The Holy Trinity as Laughter


A sermon for Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011. The lectionary readings are Genesis 1:1-2:4a , Psalm 8 , 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 , and Matthew 28:16-20 .

On Trinity Sunday, preachers everywhere struggle with images that might help us all understand what it means when we say we believe in God as a kind of “holy triple threat.” We say that we believe in God in three persons, but still, mysteriously One God.

In the past, I’ve talked about the bumbling priest in the movie, “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” and his confusion of God as “father, son, and holy spigot.” I’ve explored, on several occasions, the early church’s concept of God’s “perichoresis,” of God’s “dancing around,” as the Holy Trinity, God’s great movement as God’s own “great dance.” But today I want to borrow an image from Meister Eckhart, the 13th century monk and mystic, who talked about the laughter of God. He asked,

Do you want to know what goes on in the core of the Trinity?
I will tell you. In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us. (Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 1983).

I think we can hear echoes of God’s laughter throughout scripture. Genesis says that whenever God spoke, something was created. “God said…” and it happened. To the extent that I can put human features to God, I can imagine God being absolutely delighted with everything that is made—with each new thing (creeping, crawling, climbing, growing), God sits back and smiles and chuckles a little bit. “Well, I’ll be… Look what I’ve done NOW.”

St. Paul, in his parting words to the church in Corinth, is effusive with emotion. “Greet one another with a holy kiss,” even as all the saints in heaven and on earth greet you. The kingdom of God is upon you, you proclaim it as you live it out, as you laugh it out, as you fall more deeply in love with God and come to know God’s deep love for you and the world.

And then, in the Gospel, it doesn’t say the disciples laughed in the face of Jesus (such a thing would then, as now, seem inappropriate to write down in scripture—even though we all do it). But I bet they did laugh, perhaps out of nervousness, perhaps out of disbelief, because Jesus is sending them out with this great and grand commission. He’s putting them to work baptizing and spreading the Gospel, and it must have seemed completely undoable, impossible, like the worst kind of joke. As a punch line not to be forgotten, Jesus adds, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

I can imagine the disciples wanting to believe it, but at some level imagining, “Yeah, right. You’re going to leave us in just a minute or two, just like you’ve done before. And then we’ll be alone, and we’ll have to work things out by ourselves.” And so the disciples might have gone on, like we sometimes go on, forgetting that Jesus has given them and us his spirit—his Holy Spirit, that comes down and fills the disciples on Pentecost, that inflames us with the love of God at our baptism, and that is present and among us whenever we pray, whenever we attend to the Spirit, whenever we ask.

God laughs. Some of you may be familiar with the Yiddish proverb, “We plan, God laughs.” Sherre Hirsch wrote a book with that title and though it often feels just like that, she wonders if perhaps God doesn’t sometimes plan, and we laugh at God. She points out how God gave Adam and Eve just one rule, and they laughed at it and disobeyed. Cain laughed at the idea of true brotherhood, and killed Abel.

Moses and God were busy creating a future for the people of Israel, but the people of Israel were busy laughing (and partying and generally acting out). Like kids playing, the children of Israel’s laughter got out of hand, and the Ten Commandments got broken. And then there’s Sarah and Abraham. Sarah laughs at God’s news that she might have a child even in her old age. Isaac (whose name means laughter) is born, and so, we see, as Hirsch writes

God has a sense of humor. With the birth of Isaac, God claimed the true meaning of laughter. Laughter was possibility, not mockery. Laughter came to represent joy, creation, love, faith, and passion. The tradition teaches that on the day Isaac was born there was so much of this new laughter in the world that women who had previously been barren gave birth.

People who had been sick were healed. On that day, the day of Isaac’s birth, the world was filled with true joy. It was filled with laughter. (We Plan, God Laughs by Sherre Hirsch Copyright, Doubleday, 2008).

Laughter can sound harsh sometimes, when we’re not in on the joke. Laughter can be confusing, when we misunderstand its intent. But laughter can be freeing, and healing, and transforming—especially when it comes from God. One of the best things about laughter is the way it is infectious—it spreads, and enlivens, and enlarges, because, I think, it connects us to God again.

Again, Meister Eckhart says,

In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son.
The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit.
The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.

May the love of God, in all of its confusing, yet embracing Threeness, help us to be faithful, keep us strong, and make us laugh. Amen.

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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