First Holy Communion Sunday
3 Jun 2012
“‘Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit …’” (Matt. 28:19) In the name …
This is a Biblical Concordance. It lists every single word in the Bible and where it is found. All of the “the’s” and “and’s” are in here, plus all of the important words too. And if you look through this concordance of every, single word in the Bible you will not find the word “Trinity” anywhere. A concept as important as the revealed nature of God is not found in the Bible. The idea of the Trinity is a creation of the church.
Last week was Pentecost. We read from the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit descended upon the first believers and that they went out into the streets of Jerusalem preaching the gospel. That their words were inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit is seen in their transformation. Before Pentecost, the apostles were timid and quiet. After Pentecost, they were fearless and bold. Plus there was the miracle that their words were heard and understood by people of different languages. It would be like me trying to convert people in Beijing. I only know English. If the Chinese heard my preaching in their language, that would be a sign of the Spirit not of Calvo. This is why Pentecost is called the birthday of the Christian church. From that moment, the Spirit of God has been working through us believers. From that moment, we as church have been continuing to advance the work Jesus began. Church is not just what we see. Church is us guided by the unseen Holy Spirit.
This is why even though the word “Trinity” is never used in the Bible it is still a valid revelation of God’s own nature. The seeds of Trinity are found in the Bible. From today’s Lesson we hear mention of the Spirit of God, of Abba-Father, and of Christ. From Matthew’s Gospel we hear the familiar coinage of “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The ingredients are there, but it would take the church another 300 years to work out the details of the Holy Trinity. And the process was anything but clean, uneventful and orderly. People and religious communities with the best of intentions and with a deep faith in Christ were thrown out of the church because in the debates over the nature of God they ended up on the losing side.
And sometimes they were thrown out because they only accepted the Bible literally and not the Spirit’s inspiration. For example, in John’s Gospel, Jesus says explicitly: “‘The Father is greater than I.’” (14:28) This led some of the earliest Christians to disagree with the teaching about the Trinity that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all essentially equal because all three are essentially one. They based their disagreement on a literal reading of the Bible, while the Trinitarians were interpreting the Bible. The Trinitarians were trusting in the authority of the Spirit’s inspiration. They believed in the power of the Pentecost church.
The words of Jesus in the Bible are based on His earthly ministry, the time before Easter and His glorification. Biblical scholars today talk about this as the historical context of His words. Jesus of Nazareth, in the fullness of His human nature, did not fully grasp the fullness of His nature as also the Son of God. That was an Easter morning revelation not only for us, but for Jesus too. So His words have to be filtered through this historical context. They have to be understood through the gift of the Spirit’s continuing revelation. And this is where the concept of the Trinity was born.
The church struggled with the notion of how the all-powerful God of heaven abided with us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. How is that Jesus had natural human limitations if He were fully God? How is that Jesus of Nazareth did not realize His full identity as the Son of God until the resurrection? These became the seeds of the Trinity. The Trinity allows for the grandness of God’s nature and simultaneously for the intimacy of Jesus teaching the disciples, Jesus holding a child in His arms, and even Jesus suffering and dying on the cross. The Trinity flows from the idea that in the ordinariness of Jesus of Nazareth the fullness of God was present. And then this was followed by the fullness of God again being present among us ordinary believers as the inspired church of the Holy Spirit. The Trinity doesn’t emerge so much to protect the grandeur of God as it does to protect the intimacy of God with us through Christ and as church.
It is this intimacy that is allowed by the Trinity that reminds us that the church is a constantly changing and growing community. We understand something as essential as the very nature of God through the continuing revelation of God to us. The lesson of the Trinity is that the church must always be open and receptive to the continuous self-revelation of God to us, which is just as true today as it ever was in the story of the church. For this open-mindedness before God, we pray in the name of the Father, (+) and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Fr. Randolph Calvo