To understand the lessons we have heard today, we have to look at where we have been over the last liturgical year. We started in Advent, anticipating the birth of the Messiah. Then we journeyed through the actual birth narrative at Christmas, and continued to celebrate Christ’s identity as the Messiah throughout the season of Epiphany. In Lent, we journeyed through the temptation of Christ, and narrated the reason for our need for a Messiah. That journey continued through Holy Week as we walked through the crucifixion and death of Jesus, remembering how the story of Jesus is rooted in the historical salvation narrative from the beginning of creation, ending on the joyous resurrection of Jesus and the seven weeks of celebrating what the resurrection and ascension means for our everyday lives. Last week, we welcomed the manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the disciples of Christ, that joyous, cacophonous celebration. Finally, after that long journey we arrive at today, Trinity Sunday.
For many Trinity Sunday is one of the weirder Sundays of the Church. Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in our calendar year dedicated to a theological concept. Furthermore, the theological concept is one of the hardest in our faith. Whole gatherings, like the one in Nicea, have happened just to hash out what having a triune God means, people have been labeled as heretics when they do not get it quite right, and authors have spent myriad pages trying to explain a concept that sometimes feels beyond words. And that does not even include the number of parents and Sunday School teachers who have tried to make the concept of the trinity understandable to our youngest members – because, quite frankly, the concept is hard even for us adults! And yet, at the conclusion of the long journey in the liturgical calendar – from Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Lent, all the way to Easter and Pentecost – the church stops today and designates a day to celebrate the triune nature of God.
Part of why we honor the Trinity this day is to give meaning to this seven-month journey – to answer the “so what?” of all we have learned. Into that question, we read Isaiah’s call narrative from chapter six of Isaiah. Now some scholars argue we hear Isaiah’s call story today because this passage was used in the early Church’s development of the doctrine of the Trinity.[i] For me, that is not the most important reason we hear this lesson today. Certainly, I want us as faithful disciples to understand the doctrine of the Trinity because the doctrine is unique among other faiths to our understanding of God. But I am always more concerned about what you do with understanding than that you simply attain the understanding. That is why I like this very human story about a reaction to God. In Isaiah’s story, he is confronted with appearance of God – the majesty of God alone would be enough, but the appearance of seraphs, these winged snake-like figures – and the earth-shattering noise[ii] of their “Qadosh, qadosh, qadosh…Holy, holy, holy,” and the appearance and smell of smoke leave Isaiah utterly awestruck and keenly aware of his unworthiness. Into that posture, and into Isaiah’s forgiveness, Isaiah has no other response when God asks, “whom shall I send to go out for us?” The answer is simple. Send me.
That is the “so what?” of Trinity Sunday. Telling Isaiah’s story today helps us see the cosmically important reason why our own call or vocation is so important – not just that we have a job or purpose – but that our job or purpose is in response to the awesomeness of the Holy, Undivided Trinity – the fearsome, incarnate, mysterious revelation of the Godhead – three in one and one in three. Every Sunday we send each person here and those gathered around the world through their screens out into the world to do the work God has given us to do. That instruction is a commissioning and a blessing. But today, we also honor how that work is a response to the awesomeness of our God. We take all those powerful, sacred, quiet ah-ha moments we have had with God, and we take all those proddings from the Holy Spirit when we have felt like our gifts can and are being used for a great purpose, and we respond in the words of that old hymn, “Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” and we have no other words but, “Here am I; send me.” Amen.
[i] Donald K. McKim, “Theological Perspective,” Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 28.
[ii] Rolf Jacobson explains this understanding of the Hebrew words in the podcast, “SB607 – Holy Trinity,” May 19, 2018, found at https://www.workingpreacher.org/podcasts/sb607-holy-trinity, as found on May 27, 2021.