Sermon, Trinity Sunday, Year C 2022
Today’s sermon is almost completely taken from the first sermon I preached on Trinity Sunday here at St Peter’s.
The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the ways that we Christians try to understand the nature of God. In today’s reading from Proverbs, the woman called Wisdom gives us some insight into God’s nature.
Ellen Davis, who teaches at Duke, and is one of our most important Old Testament theologians and Hebrew scholars, says that “the picture of Wisdom playing, even giddily, before God, must be allowed to stand as the important theological statement it is.”
Davis offers this translation of Wisdom speaking about herself at the end of today’s reading from Proverbs.
“And I was delights daily, playing before him continually, playing in his inhabited world, and my delights were with human beings.”
Davis says that here the writer of Proverbs emphasizes the element of play in God’s nature.
After all, God didn’t have to create this world, or us, for that matter!
Davis points out that God’s decision to create the world was a matter of absolutely free choice, and in fact, creation, and especially humanity, God created simply for “the sake of God’s own pleasure.”
The freedom to create and delight in what is created belong together, in divine play just as in child’s play. In this “boisterous” image we see Divine Wisdom freely playing with, and delighting in human beings!
The fact that God plays in creation reminds us that God is here with us and is intimately involved with every aspect of our lives, just as God is intimately involved with all of creation.
And the fact that God is intimately involved with us and with all of creation finds expression in the doctrine of the Trinity,
because as Davis goes on to point out, we “Christians confess that God not only created the world but dwelt in it as a human being and God now continues to be present in our midst through the Holy Spirit, one of whose seven gifts is the wisdom of God.”
An understanding of the Trinity that was popular in the first few centuries of the church captures this playful nature of God.
This understanding is known as perichoreisis.
Catherine LaCugna, a theologian who wrote about the Trinity, tells us that perichoresis expresses the idea that the three divine persons mutually exist permanently in one another, draw life from one another, and are what they are by relation to one another.
If we take the Greek prefix peri (around) and link it with the root of the verb choreuein (to dance), we get a lively metaphor that describes the “one nature in three persons” of the Trinity. Literally God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit “dance around.” The choreia or dance of God is “the choreography of the cosmos—it’s the interrelationship of Creator, creation, and life itself, the holy creativity of the All in All.” (from notes on Perichoresis from The Rev. Susan Sowers)
And LaCugna goes on to add that we, yes, all of us, all of humanity, have been made partners in this divine dance, not through our own merit, or because we’re good dancers, but because God has chosen us to join in this cosmic dance of love. We have been made partners in the divine dance, because everything comes from God, and everything returns to God, and this coming and returning happens through Jesus Christ in the Spirit—“the choreography of the divine dance which takes place from all eternity and is manifest at every moment of creation.”
LaCugna points out that this “one mystery of communion includes God and humanity as beloved partners in the dance.”
Dancing is good for us. A recent article in The Washington Post, “Anxious, lonely, or angry? Try Dancing,” quotes Lucia Horan, who teaches a specific kind of dance that helps people to deal with stress. She says that the “beauty of dance is that it addresses these quadrants of healing—the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual.” She goes on to say that dance works for many people because if forces people to focus on the present moment, which can bring relief from worry, grief, and emotional pain.
The early church fathers used the metaphor of dancing as a way of elevating the soul.
St Augustine says this about dancing.
“I praise the dance, because it frees people from the heaviness of matter and binds the isolated to community. I praise the dance, which demands everything: health and a clear spirit and a buoyant soul. Dance is a transformation of space, of time, of people, who are in constant danger of becoming all brain, will, or feeling. Dancing demands a whole person, one who is firmly anchored in the centre of his life…I praise the dance. O Man, learn to dance, or else the angels in heaven will not know what to do with you.”
Brendan O’Malley tells us that in the Christian Church for the first thousand years Christians danced in procession to and from the church. This dance was known as the “Tripudium, which means three steps or transport of joy… The dancers linked arms and danced in row after row, three steps forward, one step back, moving through the streets and into the church and around it during the hymns of the service, and then out through the streets as a recessional.”
Three steps forward, one step back, three steps forward and one step back—this is how we move toward God in this lifetime, stepping backward periodically, but then advancing again.
So the early Christians danced into, and in, and out of their churches, and felt in their bodies the pull of the divine dance of the Trinity, a dance of mutual love, breathing in together the breath of life, and pouring out to one another in mutual giving.
So what does this understanding of the Trinity, this divine dance that we’re a part of, have to do with how we live our lives today?
Brain McLaren, a current theologian, offers this simple thought experiment.
Imagine God as “this loving trinity of perichoresis, a sacred choreography of self-giving, other receiving; honoring, being honored; fully seeing the other, fully revealing the self.”
Now imagine the universe that this God has freely and playfully chosen to create. Imagine dancing to the music of this universe—“a wild and wonderful symphony, full of polyphony and surprise, expansive in themes, each movement inspiring the possibility of more movements as yet unimagined, all woven together with coherent motifs and morphing rhythms, where even dissonance has a place within higher more comprehensive patterns of harmony and wholeness.”
And finally, McLaren asks us to “imagine how people in this universe would manifest trust in this triune God—with undying creative love toward creation, and all of humanity, and even love toward those people who hold differing beliefs.”
This doctrine of the Trinity as perichoresis is a gift to us, because it allows us to imagine God-in-God, dancing in community, God electing us, choosing you and choosing me, to join in God in this divine dance, stepping with joy into God’s dance with the rest of humanity and all of creation.
And because God has no limits, we know that God has elected all of humanity, not just us, to dance divinely, our arms outstretched and linked in love to one another, taking three steps forward, one step back, and three more steps forward, in a transport of joy, as we learn to dance this divine dance with one another and with God right here in God’s good creation.
And if we fully enter into this divine dance, then surely, as Clement of Alexandria said, even now, “we raise our winged souls to the heavens.”
Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, by Ellen Davis. Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.
God for Us: The Trinity and Christian Life, by Catherine Mowry LaCugna. HarperSanFrancisco, 1973.
Lord of Creation: A Resource for Creative Celtic Spirituality, by Brendan O’Malley. Morehouse Publishing, 2008.
Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World, by Brian D. McLaren. Jericho Books, 2012.
Notes on perichoresis from The Rev. Susan Sowers