Art: “The Trinity,” by Andrei Rublev, Public domain, via Wikimedia CommonsCollection, Whitworth University Library, Spokane
Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rublev_Troitsa.jpg
Written by Grace Han, Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Alexandria, VA
“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant.”Genesis 18:1-3
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.“2 Corinthians 13:13
One of the great mysteries of our faith is how we understand the Trinity. What does it mean that God is one God in three persons? What is the divine relationship between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit? What is the work of each person of the Trinity and how do they work in union? We have used countless metaphors and diagrams to try to explain the Trinity. Unfortunately, most of these depictions don’t seem to capture the depth and breadth of the Trinity, often leaving us more confused, or on theologically shaky ground.
In Andrei Rublev’s The Trinity, we see a slightly different depiction of the Holy Trinity than most of us who grew up under the influence of Western Christianity are familiar with. Rather than a dove or an old bearded man, we see three figures who appear somewhat angelic or divine sitting across from each other at a table. We see three in blessed communion sharing in loving relationship. I wonder if there is something to be gained by reflecting on this image of the Trinity, something that in this Lenten season can deepen our understanding, our faith, and bring us closer to our Triune God.
Here’s what’s really interesting. In addition to being titled The Trinity, this icon is also called The Hospitality of Abraham. It recalls the story in Genesis 18 when three heavenly messengers (angels) visit Abraham and Sarah, revealing they were to have a child. We can clearly see the Genesis 18 story played out in this icon. In the background we see Abraham’s house and the Oak of Mamre named in the scriptures. We see a mountain in the background, representing Mount Moriah, where Abraham is later told to take Issac. On the table there is a cup with the head of a calf, which Abraham prepared for his guests.
But Rublev takes it one step further. The three angels, the strangers who visited Abraham, are depicted not only as random angels but also as representations of the Holy Trinity. If we read carefully in Genesis 18 we see it was The Lord who appeared before Abraham, and three men stood near him. In Rublev’s reading of Genesis 18, the most important part is the three heavenly messengers who appeared when Abraham encountered the Lord. For Rublev, these were no ordinary angels or strangers or visitors, they were God Godself.
In this icon, we see three sitting at a table, facing each other so the lines of their body form a circle. If you look at their eyes, they are looking at each other, bringing us into union with them. Their expressions are peaceful and harmonious. We see a cup on the table, representing their holy communion. Their divinity is highlighted by the halos around their heads and their wings. We see that while there are three, they are clearly united as one as depicted by their bodies (which seem identical), spirits, and purpose. While there is mystery, there is also clarity.
Finally, in this icon, we see the Holy Trinity meeting us where we are. The Trinity is not in a far off land or in the heavens or high above the earth, but among us, surrounded by the same trees, mountains, and homes that we inhabit. For Abraham, the Holy Trinity came to him by the Oaks of Mamre, and stayed in his home. They shared a meal with Abraham and Sarah and their household. They revealed that Sarah would have a son and that nothing is too wonderful for the Lord.
While the Trinity is indeed a mystery, it is also in the Trinity that we see the fullness of our God. The Trinity is the God who is with us in moments when we might least expect it or barely notice it. The Trinity is the God who is with us and for us. God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Find previous “Picturing God” entries here:
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