How then, do we live?   

Feast of the Holy Trinity

Exodus 34.1-8

Song of 3YM 29-34

2 Corinthians 13.11–14

Matthew 28.16–20

Sunday 4 June 2023

                                                    ©Suzanne Grimmett

Being invited into someone’s home to share hospitality of heart and table is one of the most basic and yet powerful ways we can nurture relationship.  

I have always loved Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity (image above), not so much for the figures and symbols represented but for its empty, invitational space. The gathering around the chalice seem to be anticipating and patiently awaiting my arrival. It is a moving idea that the God of the universe is always, in every present moment, patiently inviting me…inviting you… into the divine relationship.

What does it mean to be invited into the very life of God?

One story which speaks to this question is told by a member of the Little Sisters, Disciples of the Lamb, a French religious community whose practice it is to live by faith, relying on the goodwill of others for their basic needs. Visiting a city, three sisters randomly press one of the buttons to an apartment block, ask for food and a man invites them in for a meal.

“We sit on the sofa, and he hands us three hot plates. ‘I live alone,’ he says, ‘but I love cooking, and today, providentially, I have cooked for four!’ …An agnostic, he tells us that six months earlier, he had decided to stop working because he wanted to search for the true meaning of life.

How did we get round to talking about the Trinity? Who knows?….…The man listens, then gestures towards us: ‘You too, are three. . . ‘ We smile. One of us adds: ‘There are not only three persons on this icon: there is a fourth place, empty, opposite them — they are waiting for the guest. . .’ The man glances at the low table between himself and the three of us. Then, once again, he looks at us, and in a quiet voice, brings our conversation to a close: ‘So we are the picture. . .’ “

All four sensed that they had experienced a moment of transcendence.[1]

If we are the picture, life can be framed very differently from the meaningless accident of particles and self-interested evolutionary drive that our universe is sometimes presumed to be. Our embodied, particular life at this time and this place is holy.

It is oh, so easy in conversation about the nature and being of God to become untethered from our material lives and lapse into abstractions that have little to say to the reality of human joy and sorrow, pain and loneliness, beauty and terror. If what we theologise about the nature of God does not help us to live more abundantly and love more generously, then all the scholarship in the world is meaningless.

This icon of loving communion reveals a God who invites us into the companionship and mutuality of the Trinity. How does that change our lives?  What does it mean in tangible, touchable terms, to live a life believing in the Triune God who promises to be with us to the end of the age?

It is no accident that eating and drinking features not just in Trinitarian icons but in scriptural stories and in our gathering for worship. It is hard to find a more grounded, embodied experience than eating where we take into our own bodies the goodness and nourishment of creation, even as we touch the being of one another when we listen and share stories. (It is one of the reasons Waypoint has a community meal once a month- sharing food and words is a powerful way of being intentional about the immanent presence of God, living and active in the relationships of love and hospitality.)

However, as we consider the Trinity we are also speaking of the transcendence of God. Herein lies the power of the eating and drinking we find in the Eucharistic rite we practise every week. In the bread and wine that comes from the earth and is made by human hands, we recognise the presence and mystery of Christ; crucified, risen and glorified, present in a broken wafer and a sip of wine which we receive together, shoulder to shoulder with those we may or may not know well, agree with or sometimes even like very much. Christ close, intimate and amongst us, but also the glorified transcendent Christ who brings grace and healing from the Divine Community to ours, healing and restoring what we cannot put back together ourselves.

If “we are the picture”, as the story of the three sisters reveals, then we can put a frame around every moment of every day as we live and love and work and serve. All we do, we do in the presence of the God who inhabits the spaces amongst and between us.

As we seek to embody the great commission, baptising and making disciples in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Church has found it needed structure and institution. The tension around this is that institutions and structures invariably fail us, leading to comments such as “I love Jesus but don’t like the Church” or the commonly expressed, “I am spiritual but not religious.” This is made worse when the Church historically has insisted on assent to certain teachings about God such as Trinitarian doctrines in order to prove orthodoxy and, at times, even membership.

But Christianity has never been about doctrinal assent, but about relationships of forgiveness and love, incarnating Christ through the power of the Spirit in the lives of those down the ages who follow Jesus’ way. Such a dynamic and organic way of growing God’s kingdom means that if we think cooperation with the outward structures of institutional church are all that is required, the venture will fail. If God is only and ever found in and through relationship- and I believe that is what the doctrine of God as Trinity is telling us- then the structures are only as good as their power to enable love and life to flourish.

Redesigning, reforming, and restructuring alone cannot bring change without the transformative power of love and goodness. This is something that became clear when a local council in Sydney approached a design team with the problem that a man named Don Ritchie was getting too old to walk his dog at twilight.[2] Don lived in one of the last houses near a cliff which sadly had a reputation as a place where people would go to suicide. It was common for Don to chat to people he met and, if they were looking distressed, to invite them in for a cup of tea. He has chatted with hundreds over his kitchen table and it is estimated he has saved about 400 lives. The problem is that no design solution could replicate the gentle of power of kindness and hospitality. As he sat down to eat and drink with strangers, Don was doing something that no amount of ad campaigns, employed security or council installed cliff-top telephones could manage; offering kindness and human connection that sprang solely from an open, invitational heart.

I do not know if Don Ritchie would explain his goodness in terms of the life of God present in him. Ultimately, it probably would not matter to those whose lives he saved. What it does point to is the power of attending to another and inviting them with an open heart. As people of faith, this is a pattern we recognise in the God who sees us, loves us, and invites us into relationship and abundant life.

What would our lives look like if we were able to attend to the presence of God, inviting us to join the intimate circle of divine life and receive all we needed in every moment…I wonder how then we might live? If we really believed that same God who dwells within us invites us to share the joy of inviting others with the same radical hospitality, how might we act? If our days could be recognised as a dynamic interplay of divine life and human relationship, how might our creativity and generosity bring heart and healing to others and to our communities? As we contemplate the Holy Trinity, may we not become stuck on ideas about God, but be transformed by the invitation to come and take a seat at the table, loving and being loved, that we may know better how to live.  


[1] Sister Teresa FCJ, Filling the Fourth Place, Church Times 02 June 2023

[2] Dorst, K.,Kaldor, L.,Klippan, L., Watson, R.,Designing for the Common Good, Kees Dorst and BIS Publishers, 2016; p 52