Grace, Love, Communion

The Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 and Genesis 1:1-2:4a.

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Grace. Love. Communion.

We are celebrating today Trinity Sunday, which is the only day in the entire Christian calendar which is devoted to the celebration of an idea, the giving of thanks and praise to God for a theological concept. For us, of course, it is also the celebration of our parish name. But deeper than that, this is the day we give thanks to God for inspiring thoughtful people throughout the church’s history to come up with this way of characterizing the mystery of God’s being, the wonder of God’s love.

And because this is a theological concept, a lot of people, quite frankly, run away from it as fast as they can. A lot of people in the church today think that theology is too abstract and cerebral and difficult for ordinary people – and that the Trinity is the most abstract and most cerebral and most difficult theology of all. I know a lot of preachers who assign this day to their assistants or curates or deacons, and stay as far away from preaching the Trinity as they can.

And I think that’s a shame. Because the doctrine of the Trinity is fundamentally very good news for us. Yes, the ideas can be abstract; yes, the arithmetic can seem strange (1=3=1? how does that work?) but down deep, the heart of the Trinity idea is not so hard. Down deep, the heart of the Trinity idea is this: God is Grace; God is Love; God is Communion.

God is Love. Sheer, abundant, self-giving, outpouring, radiating, universal love. In Greek the word is agape, and that’s the word for the kind of love that does not seek to gratify itself, but always chooses what is truly good for the beloved. That’s the love we see in the Creation story in Genesis, when God creates the whole entire Universe out of love, when God’s love informs the formless void and allows it to bring forth all its potential, allows it to become all it has within itself to be. Have you ever noticed that in this story God does not actually create the plants and the fish and the animals? – God says “Let the earth bring forth vegetation, let the waters bring forth living creatures, let the earth bring forth animals.” God empowers creatures to bring forth more creatures. And that empowering, parent-like love is agape, self-giving, outpouring, universal. God is love.

And God is Grace. God’s love is universal; but it is also very particular. God loves all things; but God also loves each and every single thing. God creates the entire Universe; but God does it by giving each thing its own particular name: Let there be light, let there be sky, let there be sea, let there be earth. God creates by the Word, and the Word gives to each created thing its unique and unduplicatable identity. And that kind of free and lovely giving in Greek is called charis, in Latin is called gratia, in English is called grace. God is grace.

And God is Communion. God’s naming love differentiates every unique thing; but God’s love is also what brings different things together into relationships. God names light and dark to be different, but God also brings them together to be related in the cycle of day and night. The Spirit of God moves like wind on the face of the waters – and have you seen what wind does when it blows over water? – it makes ripples and wavelets and waves that move together because they are all activated by one single energy. The Spirit of God brings things together. The Spirit makes relationships. God is communion.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. The love that pours out from the Father; the love that receives and names and gives again freely in the Son; the love that brings into relationship in the Spirit. It’s all love. If there is one thing the doctrine of the Trinity means, beyond all metaphysics and arithmetic and cerebration, if there is one thing the doctrine of the Trinity means, it is that the most fundamental, divine, really real thing in all of existence is love. Love is what the doctrine means. All that other theological language is just clarification.

And if that’s what the Trinity doctrine means – that the fundamental really real thing is love, that everything-that-is is because of grace and love and communion – then that has some immediate consequences for us as Trinitarian believers. This isn’t just a nifty creed that we get to recite on Sundays. This is us staking a claim, this is us going out on a limb, this is us taking a risk about how we think the world works, and therefore how we can faithfully work in this world ourselves.

Because let’s face it: when we look at the world around us now, it doesn’t look very much like it’s love that’s the power that’s driving it all. When we look at the world around us now, it looks like pretty much the opposite of love. People driving vans into crowds on public streets and bridges. People setting off bombs in churches and mosques and parliaments. People stabbing those who want to stop them from spewing hate speech. Nooses left at museums. Torchlit processions gathering around monuments. Alt-rightists and antifascists getting into street brawls at protests. Governments rattling sabers, spreading disinformation, breaking treaties and accords worked out with great effort for the common good. Toddlers shooting toddlers with guns they find lying around. Shall I go on? When we look at the world around us now, it is not very easy to believe that this is all about grace and love and communion; it is not very easy to believe that love is the fundamental really real thing.

But that is precisely what we celebrate today. Easy or not, what we believe, what we claim, what we stake our very lives on, is the Trinity: the faith that God comes forth to us as grace and love and communion; the faith that God became one of us to live and die and be raised again to show us how human life looks as grace and love and communion; the faith that God breathes into each one of us to draw us together and activate us so that we can be grace and love and communion. Even if the world doesn’t often look this way, this is the claim we make about what in the world is really true.

And if that is the claim we make, then that is the claim on which must act as well. Each one of us, each in the ways open to us.

How do you live in the Trinity? – how do you live out grace and love and communion? How do you orient your life to show that love is the fundamental really real thing for you?

Perhaps it’s by supporting the youth Honduras mission trip – or even going on the trip yourself! Did you hear the piece on WMRA about our mission trip? And especially about how a Muslim student is going on this Christian trip, because they all understand that faith is not so much about doctrinal points as it is acting in grace and love and communion. That’s Trinitarian work we support.

Or perhaps you live out your faith in the Trinity in the neighborhood, getting to know your neighbors, reaching out across barriers of race or class or political party – or just walking across the streets you don’t usually cross to walk in the neighborhoods a don’t usually walk in. Building up right-relationships, because that’s how we embody grace and love and communion in our daily lives.

But however you do it, however you act it out, the central meaning of our celebration today is not just an abstract idea: it is the living faith that God is grace and love and communion, the fundamental really real thing in all existence is love.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Amen.


  1. A really good sermon; thank you!