18 May 2008
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Cor. 13:13) In the name …
Today is Trinity Sunday. The Trinity is God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, but not as three separated gods. The Trinity is one God, but in three separate Persons. If that makes perfect sense to you, then you are exceptional. Also, the Trinity is sometimes explained in ways that make it harder to explain. For example, when we talk of God the Father and God the Son, it sets the stage for us to think of one as more important than the other, when in fact we teach that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are absolutely equal because they are absolutely one God. There’s also the difficulty of getting past the idea that the Trinity is male because we speak of Father and Son, and then we throw in Spirit who comes across as belonging to neither gender. In either case, it makes the concept of our God that much murkier. What is the Trinity? How do you pray to the Trinity? How do we make the Trinity personal?
The Trinity is our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is eternal, yet at the same time we teach that Jesus is the Son of God. How the eternal Son of God is for some 30 years incarnate in the person of Jesus of Nazareth is a mystery. This is Mary’s month of May. The church refers to Mary as the Mother of God, and we do so to convey that Jesus is God from the moment He comes into our world. Long before He does anything, long before He impresses the scholars at the Temple as a child, long before He changes water to wine at Cana, long before He dies and resurrects, Jesus is God by His very nature. Jesus is the Son of God. That’s why there’s Trinity.
I wouldn’t be surprised to someday cross the threshold from this life to the next and discover that the nature of God is not exactly as we have described it, but I would be surprised if we were way off base because of the one, concrete, real life revelation of God in our world, which is Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is not a prophet of God; He is God. That statement right there is heresy in the other two major monotheistic faiths of Judaism and Islam. Monotheism means one-God. There can be exceptional people of faith like Moses or Mohammed, but they are never equated with God. For anyone to say that Jesus is God, in the eyes of the other two monotheistic faiths, is to blaspheme, is to insult, the one God. Yet that is exactly what we do as Christians. One of the very first qualifiers of our faith seems to be the phrase found in the Epistle to the Romans: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord …” (10:9) Lord is the accepted Old Testament reference for God, and for God alone. When the earliest Christians were emerging from their parent faith of the Jews, they distinguished themselves as part of the New Israel by calling Jesus Lord, the reverential title of God Himself. If you could make this statement of “Jesus is Lord” then you were a Christian, then and now.
This simple basic statement of faith is bedrock to our understanding of Jesus and the Trinity. It is from here that everything else is built-up. The church began to contemplate the nature of God from the basic understanding of our faith that God comes directly into our world in the fullness of the human nature of Jesus of Nazareth. Since Jesus is God, yet Jesus takes time to pray to God and to speak of God as “Abba, Father,” and if obviously the world continues in the presence of God while Jesus is one person walking the paths of ancient Galilee, and even more obviously that God does not die at 3:00 on Good Friday afternoon, then the church has to think of what all of this reveals about the nature of God. This is what set the church on the path toward Trinity. We read every Palm Sunday the biblical selection that says Jesus emptied Himself of the signs of His divinity, but not of the divinity itself. It’s like the children’s story of the Prince and the Pauper. The king can look like the peasant by taking off his royal robes, but he remains the king. Jesus empties Himself of God’s all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present nature so that God can be fully human, but the carpenter’s son from Nazareth remains the presence of God in our world. This leads the church to think of the one God as Trinity.
The resurrected Jesus Himself spoke of Father, Son of Holy Spirit. Jesus talked often of God as Father, and at times like we read in today’s Gospel He would even talk of Himself as Son: “‘For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that everyone who believes in Him might not perish but might have eternal life.’” (3:16) Jesus also spoke of the Holy Spirit, and as we talked about on the Feast of the Ascension, He said that the Father would send the Spirit in His name, that the Spirit would continue to speak Jesus’ words, and would continue to convey Jesus’ presence. The Holy Spirit is even referred to sometimes in the Bible as the Spirit of Jesus because the two are so closely related. The name Trinity, however, is found nowhere in the Bible, but its theology is all over her pages. Trinity allows God to remain, in the words of theology, imminent and transcendent, which is just a fancy way of saying here and everywhere. The Trinity is the key to making God personal. Otherwise, He would be so unchanging and unchangeable that we couldn’t approach God, nor God approach us. The Trinity allows God in Jesus to feel and experience human life, and that means that He can empathize with us like a God not-as-Trinity could never do.
I don’t understand the how, but I appreciate the why of the Trinity, and maybe for us who are trying to look into the infinite nature of God, maybe that’s enough, maybe this is why faith must always accompany reason, and therefore, for the gifts of faith and reason we can pray this morning in name of the Holy Trinity, (+) the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fr. Randy Calvo