Trinity Sunday

By The Rev. Anne Michele Turner, Bridge Interim Rector

Matthew 28:16-20

This week, I was introduced to the idea of quantum entanglement.  It’s a concept in physics, which says that two things are linked—they are entangled—when they are correlated at their most fundamental level.  The state of one thing cannot be described independently of the other.  Change in one thing will produce change in the other.  Entanglement happens at a subatomic level, and it is apparently common in the aftermath of particle collisions.  But what’s really weird is that even though the scale of entanglement is small—I mean, teeny weeny particles, right?—it’s also really huge.  Theoretically, two molecules could remain entangled even if they are a million miles apart.  Einstein was one of the first researchers of quantum entanglement, and he called it “spooky action at a distance.”

Lots of people have questioned quantum theory, including the very scientists who thought it up.  But research continues to bear out its truth.  Entanglement can be documented.   Pieces of this universe we inhabit are measurably, persistently connected to other pieces.   A particle spinning in one direction in a lab can tell us something about a particle spinning counter to it in a lab halfway across town.

As I read about all this science this week, it felt really crazy and bizarre to me.  It also felt familiar.  Because I know the truth of entanglement.  Any of us who worship as Christians talk about it on any given Sunday because of the way we talk about God.  We talk about things that are separate and connected at the same time.  We talk about how there’s this Father who is also son who is, by the way, pay attention, also Holy Spirit.  We talk about Trinity.  And this is the Sunday when we talk about it an extra lot, because it is Trinity Sunday, and we are celebrating this crazy and bizarre understanding of our universe.

I have to be honest upfront: I do not understand the Trinity.  If you are looking for doctrine, go read a book of theology, because it will help you much more than I will.   I do not understand the Trinity, any more than I truly understand quantum physics, because these things are really, really complicated.

But even if I cannot understand their philosophical contours, I can tell you something about their truth.  Because they make sense at an emotional and spiritual level, don’t they?  Entanglement: this is something we know to be a fundamental part of our lives, isn’t it?

When the early church fathers—as the theologians of the first few centuries were called—set out to describe God as three in one and one in three, they got stuck with two irreducible and seemingly contradictory claims, just as much as Einstein did.  On the one hand, Jesus was a different person from God, who was a different person from the Holy Spirit.  And, two, Jesus was God, who was also the Holy Spirit, and none of the three could be known separately.  Theologians floundered around looking for different models to explain the connection—was it like a ray of light emanating, maybe?—before settling on the somewhat mysterious formulation we have today: a trinity of persons and unity of being.

I think they settled on this formulation because it expresses this truth we all experience.  It insists that there is no connection without wholeness—and, at the same time, no wholeness without connection.  The nature of this universe is the same as the nature of the God who created it.   The nature of this universe is entangled.

Perhaps it’s apt to be thinking about spooky action at a distance as we read for the gospel this day the story of Jesus preparing to leave his disciples for the last time.  It’s the ascension again, another version of the same story that we have been living with, liturgically, for the last few weeks.  The resurrection has happened and now Jesus is preparing to take off, presumably for good, headed up to heaven.  He’s giving his final, final words to his disciples.  And for the finale, he tells them this: “remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Goodbye.  But not really.  Talk about action at a distance.  Jesus is leaving forever.  Yet Jesus is promising to be always near.

I think it’s more than a feel-good promise.   Really, it’s not even a promise at all as much as a statement of reality.  Jesus promises to be always near because that’s who Jesus is—someone who knows connection at the subatomic level.   This is the truth of the divine nature, and so the truth of the human nature, too.  Jesus cannot truly leave his disciples because Jesus cannot truly leave anyone, period.  Jesus is with them, with us, always.

I don’t know if we are really entangled with Jesus—if our particles are entangled in the classical sense of physics—but imagine this: that our molecules spin in relation to the molecules that make up Jesus, not caring about time, not caring about space.  Or imagine it in the words of the hymn we sang around our gospel this morning, Saint Patrick’s Breastplate—I bind to myself this world, and the flashing lightning and the moon at even and the incarnation and God’s eyes and hands and the name of the Trinity itself—all those things chosen to become a part of me and me, maybe, a part of them.  Entangled.

What changes if we know this?  What is made possible if we can perceive this truth about our world and our God—that connection is in the very fabric of being?

Most of us fear separation. There are people we love that we never want to leave us.  Parents are supposed to live forever.  Spouses are supposed to stay for always.  Children are supposed to be around long after us.  Friends are supposed to be like rock.  Priests are supposed to be that way, too, I’ve sometimes heard.  We’re not supposed to go anywhere, any of us.  When the circumstances of life tug against those hopes, it hurts.  It makes most of us frightened.  Change is hard.  How can we bear losing anything in this world full of what we love?

And yet, in a Trinitarian view, nothing is ever lost.  Because distance—whether of time or space or any other force—distance does not truly separate us.  We continue to affect one another and be affected by one another.  Your state depends on mine.  Our state depends on God.  We are entangled, for better or for worse, measurably, demonstrably tied to one another.

Love on a subatomic scale, as one of the articles I read described it.  This universe is made of up of love on a subatomic scale.  We are made by and for connection, and we can do nothing apart from it.

So what would it be like if we didn’t have to be afraid of separation?  What would it be like if we didn’t have to be afraid of change?  What would it be like to trust the particles that God put in your soul, particles that are at home in the soul next door and the soul down the block and the soul around the globe?  What becomes unimportant?  What becomes possible?  What can you do differently in this church, in your home, at work?  What can you risk in the world?

We are entangled, in all the best ways, brothers and sisters—entangled with one another and with our human family and with the God who made us.   And we can be brave knowing that nothing in the nature of that God will ever let us go.