The Festival of the Holy Trinity (5/18/2008)

Immersion into the Mystery of God

Lessons:     Genesis 1:1-2:4a     Psalm 8     2nd Corinthians 13:11-13     St. Matthew 28:16-20

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.

28.16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

St. Matthew 28:16-20, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

This coming Sunday is one of the Principal Festivals in the liturgical calendar: The Festival of the Holy Trinity. (see note #1, below) In some parts of the church, the Festival of the Holy Trinity was celebrated as early as the Tenth Century. In 1334, Pope John XXII ordered the feast for the entire Church on the first Sunday after Pentecost, which places it eight weeks after Easter. The Lutheran church has continued that tradition, making the Festival of the Holy Trinity the first Sunday in Ordinary Time - or the first of The Sundays in the Time after Pentecost.

It is one of the few festivals that commemorate a doctrine of the church instead of an event in the life of Jesus. Yet this day is not set aside to make theological points - it is not a Sunday for lectures about the doctrine of the Trinity - it is not a Sunday for indoctrination. Instead, it is a Sunday for immersion: immersion into the mystery and the majesty of God's Triune nature.

The Gospel for this Sunday is the final thirteen verses of St. Matthew's Gospel. After the resurrection, the eleven remaining disciples make their way to a mountain which Jesus had instructed them to find, and there they receive from him what the church has long called The Great Commission. With his final words to them, Jesus commissions them to go and to make disciples. He instructs them to do so by baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and by teaching obedience to everything Jesus has commanded.

This text was chosen for The Festival of the Holy Trinity, no doubt, because it includes the threefold formulae the church has long used to refer to God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But it seems significant to note that the first instruction Jesus gives to his disciples about how to make disciples of all the world is that they are to baptize people into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If we remember that baptize means to dip or immerse in water, it brings to mind an interesting image: that perhaps helping people become disciples of Jesus Christ has something to do with immersing them into the reality of God whom we know as Father, Son and Spirit.

At Saint Peter we are very interested in discipleship. We have chosen the text for this Sunday as the mission statement for our church (and, we would argue, it actually is Jesus' mission statement for all churches). We believe that we are called to be disciples and to help other people become disciples. We have identified certain Habits of Discipleship (see note #2, below) that we've found helpful in that endeavor, and we hope that by practicing those habits, the Holy Spirit will help us to come just a bit closer to becoming the kind of community Jesus calls us to be.

It may be that this morning's Gospel lesson offers another way to think about what it means to become a disciple. Perhaps it means to immerse ourselves in the mystery and majesty of our God. God has been revealed to us as the Creator of all that exists, as the Redeemer of the world, and as the sustaining and comforting presence of the Holy Spirit. We seek, this Sunday, not to explain those realities, but to experience them. We give thanks for the rich grace and mercy that is present in creation. We praise God for the salvation that is given to us in Jesus Christ. We rejoice that God continues to touch our hearts and lives with the Holy Spirit.

"Our God is one." "Our God is three." We embrace these two paradoxical statements as the biblical truth about the nature of our God. Volumes have been written about what that means, and what the theological implications are of those two irreconcilable beliefs.

Yet The Festival of the Holy Trinity is not a day to probe the depths of those theological truths. It is a day to experience the depths of the existential mystery of God's nature; a day to give thanks for a God who loves us so deeply, and whose touch in our lives is so profound.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What Biblical stories stress God's nature as Creator, or Redeemer, or Sustainer?
  2. What did Jesus mean by commanding the disciples to make disciples of all nations?
  3. How did Jesus pledge his support of them with his final words to them?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. When have I experienced God most powerfully through the creation that surrounds me?
  2. When have I experienced God most powerfully through the gift of forgiveness that is mine in Jesus Christ?
  3. When have I experienced God most powerfully through the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Note #1: The other Principal Festivals in the liturgical calendar used by Lutherans are The Nativity of Our Lord, The Epiphany of Our Lord, The Baptism of Our Lord, The Transfiguration of Our Lord, Ash Wednesday, Sunday of the Passion, the Days of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Resurrection of Our Lord, The Ascension of Our Lord, Pentecost and Christ the King Sunday.

Note #2: The Five Habits of Discipleship that shape our life together at Saint Peter are: Daily Prayer and Bible Study, Weekly Worship, Monthly Community Service, Financial Generosity, and regularly gathering with a faith partner or a small group.