Picturing the Trinity

Who can wrap their head around the Trinity? 

No one who wants to keep theirs. In Sunday’s sermon I quoted from St. Augustine, who once said that the person who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing his salvation, but the person who tries to understand the Trinity is in danger of losing his mind.

And so, in the history of the Church, Christians have taken various approaches to help better grasp this mystery of the triune God which is at the heart of our faith—even at the heart of existence itself. We’ve tried different ways to understand and not lose our mind.

angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410One of those ways is through art.

One of the most famous artistic depictions, or interpretations, of the significance of the God’s triune nature is an icon from the 15th century, painted by the artist Andrei Rublev.

And it doesn’t look to be about the Trinity at all.

It actually depicts the scene from Genesis 18, when three mysterious visitors called on Abraham under the Oak of Mamre. But that story in the Christian tradition has long been understood figurally as an anticipation or even manifestation of the Trinity.

Here’s what I love about this icon, though: it doesn’t just help us understand intellectually God’s three-in-oneness. Even more than that: it invites us to participate in relationship with Him. To take our seat at the table with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Which is ultimately what the Trinity is all about: you and I and all creation being caught up into the love of God.

trinity-blog-post-2Note the composition of the icon.

It is in a circle: there’s the three angels, symbolizing the three persons of the Trinity, encircling the table-altar. And there, at the center, is the lamb of sacrifice, symbolizing the sacrifice of Christ for our salvation.

But in a sense the circle is incomplete.

There’s an openness to it. As if to say, There’s room at the table. And the three figures seated there seem to be simultaneously looking at one another, but also looking at the viewer—looking at you and me—as if to say, Come. The feast is ready. Come, share in our communion.

This is the invitation for us in the Divine Service.

In worship we join with angels and archangels and sing “Holy, holy, holy” in praise of the triune God. And more than that: we join the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the table, as we receive the Lamb sacrificed for our salvation.

At the Lord’s table, you and I are brought ever-deeper into the fellowship of the triune God. And at His table we receive a foretaste, a little sample, of the time when we will sit at table with our Savior and all the saints and enjoy the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.

Until that day, our God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—surrounds us with His love. And we may even keep our minds in the process.


This post adapted from my 2015 sermon for Holy Trinity.

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