Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, the one Sunday of the church year that we turn our focus to the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We repeat this formula quite often during our worship service. Hearing it causes many seasoned Anglicans, Catholics and Orthodox to reflexively make the sign of the cross. And yet, for many years, I didn’t really know why the Trinity was all that important. Sure, I accepted that there is solid grounding for it in the Bible, and that it was something that ought to be believed in as true, but I really didn’t understand why it made a difference.
I do now. Understanding the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity is critical to a full understanding of who God is. I am sure that you have heard it said many times that everybody really worships the same God, and that the only issue is that we each understand Him a little bit differently. But the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t let us say that, because it requires a radically different concept of God. Yes, a full understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is way beyond our paygrade, and way beyond the paygrade of the best theologians and bishops. But the Bible does tell us enough for us to begin to grasp this very important doctrine.
Let’s take a look at the Scripture that we heard for today, beginning with the Gospel of Matthew. Here Jesus tells us quite pointedly that the doctrine of the Trinity undergirds everything he is commissioning us to do. Jesus tells us “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
We are to go and make disciples and initiate them into the Kingdom of God in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This tells us that Jesus sees the Trinity as foundational to the Kingdom of God and to our mission on earth. Our other two readings give us some clues as to why the Trinity is so foundational. They tell us what the doctrine of the Trinity reveals to us about God.
You might wonder where in our Genesis passage the Trinity is mentioned. It isn’t. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to be learned about the Trinity. In the middle of the Genesis passage, we read “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’ So God created mankind in his own image, ‘in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.’” Many doctoral theses and theological studies have been written about what it means that humans were created in the image of God. There are many aspects in which we function in God’s image.
Let me talk about one particular perspective here that relates to the Trinity. We read in this passage that God created humanity in his image, and note in particular here that God said “let us make” – God refers to himself as “us”. For Christians, this brings to mind an image of the Trinity. So, with that in mind, God creates us as male and female, and Jesus himself refers back to this passage when he speaks of marriage.
Accordingly, a man and a woman united in marriage tells us something about the image of God, and, I would suggest, about the Trinity. A marriage is ideally about a man and a woman coming together in love, forming a new unity. Within that relationship, there is a unity of difference, and the husband and wife direct self-giving and sacrificial love to the other. And often within this marriage comes children, whom the parents also shower their love upon. This points us to the Trinity, where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each distinct, yet are God, and each directs self-giving love to the others. Just as love is the very foundation of a marriage, so love is the very foundation of the Triune God. And just as children become part of an earthly marriage, so are we humans loved by the Triune God. Genesis teaches us that the Trinity means that love and relationship are the essence of who God is.
Genesis gives us a generic image of the Triune God. This image is considerably fleshed out by Paul. In Paul’s conclusion to his second letter to the church at Corinth, we hear a very familiar Trinitarian benediction. Paul writes “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” This is very commonly spoken at the end of the worship services in many denominations. And if I gave you a dime every time I have heard an Anglican or Episcopal priest recite this, I would be very poor indeed. This very simple benediction has a lot to say to us, especially about the Trinity.
Paul speaks to us of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Each person of the Trinity gives us one of these gifts, and these gifts tell us how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to each other and with us. To begin with, Paul speaks of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth and suffered and died on the cross for our sins. When we realize what Jesus did for us, our only response is to realize what grace was shown to us. We are told that we are saved through the grace of Jesus, which means that our salvation is a free gift, given to us by Jesus.
Why did Jesus do this for us? Paul speaks of the love of God. The love of the Father for us was demonstrated most clearly when he sent his Son Jesus Christ to the world to reconcile us to himself. In the famous passage in his Gospel, John wrote “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” What does this love and salvation lead to? What does the doctrine of the Trinity tell us is the goal from this?
Paul finishes up by speaking of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The word that is translated to fellowship here is the Greek work koinonia, which is a favorite word for theologians to discuss. I read one definition of this word that I thought was very helpful. This definition reads “Literally, communion; the unity of believers through Christ based on the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” One commentator wrote about koinonia as “that abiding fellowship of the Holy Spirit who took up residence in our hearts after Pentecost.” The Holy Spirit came upon the Church at Pentecost, which we celebrated last week, and which is often regarded as the birth of the Church. This commentator tells us why the Holy Spirit was so important in the founding of the Church. He writes “The Holy Spirit alone is the glue that can hold together people who sometimes don’t have a whole lot in common outside their common commitment to the faith.”
So, thinking again of the Trinity, we see that the love of God the Father for us, led to God the Son, Jesus Christ, coming to earth to give his life for us and reconciling us to the Father, which in turn led to the Holy Spirit coming in our midst and opening the way for us to live in communion with God and our brothers and sisters in faith. A Trinitarian believer is always confident in the love of God, is always incredibly thankful to Jesus Christ for his precious gift, and is always part of the larger community of fellow believers.
A Trinitarian believer can’t be a lone wolf with a lukewarm faith. A Trinitarian believer is one who is completely wrapped up in the love of God, who knows in their very core that if it wasn’t for the grace of Jesus Christ, they would be nothing, and who is fully part of the greater communion of believers through Christ based on the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We see that the doctrine of the Trinity is intertwined intimately with God’s plan for our salvation. The Trinity is all about sacrificial and self-giving love, relationship and communion. This is the essence of God. And God’s plan for our salvation begins in the supreme love for us from the Father. And it took shape for us through the incredible grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins. And it has become real and active for us today through the fellowship we have both with God and with our fellow believers through the Holy Spirit.
And so let us hear the benediction one more time “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Now I get it. And I realize how amazing the doctrine of the Trinity is for us.
Let us pray.
Almighty and eternal God, you have revealed yourself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and live and reign in the perfect unity of love: hold us firm in this faith, that we may know you in all your ways and evermore rejoice in your eternal glory, who are three Persons yet one God, now and for ever.. Amen.