The Feast of the Holy Trinity; Year C (5/30/2010)

The Nature of God

Lessons: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 Psalm 8 (2) Romans 5:1-5 St. John 16:12-15

Prayer of the Day: God of heaven and earth, before the foundation of the universe and the beginning of time you are the triune God: Author of creation, eternal Word of salvation, life-giving Spirit of wisdom. Guide us to all truth by your Spirit, that we may proclaim all that Christ has revealed and rejoice in the glory he shares with us. Glory and praise to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

16:12 [Jesus said,] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 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. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."

St. John 16:12-15. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity, also known as Holy Trinity Sunday, has an unusual history in the life and practice of the Christian church. It was first proposed in the West during the tenth century. Late in the eleventh century, Pope Alexander II was not a supporter of this festival, and so it was removed from the church calendar. But it later was reinstated, and formally adopted by Roman officials in the fourteenth century. In the Lutheran tradition, it now serves as a “hinge festival” — being on the border between the season of Easter and Ordinary Time (or “Sundays after Pentecost”).

This unusual history is perhaps fitting for an unusual Sunday. It is one of the few Sundays in the church calendar that takes its focus not from a Biblical story, but from a second-century theological concept. The term “trinitas” (in the Latin) doesn’t appear until the end of the second century, in the writings of Tertullian and Theophilus. It was the early church’s answer to a troubling theological question: “What does it mean that the Bible refers to God as one, yet describes God in terms of three persons?”

The term Trinity may not be found anywhere in the Bible, but the concepts that make up this ancient doctrine of the church certainly are.

The Bible describes God as Creator, one who (in Martin Luther’s words) “created me and all that exists… [and] provides me daily and abundantly with all the necessities of life.”  (Small Catechism; the Creed) From nothing, God creates us, and provides us with a world that is able to sustain and delight us. Again with Luther: “For all of this I am bound to thank, praise, serve, and obey God.”

The Bible describes God as Savior, one who loves us enough to die for us, and who, in the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, redeems us and gives us the hope of eternal life. At the heart of our faith is the belief that God has done for us what we could not do for ourselves, and because of God’s gracious activity on our behalf, we are saved.

The Bible describes God as Holy Spirit, and this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of God’s nature to comprehend. The Spirit is described as comforter, counselor, advocate... It is God’s way of being with us and among us to inspire us, to encourage us, to empower us, and to accompany us.

The Bible describes God as One, and though we may at times use language that seems to suggest that God, Jesus and Holy Spirit are three unique, differentiated individuals, we believe that there is only one true God, and in the mystery of God’s Triune nature, we experience God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.

Wise and faithful Christians throughout the ages have carried on a vigorous debate about the details of the Trinity. Pages and pages have been written about this doctrine. Yet the true nature of God continues to be more mysterious than quantified. I’ve often stated that if an illustration or an explanation leaves you believing that you understand the Trinity a bit better, it is probably rooted in some heresy that the church rejected centuries ago. Finally, the Trinity is more a reality to experience, than a concept to explain.

This festival invites the worshipper into a celebration of God’s nature. Who is God? How does God relate to humans and the rest of creation? What are God’s hopes and desires for us? In what ways does God make our life and faithfulness possible? These are Holy Trinity questions — and good resources to help us focus our worship and reflection this week.

At the Feast of the Holy Trinity, we consider how it is that we have experienced God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. May that experience increase our faith, deepen our hope, and empower us to live as faithful followers of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What Biblical stories or passages support the concept of “Trinity”?
  2. Why is it helpful for the church to celebrate this day each year?
  3. What does the nature of God have to say about the priorities of our congregation?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How have I experienced God’s creating power in my life?
  2. What does the salvation I have received through Christ mean to me?
  3. When have I experienced the presence of God through the Holy Spirit?