June 4, 2023 - Trinity Sunday
Orion’s belt has always been my favorite constellation—because it is the main one I remember my father teaching me as a child. It was the one we most often looked for together.
I learned years ago from a friend about Orion’s neighbor—Pleiades, which is her favorite. I’d never paid much attention to this constellation until my friend shared some interesting perspective about it. She told me it’s a cluster of 800 stars located about 410 light years from Earth—named for the seven brightest stars in the cluster that represent the mythological seven sisters whom Zeus made into doves so they could fly away to escape Orion. Of course, Orion ended up right next to them in the night sky…so much for running away!
Pleiades also has a car named for it, the Subaru—which is the Japanese word for Pleiades. If you haven’t ever noticed, take a look at the logo on the next Subaru you see—it’s a stylized rendition of this constellation. Pleiades is celebrated in most every culture. We hear the author of Job speak of both my favorite and my friend’s favorite constellations in this question to Job: “Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?” (Job 38:31)
The most interesting thing my friend told me is this—you see stars that form Pleiades most clearly when you look away from them to their neighboring stars—when you look at the neighboring stars, then, Pleiades comes into sharp relief out of the corner of your eye. Try it sometime; it really does work.
Pleiades comes into focus kind of like we do. When someone loves you—really sees you for who you are and calls that you into play somewhere—like at work or home or in a circle of friends—then, particularly then, you come into full sharp relief. But when you are left unknown, uncelebrated, unseen, you are like a star out of focus—a dim, fuzzy light at best. We need others to illumine our own lives. In other words, our essence is relationship.
Today is Trinity Sunday in the Church. In the doctrine of the Trinity, we assert that the Divine is both one and many in a co-eternal relationship of love. As with Pleiades, the essence of the Trinity is best discovered not by focusing on each individual person of the Trinity but rather by focusing on the power and mystery of the relationships among the persons.
The Trinity is like the chemical reaction that happens in the night sky to create what we call stars. Through the dynamic relationship among the three who exist in a purposeful unity, the heavens and the earth were created. Through the dynamic relationship among the persons, the Son was raised from the dead. Through the dynamic relationship among the three, the fire of the Spirit launched the church into the world—bringing us to this very day.
Through that same dynamic relationship, you and I engage our baptismal promises and take them on in an even more seasoned way in Confirmation.
Now, in these days as our beloved neighbors and children and families fall in the streets from the ravages of gun violence, as our world reflects the agony of unjust wars, as our communities struggle to address the needs of those without shelter or care, as the fabric of our democracy frays and unravels, we need to lean into the dynamic power of the Trinity.
You already lean into this power, Epiphany. I know that about you.
Threads of the holy lives here that connect to one another and hold each other up, are in your DNA—birthed as you were by a millenary weaver of hats. You are a Trinitarian people.
To those of you being confirmed, received, and those reaffirming your vows this day, remember always, these sacraments are relational. By them, together with this community, you proclaim—this is who I am. I join the community of Christians all around the world in standing for love where there is pain, suffering, and evil. We are a relational people.
As baptized and confirmed members of the body of Christ, we find our intimacy with God through our relationships with one another. Like seeing Pleiades. We do not know God by ourselves in a vacuum; we know God in community.
Stargazers know of a phenomenon called the parallax. I often think of it when contemplating the Trinity. The parallax is a way of seeing in which multiple divergent perspectives interact to form a more complete view of something—like the two eyes we have give us depth perception. This phenomenon hints at the strength we find in the Trinity—three perspectives that give added depth to one reality. It is this wisdom that compels us to lean in even toward those with whom we disagree. For, in those relationships, we gain a more complete view, a deepened perception of truth.
To be Trinitarians, we must commit to be in relationship with those with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree. This does not mean we have to make peace with injustice. It does mean we do not have the liberty of demonizing the other, writing them off forever. There are those who practice evil in this world; they are hard to love. Yet, even so, the biblical witness is clear; no one is beyond the saving embrace of Jesus. On any given day, even the worst sinners can repent and begin anew. And our being in relationship with those folk, sharing the strong love of Christ, makes that possibility even more likely.
Mature Christian life involves engaging differences with the conviction that as we do, the fullness of God’s truth and beauty will come into sharper relief. If there is one means by which we can fulfill the great commandment we heard in today’s gospel, it is by creating communities of faith that foster true, deep, courageous relationships. Our state, our nation, our world, need to rediscover the capacity to build relational communities marked by truth, compassion, and courage. By these virtues, the world will come to see Jesus Christ and to know his love.
So, beloved ones, seek and serve Christ in all persons. Lean in to the holy relationships baptism gives to you and confirmation matures among you. By doing so, you will carry the good news of Jesus into the whole wide world.
Carry with you the truth the stargazers have always known. The Pleiades is best seen when we look at her neighbor. Jesus the Christ is best seen when we look at ours.
Bishop Ruth Woodliff-Stanley
The Rt. Reverend Ruth Woodliff-Stanley was elected by the Diocese of South Carolina in May 2021, and consecrated as a bishop on October 2, 2021.