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Sunday 7 June 2020: Trinity Sunday

Not a Throne in Sight

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; John 6:51-58


By Esther Elliott

Workplace and Community Chaplain in West Edinburgh

Context: an adult congregation meeting for worship in a Church of Scotland parish on the outskirts of Edinburgh

Aim: to explore the equality found in the Trinity in a common experience of everyday life


According to the Netflix programme The Crown the Queen has a bell button on the table beside her during private meetings. When she deems the meeting is over, she pushes the button and a private secretary arrives to escort the visitor away. I imagine we have all, at times, longed for a bell like that.

As a Workplace Chaplain I spend a lot of time having brief conversations with people while they are at work. One of the things I realised quite early on in the role was that I would have to become more skilled at how to end those conversations well. Sometimes the end can come abruptly as a co-worker or a customer appears. Sometimes people are bored and welcome the distraction of chattering and I feel increasingly uncomfortable in being the reason for them not getting on with their work.

‘Doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God’ to quote a reliable summary of a healthy life of a person of faith, starts, I believe, with attention to the micro-moments of our daily interactions. This includes the structure of our conversations as much as the content of them. The Queen, as a constitutional monarch has every right to end a personal audience with the push of a bell. It is a unique position and a unique context in which the power given to the Queen is exercised. It is, however, relatively easy for the rest of us to behave like Kings and Queens in daily conversations – to ‘Lord it over someone’ as we would say. How we structure conversations reveals the flow of power in a relationship. The person who starts the conversation, who sets the agenda, who does the talking and who ends the conversation is the one with more power. How my conversations as a Workplace Chaplain end is therefore really important. To enact justice means that I must try to find ways which enable the ending to be mutual, for everyone to walk away from the conversation as equals.

Paul’s example of ending a conversation

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 is an example of Paul ending a conversation. It is the close of his second letter to the Church in Corinth. He has written as a leader, as a concerned friend and as a fellow Christian. His boundaries and his roles are a bit confused. One of the interesting things that stands out as you skim through the letter is Paul’s confusing use of the word ‘we’. Sometimes it is the all-inclusive ‘we’ of being a community of equals experiencing God’s salvation. Sometimes he uses it like the royal ‘we’ to speak of himself as a leader. In the verse before his official sign off Paul affirms that the Lord has given him authority but as he finishes the conversation he does so as a fellow Christian, an equal. He uses an inspired coaching technique and reminds the people he is talking with that it is their choice how to act in response to the conversation. These words are not a command or an instruction but an encouragement, a reminder; if you put things in order, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace then you will know the presence of the God of love and peace in your lives. It is, I think, a change of tone that is lost in translation, quite literally. Most modern translations start this section with Paul saying ‘finally, brothers and sisters, farewell’. That’s a subtle verbal clue that Paul is exercising his greater power by choosing when the conversation will end. He is pushing the bell button. However, a much truer interpretation is ‘finally, brother and sisters, rejoice’. Paul is offering an invitation to participate in what is the core of living a life of faith in Christ for all of us – joy.

The life of the Trinity

Today is Trinity Sunday. One of the fantastic gifts of modern theology has been the exploration of the life of the Trinity as three equal people in a relationship. Some have used the metaphor of a dance, others the language of psychology and co-dependency to explain this. My favourite explanation is found in a modern interpretation of Rublev’s icon of the Trinity by the English artist Sophie Hacker. All the lines between the three characters and the surrounding background are blurred into a swirl and a flow. And yet, just like the original icon there is a space left right at the front of the table around which all three people are sitting, symbolising the invitation offered to the world to sit down and join in this movement and flow of energy. All of us, no exceptions. With not a throne or a damp piece of cardboard laid on a pavement in sight. Rejoice.

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