Several years ago, now, I carved a Celtic Trinity knot into my pumpkin on Halloween. (Being a proud descendant of the British Isles, I have always enjoyed Celtic knot work and its symbolism.) After finishing my attempt and placing it with an illuminating candle outside our front door, I took a snapshot of my work. And then I published it on Facebook with the challenge: “100 Jesus points to whoever can tell me what this symbol is.”
Members of my youth group at the time guessed several different things, because they wanted to gain the bragging rights for winning (since Jesus points aren’t actually a thing). Then one of them answered: “The Imago Dei.” And I was floored.
This weekend, we will celebrate Trinity Sunday – one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith. We confuse the “perdition” out of our other Abrahamic brethren – for how can you have One God in Three persons? Even within the bounds of our own tradition, many of us look at the concept of the Trinity and scratch our heads.
Though the word has no biblical root, the concept was “ordained” early in the Christian faith as an answer to those who would make Jesus one of two deities (God the Father and Christ) or those who would make Jesus not even a true part of God.
The scriptures do, however, give some backing to this concept. For one, there are the three visitors who come to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis – the three meant to represent our One God. Secondly, throughout the gospels, Jesus refers to both God the Father and the Holy Spirit as modes of God’s own self; not to mention how Jesus is identified as God’s own revelation. And then, there is Genesis 1.
In Genesis 1, it is quite easy to see God the Creator visible. There is also the “Spirit” or “Breath” of God hovering over the waters. This is where it gets a little tricky to explain. Two out of three members of the Trinity are relatively obvious. So where is Jesus? In John 1, it states: In the beginning the Word was with God. In Genesis it looks like this: And God spoke. That is how the Jewish Christians learning from John’s gospel would have understood what he suggested, connecting the Christ back to the very beginning of the creation, when God created everything through God’s Word spoken.
And now that you are all thoroughly confused, here is why this matters: The essential reason the Trinity has remained as a central concept in the post-modern world is not because it is a nifty trick of dogma. Instead, it is because it is a paradigmatic way to explain our understanding of who God is.
Our God is perfect community, communion, relationship. Augustine of Hippo described God as “the Lover, the Beloved, and the Love that unites them.” And we, humans, were made in the image of that Love.
The reason why that youth, all those years ago, had confused the Trinity knot with the concept of the Imago Dei is that every time we studied the Trinity, for which we used the Celtic image, we talked about what it means to be made in the image of such a community.
It means that we are made to be loved and to love. God created us to expand the Love already at work in God, so that we might love God and love one another. That is what Trinity Sunday means for us. It is a time to remember in whose image we were made and called good. It is that Sunday every year when our creation in the Image of God (Imago Dei) gives new birth to our calling as bearer’s of God’s work and word.
As we approach our Triune God this Sunday morning in worship, may you be filled with the strength of the bonds through which we and God are all knotted together, so that you use them to embrace the whole world into God’s beloved image.