God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God the Truth, Wisdom and Love. God the Ocean, river, and stream. God, the Source of all, the Light of the World, and the Advocate for the people. We could spend all day searching for words to describe or make an attempt to explain the mystery that is the Holy Trinity, God the three-in-one and one-in-three.
Or, we could just let the mystery be a mystery.
And that sounds nice when I say it, but although releasing us from the burden of proofs and explanations, a mystery can also overwhelm us. Sometimes the mystery can be too much. Isaiah knows the feeling as the place where he stands begins to shake and fill with smoke, while fiery spirits circle overhead, all signaling God’s holy and powerful presence. You’d fear for your life too, wouldn’t you? The psalmist knows the feeling as she describes the voice of God bursting forth in lightning flashes and shaking the wilderness. And Nicodemus knows the feeling as he stares, mouth and eyes wide open, despite the midnight hour, contemplating the possibility of re-entering his mother’s womb to be born again (or is it born from above?). Mystery—like the one we grapple with today, the Trinity—can overwhelm us.
Mystery can also embrace us. Sometimes a mystery is all we can say about our most intimate and real experience of God’s presence. In the midst of Isaiah’s terrifying vision, it is God who issues a commission, “whom shall I send,” and it is Isaiah who can’t help but reply, “here I am, send me!” In Paul’s letter to the Romans, God knows us so deeply that we are chosen and named “children of God, joint heirs with Christ.” God’s Spirit isn’t distant or terrifying, but an intimate and active force in our lives—leading us, renewing us, and crying out with us. And in John’s gospel, as Nicodemus sifts through the muddy language about being born from above or being re-born of water and Spirit, something real and intimate happens. A deep relationship is formed in the dark of night, deep enough that it will bring Nicodemus back into the story, when he stands with Joseph of Arimathea at the end, sharing his expensive oils and ointments to dress the wounds and the body of the crucified Christ.
All of the time, energy, and angst that Christians have devoted for centuries on doctrinal creeds and documents really come down to this—how do we express the truth that comes from our experience of the God of creation, the risen Christ, and the Spirit who draws all things together.
Lost in the mystery of the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, I sometimes forget what comes at the end of their conversation. John 3:16, one of the most beloved and one of the most controversial verses in the bible. Many of us can say it from memory, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” It’s a passage so beloved because of the outpouring of God’s love on the whole world. Controversial because, despite the love, it’s been used as a weapon to cast aside “non-believers” as those who will perish for their unbelief. Personally, I think the matter is settled with the verse that follows it, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Here we encounter a mystery altogether different—the obvious and lavish love that God has for the world, for all that God has created. This will only be the beginning of the mystery of God’s love in the gospel of John. It will build and build, a crescendo of love that pours out on countless characters beyond Nicodemus: the woman at the well, the man who was born blind, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. The crescendo nears its peak as Jesus bends down to wash the feet of his disciples and tells them to love one another just has he has loved them. The climax, the culminating act of God’s love soon follows, as the Son of Humankind is lifted up, Jesus’ moment of suffering and glory on the cross.
This morning the mystery of the Trinity; the mystery of God’s presence in our lives, the mystery of God’s boundless love for us, takes on ordinary shapes and forms. Water: we gave thanks for the waters of baptism this morning, water that washes us, water that nurtures us, water that renews us, water that saves us. Bread and cup: we come to the table for a taste of God’s reconciling presence in the crucified and risen Christ. Flesh and blood: we experience God’s presence in each other, people brought together by the Spirit to form Christ’s body, people who are moved to love and action on behalf of the world.
Mystery can leave us speechless and afraid. But mystery can also speak to the truth of God’s intimate and loving presence in our lives. In just a few moments, we’ll be singing the words of someone who describes the Trinity as a dance—a dance of mystery, but a dance meant for flesh and bone. May we dance with God the creator who formed our most inward parts. May we dance with God the Savior who taught us what it means to love, and calls us out of our tombs. May we dance with God the Spirit whose breath and tongues of flame free us to proclaim not just a mystery but a truth: For God so loved the world…
 Come Join the Dance of Trinity, text by Richard Leach in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006).