She” in the reading. There’s the Biblical support for all of you who regularly re-write the Creed when we say them in Church, when you say: “She proceeds from the Father…She has spoken through the prophets.” I hear you. Here’s your Biblical support. Listen again to what the Spirit says in Wisdom: I was daily [God’s] delight, rejoicing before God always, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
God delights in humankind. God delights in you. God delights in me. God delights in all of humankind, even that sister you are frustrated with, even the son who isn’t talking to you. God even delights in that political candidate you don’t agree with. God delights in all of humankind, all, without prejudice, without condition. God delights in the human race.
For us, that delight often comes with more difficulty. Our relationships are sometimes fraught. Our lines of communication are often broken. Our lines get crossed.
Since coming to Holy Communion, I have been learning a great deal about the difference, in human relationships, between co-dependence and interdependence.
More than any church I have ever been a part of, more than any diocese I have ever worked in, there is an active discussion about the role of alcoholism and addiction in this parish, in this diocese right now. Within a few weeks of my starting as your rector, I had multiple requests about the possibility to implement a grape-juice chalice as a sign of welcome for those who choose to abstain from wine. This church community hosts more recovery groups than any I have known. More people meet here weekly to say, “I am an alcoholic” than to receive Eucharist.
The presence of so many in active recovery has been a gift for me. I have learned a great deal from those who have wrestled with demons. One of those learnings has been the language of co-dependence. Alcoholism does usually not only affect the drinker, if often affects their loved ones as well. The power of addiction can be compounded by co-dependency. When a spouse, partner, parent, or sibling enables the addictive behavior of an alcoholic, a cycle can develop which diminishes the humanity of both the alcoholic and the co-dependent person.
Co-dependency often masquerades as love. We don’t want to see our loved ones suffer. But when patterns of behavior develop: lying to cover for our loved one, staying silent toward abuse, disconnecting from other relationships, what we mean to be loving becomes co-dependency. Co-dependent people see their care used as a means to an end. Time, energy, money, and life are consumed by the disease. Human relationships are naturally complicated, but when co-dependence develops, natural complication becomes disordered abuse.
Co-dependency is the shadow side of relationship. But the answer to this form of toxic relationship is not utter independence. You don’t learn how to have healthy relationships by moving off to a cabin in the woods by yourself. To be our full selves we need one another, but not in a co-dependent way. The idea of interdependence presupposes that the participants in community are autonomous. They can survive on their own. But in interdependent community, they can move beyond surviving to thriving.
Think of a choir. Sure, we all love a good soprano or tenor solo. There’s less glory for those of us who are altos or baritones, but there are good parts. Even a bass gets a solo now and again. But if all we did here on Sunday morning was listen to solos, the congregation would get quite bored. We can make music separately, but, something altogether mysterious happens when the individual singers join up in sections, and the sections become a choir. That’s interdependence.
We know something of this interdependence here at Holy Communion. For over fifty years we have had a great teacher. Mary Carol Schlueter came to this parish while she was still a student, to fill in on the organ. She was several months pregnant at the time. Dr. Hohenschild, the rector at the time liked her playing so much that he came to visit Mary Carol in the hospital after the baby was born. He didn’t give her an option: “You will stay on” he said. She did.
In his letter to Mary Carol the Bishop of Missouri points out that in her time on our organ bench she has seen new hymnals, new prayer books, and seven rectors. She has led adult choirs, children’s choirs, worked with staff singers and volunteers some of whom couldn’t hold a tune. She has done all of this work with grace, with love, and with a deep humility. She really wishes I would stop talking about her right now.
Make no mistake, the work of church musicians is ministry. They help us to glimpse the possibilities of human community. They help us to hear what is possible when we bring our voices together. We can be more than the sum of our parts. We can, forgive the pun, work in harmony.
The Eastern Theologians, the teachers of Orthodox believers like Andrei Rublev have a teaching about the Trinity. They call it perichoresis, which means “the dance.” At the heart of God, it is said, is a dance. Our belief that God is three in One and One in three may best be understood as a dynamism, a dance. God is not static, but active, moving. God is not independent, but interdependent, more than the sum of the parts. God’s unity is in movement.
I translated perichoresis as dance, which is the standard translation. But you could look at this teaching another way. Part of perichoresis is chorein, the root for our word “chorus.” In ancient Greece, when you danced, you also usually sang. There weren’t iPods and bluetooth speakers. The chorus danced, and the chorus sang. Translated this way, we could see the inner life of God as the movement of a choir, the interdependence found in the voices singing together.
Doing so, we could re-write Meister Eckhart.
“The Father sang, and the Son was born. The Father and Son then sang together, and the Spirit was born. The three then started singing and humanity was born.”
Imagine the possibilities if we sing together. Friends, we are invited to join in the chorus, to find the harmony. In a note of personal privilege I finish this sermon with a word of thanks to Mary Carol. Thank you for teaching us to sing together. Thank you for accompanying us for so many years. May God bless you richly in your retirement.