31C Feast of the Most Holy Trinity
Created in God’s Image
Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” John 16:12-15
Whatever thoughts may be at play in our minds and hearts today, the liturgy invites us to put all else aside and to be as present as possible to the faith and life significance of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, as revealed in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus
This is the only Sunday during the year that we celebrate a doctrine of our faith, rather than an event in the life of Jesus. And well we should highlight this doctrine for it speaks to us of the very mystery of God – the God who is the very center and heart of our faith.
Because the Trinitarian mystery is so matter of fact in our communal prayer life, we can so easily not take active notice that this is the mystery into which we always pray. It is the formula that grounds our prayer. It alone makes our prayer effective. To the Father, though the Son and in the Spirit – this is the refrain that gives wings to our prayer and lifts our prayer from earth to heaven.
Granted that the words we use to give expression to the core of our faith in God, namely that God subsists as three distinct persons sharing one indivisible nature, always fall short of the mystery that they attempt to bear forth. In fact, they leave inscrutable the mystery that they so feebly attempt to serve and light up. And they do not go very far in making comprehensible what is essentially incomprehensible. Nevertheless, they provide a sufficient window onto the mystery of who is God and the mystery of we who are as creatures made in the very image of that mystery.
All faith is borne from experience. Christian faith was borne from a very unexpected, peculiar, and profound experience of God. It was an experience of God that blew the religious minds and challenged the religious assumptions and convictions of the first believers.
We must remember that Peter, Paul, and company were deeply observant Jews. The core defining statement of Israel’s faith that distinguished it, from the faith of the people out of which Abraham was called, and the faith of all the other nations, was the Shema Israel – “Know O Israel that the Lord your God is One.” Also core to Israel’s faith was that this one God was completely transcendent. That God would become flesh was nowhere within the range of possibility. That God would manifest himself in weakness was totally unthinkable.
But these observant Jews had an experience of God in Jesus and in the outpouring of the Spirit that led them to articulate the mystery of God beyond the framework of Orthodox Judaism. After his resurrection, and based on their experience of the risen Jesus, they began to call Jesus – Lord. In what is celebrated as the Pentecost event, they also came to experience the Spirit as distinct from Abba, the Father, to whom Jesus had introduced them, and from Jesus himself, and they came to call the Spirit – Lord.
It took those first believers nearly three hundred years to find the constructs and words to articulate their experience. At the Council of Nicea, in 325, they professed and confessed a faith in One God in three Divine Persons in a way that acknowledged both the transcendence or “beyondness” of God as well as God’s immanence or “nearness”, in a way that held the Oneness of God in dynamic tension with the experience of three distinct persons.
This peculiar faith that we confess at each Sunday Eucharist, this Triune God Through whom, and With whom, and In whom we pray, is the very sea in which Christians swim. It is the bath that makes possible our regeneration. It is the nectar that feeds our divine communion. It is the pattern for tracing our identity and it is the lamp unto our feet as we move forward into our personal and collective tomorrow.
Our Trinitarian faith reveals the mystery of God in terms of personhood, something to which we can easily relate and with which we can easily identify. Because God is truly other than us, something for example that Eastern religions do not posit, a real relationship, as in person-to-person relationship, is possible with God – a relationship of true mutuality.
The even better news is that we have all been invited into an intimate and even spousal relationship with the One who is Holy. When we celebrate the Eucharist, if you will allow the metaphor, God is making love with us and we, if we would but surrender to the moment and give flight to our hungering souls and desiring hearts can be caught up in this romantic and passionate embrace.
Our Trinitarian faith also reveals the mystery of God as a community of persons – Father, Son, and Spirit. It reveals that any “God and me” relationship that would be exclusive, as in so much piety that attempts to pass as Christian, is grossly inauthentic. Our spousal relationship with God is only real if it is generative of life beyond simple mutuality.
There is no being a Christian apart from being in community. The church is not an option – it is a necessity for an authentic Christian identity and for an authentic spirituality. While to be spiritual and not religious is in vogue, I am afraid that spirituality without commitment to a faith community, and the pattern of discipline and observance that is thereby engaged, for the good of the community – such spirituality is hollow. To paraphrase scripture, The one who says that he loves the God whom he cannot see, but takes no account of the sister or brother he can see, is a liar.
Finally, because our Trinitarian faith, reveals the mystery of God as personal and interpersonal and communal, we alone among religious people can affirm without hesitation or reservation that God is Love. That Love is eternal. That Love has no beginning, and that it has no end. Or as Paul says, “The greatest of these is Love and Love ever dies.”
A God who does not subsist as a community of distinct persons – as is posited by the two other monotheistic faiths, namely, Judaism and Islam – such as God cannot be said to be Love. For love, after all, requires real otherness – does it not? A non-Trinitarian monotheist cannot posit the eternal God, who pre-exists his creation, to be Love, and cannot receive and appreciate creation as the generative expression of the eternal loving that has always been going on between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. And that creation is born of that love.
Yes, the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the mystery in which we live and move and have our being. We live and move and have our being in the eternal loving that has always been going on between the Father and the Son and the Spirit. Living into, embracing, taking delight, and finding our joy in a Trinitarian expression and experience of life is the very fullness of life. Loving the person we are, loving the persons with whom we are given to share life, and loving the community of faith – is the very fullness of life. And dying into this mystery is to come to know the bliss of life eternal.
The Rev. Frank J. Alagna
June 12, 2022