Trinity Sunday – Year B (June 3rd)
Trinity Sunday – Year B (June 3rd)
Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34
Psalm 33:4-6, 9, 18-20, 22
What is this God like, whom we have celebrated through Lent and Easter? Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday, and we get a part-answer to the question; we should notice above all that what God is like is clearly connected to what we have to be like, and to our task as Christians. The doctrine of the Trinity is not, as we all too easily imagine, a mathematical conundrum set to baffle us, but is the way that Christians have learnt to speak of our experience of the immeasurably great God who is also utterly intimate with us.
Look at the first reading. There is a sense of awe (‘ask of the days that were before you…and from end to end of the heavens if anything like this great thing has been’) that this God, who ‘created humankind on the earth’ can actually communicate with his chosen race: ‘a people heard the voice of God speaking from a fire, as you have heard, and lived!’ This is an astonishing expression of the remoteness-and-intimacy of God which the doctrine of the Trinity (God beyond us, God at our side, God within us) tries to signal. For the author of Deuteronomy, the great God is personally involved with Israel: ‘did any God dare to go and take a nation to himself from the midst of another nation…in accordance with all that YHWH your God did before your eyes in Egypt?’ And Israel’s God is the real thing: ‘know today…that YHWH is God in heaven above, and on earth below – there is no other’.
So close to us is this God, according to the psalm, that he demands correct moral behaviour: ‘he loves justice and right, and the love of YHWH fills the earth’. At the same time he is unimaginably remote: ‘by YHWH’s word the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their hosts’. Then the psalmist returns to the note of intimacy: ‘behold YHWH’s eye is on those who fear him, and on those who hope in his love’. Israel had not yet got to a point where they could express their experience of the one God in accordance with the richness of our understanding; but you can hear the yearning for it: ‘may your love be upon us, YHWH, for we hope in you’.
The second reading expresses the intimacy of God in terms of a contrast, and a relationship. The contrast is between ‘slavery…fear’ and ‘divine sonship…a spirit of adoption’. The relationship is that of Father and Son, so that Christians, through the Spirit, can cry out ‘Abba’, as Jesus did in the garden of his agony. So God is not utterly remote; or rather he is, but that is not the end of the story, because ‘the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God’. Paul is here expressing an experience of quite astonishing richness. We can hardly understand it, but cling onto his coat-tails as he struggles with the mystery: ‘if we are children, we are heirs: heirs of God, and co-heirs of Christ’. Spend some time this week trying to digest that.
The gospel for next Sunday consists of the closing verses of Matthew’s gospel. ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ are obviously there in the baptismal formula, and that is presumably why this text was chosen for the solemnity. But look more closely at the text, and see how it relates to our lives. First, there are only eleven disciples, reminding us of the ever-present mystery of human sinfulness. Second, they are in ‘Galilee’, which for us is wherever we are called to witness to our faith. Third, they are on Jesus’ mountain the place where we are privileged to hear his instructions. Fourth, they both rejoice in the Risen Lord and doubtfully hesitate – just like us. Fifth, they have a job to do: ‘go, and make disciples of all the Gentiles’. Finally, and most important of all, the doctrine of the Trinity means that we are never alone: ‘behold, I am [not ‘I will be’] with you until the end of the world’. The doctrine of the Trinity is a rich mystery; it attempts to indicate to us how it can be possibly be the case that the One who is maker of the heavens and the earth can also be the God who walks at our side, and the God that lies within us.