Last week was Trinity Sunday and we thought about what it means to be Christians in relationship with God the Trinity. And this week we are back with the Trinity – but via the Old Testament. This year, unusually, just one week after Trinity Sunday we are given this story in Genesis, sometimes called “The Old Testament Trinity”.
Why is it called that? Well, because it says so:
“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 favour with you, do not pass by your servant.”
I have to say, the details passed me by many times when I read it in the past –but if you are primed to see God the Trinity in this story, it’s right there in front of you. The Lord appears to Abraham, as three people. But, cleverer than me, Abraham is not misled by the fact there are three – instead he recognises the Lord and falls to the ground, saying, “My lord”.
Pretty obvious, once I had it pointed out to me! Of course, many other people got there before me, which is why this envelope includes a postcard of a painting, an icon by the medieval Russian artist Andrei Rublev. The painting is of “The Hospitality of Abraham” and it portrays this story from Genesis – in it we see the three men from the story, sitting around a table, with the tree under which they are resting from the heat in the background.
But it is also a painting of the Trinity. That central figure with his hand outstretched, blessing a chalice of wine? Jesus. Art experts point out that he is dressed as Christ is almost invariably dressed in paintings in the Orthodox tradition, and is placed in the centre, again as usual in icons like this. The figure on the left, then, represents God the Father, and the one on the right God the Holy Spirit.
It’s a beautiful painting – spend some time with it and enjoy it. And as you do, notice two things. Firstly, notice the way the three persons look at each other. Our eyes are drawn to the central figure, to Jesus – our way in to the Trinity, as Rowan Williams pointed out last week. He in turn is looking at the Father, who is looking at the Holy Spirit, who is looking at Jesus. We can’t just look at one of the figures and stop there – our eyes are drawn onwards, around the picture until we look at all of them. Which is precisely the point – we can’t just relate to one, but have to engage with all.
And the second thing is this – it has many times been pointed that there is a space at the table. Right there at the front. It might be a space for Abraham – but it is also a space for us. The picture reminds us again that God invites us. That this is not just the hospitality of Abraham on show here, but the hospitality of God.
My friends, may we all today accept the hospitality of God. Amen.
This week’s notices are available here.