The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity
Ex 34:4B-6, 8-9; Dn 3:52, 53-56; 2Cor 13:11-13, Jn 3:16-18
The Scripture readings for Trinity Sunday are as beautiful and rich as the mystery this feast celebrates. The Biblical peoples stood before God with awe and reverence, so much so that no one was even to say God's holy name; various euphemisms were used instead. Yet, at the same time, the Bible also portrays God as infinitely tender and close to his people.
This paradoxical view of God is apparent in the first reading for today that comes from a climactic moment in the book of Exodus, just after Moses had received a new set of tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them (Moses broke the first set out of frustration with his people's idolatry!). Moses, God's chosen leader, experiences on Mount Sinai the staggering power of God yet can speak to God in intimate terms. A verse right before our selection notes that "the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend" (Exodus 33:11). Because of that close encounter with God, the Bible notes that the skin of Moses' face would "shine" and he had to put a veil over his face in order not to frighten his people (see Exodus 34:33-35). And in the segment we read today, there is one of the most beautiful descriptions of God in all the Old Testament, put in God's own words: "The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity." No wonder Moses "bows down in worship" and, while admitting the sins of his people, still dares to ask God in such touching human terms, "do come along in our company" and "receive us as your own."
Paul, whose understanding of God was also shaped by his Jewish heritage, also speaks tenderly of God's love in the second reading today. He urges his Christians at Corinth to encourage one another and to live in harmony (one of Paul's consistent concerns!) because in so doing "the God of love and peace will be with you." The segment closes with a greeting that well might have been drawn from early Christian worship: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you." Drenched in images of love and peace, Paul already traces here in this early letter the basic Christian belief in the Triune God.
No doubt some of you have been watching the kicking of the extra point at a football game or watching a basketball player attempt a free throw when behind the goal posts, or the basket, a sign is lifted up: John 3:16! It may seem a bit strange way to communicate something about the Bible but I wonder how many people get curious and later actually look up that verse? The reading this Sunday can save us the trouble: 3:16 is one of the most important passages in all of John's Gospel: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." These words of Jesus come in the first discourse in John's Gospel where Jesus interacts with Nicodemus, the Pharisee who comes to Jesus at night apparently out of fear of being seen by his colleagues, and asks about unending life. (Later in the Gospel account this same Nicodemus would overcome his fear and be the one who brought "myrrh and aloes" to tenderly anoint the body of the Crucified Jesus; John 19:39-40.)
In these words, the Gospel of John expresses the ultimate purpose of Jesus' mission to the world. In the breathtaking prologue to his Gospel (1:1-18), John portrays Jesus as the "Word of God," the Word originating from the very being of God and becoming "flesh" - that is, becoming truly human so that the Word of God can be seen and understood by us. Every gesture, every word of Jesus reveals a God of love who does not condemn the world but loves it. For John, too, the most eloquent expression of that love, the "final word" is, paradoxically, the death of Jesus because that death is the act of one "who lays down his life for his friends," a courageous action of which Jesus would say, "there is no greater love than this..." (John 15:13).
Later Christian theology would find more precise and consistent language in an attempt to describe the mystery of the Trinity, but the passages read this Sunday demonstrate that already in the New Testament the earliest followers of Jesus glimpsed the awesome beauty of this faith in the One and Triune God. God the Father, the creator of the world and the God of love who drew Israel out of slavery; Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, who reveals this same God as a God who loves the world and will not condemn it; and the Holy Spirit whose dynamic presence gives the community courage and inspiration to bring the Gospel to the world. Later theology would build on these biblical convictions to describe the Trinity as a vortex of mutual love and relationship, a love that spills out into the created universe and shares its life with the human persons, male and female, who, incredibly, are made "in God's own image" - and therefore themselves able to love each other and to share in the divine life.
Even the most eloquent and profound expressions of Christian theology are mere glimpses of the reality of God - incomplete and awkward before the unfathomable beauty, infinite tenderness, and transcendent power of God. Yet these glimpses, which we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday, are enough to lead us to say, in the words of the Responsorial Psalm for today: "Glory and praise for ever!"
Fr. Donald Senior, CP
Professor of New Testament Studies
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