Letter From The Vicar

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July 22

THE HOLY TRINITY

Trinity Sunday is when the church proclaims and celebrates the mystery of the three ways we know the One God. The term “Trinity” is never mentioned in the Bible, and for good reason: scripture isn’t interested in God’s essence and being as God exists in and for God’s self. It focuses on God’s being and action in the world on behalf of the world. The concept of the Triune God began to emerge as Jesus’ followers grappled with the relationship among these three ways they knew and experienced God. Though clearly three different experiences, there was a unity that made them one.

The process began as early as the New Testament was being written. Paul, concluding his second letter to the church at Corinth, invoked upon them this blessing: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit…” Further along we learn that “ we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, whose love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” By the time Matthew’s gospel was being written the Church was baptising in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The One Paul called God, Jesus called “Father.” But Jesus went even further. He said that he and the Father are one. In  John’s gospel Jesus continually proclaims this unity with the Father. It’s not an emotional unity, nor even a unity in purpose. It is an essential unity, as in the same substance. In the same gospel, Philip asks Jesus to show them the Father, to which Jesus responds, “Have I been with you so long Phillip, and still you do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” For the next 300 years the Church would wrestle with how God, the Maker of heaven and earth, could be present among them in Christ. They believed he revealed his very self in human form. They believed he redeemed the world by giving up his life. They knew he created a means for having a new and life-giving relationship with him and they believed he opened the way not only to new but eternal life through the resurrection of the dead.

The confession that would come from these intellectual struggles describes Jesus as God from God, Light from Light, true God from True God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through whom all things were made. Jesus and the Father are one substance and have been so from before the beginning. The phrase, “through whom all things were made,” is a reference, not to the Father but to the Son. It was he who laid aside his divine privilege and power to become incarnate in the Virgin Mary and become one of us. The Son was present at and took part in God’s act of creation as the Word of God, through whom the Father created.

But another was present at creation as well, the One who blew life and animation into the created world, the Holy Spirit. It was this same Spirit that had fallen on the disciples to give them new life at Pentecost. It was the Spirit that had been the bond of love between the Father and the Son in Jesus’ life and ministry. It was the Spirit who joined them to Christ in baptism, the Spirit by which they experienced Christ present in the Lord’s Supper, the Spirit which prayed within them even when they did not know how to pray.

According to Augustine the Spirit that is the will of God that acts as the bond among us and God now, and is the force that calls, draws, and keeps all of us Christians together loving one another as Christ loves us. And so the Church confesses that the Spirit is “the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and Son is worshiped in glorified.” The Spirit who is worshiped and glorified with the Father and the Son, is one of them, one with them.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—three personifications of the one God, three ways in which we know God. Each is identified by a way of being for us: one a way of being over us, one a way of being with us, one a way of being in us, yet each, the one and same God. The concept of the Trinity emerged in the Church to confess that though we know God in these three different ways, it is always the same God acting. It is one personal God, living and acting in three different ways, always at the same time.

One more word about this, each of the three participates in the work of the other. What one personification of the Triune God does, all three do. Every person of the Trinity is involved in every outward action of God. We have already seen that all three were active and present in creation, though it is common to call the Father, “Almighty,” and “maker of heaven and earth.” All three were active in Jesus incarnation, life, ministry and redemption, though we commonly speak of atonement and redemption as the work of Christ. All three are equally present to give us new life and make us holy, though that is commonly ascribed to the work of the Holy Spirit. While we can speak of one of the three being eminently involved in a given operation, all three are involved in the operation of each. What one does, all three do as One. All three participate in God’s world to create, redeem and sanctify.

The Rev’d George M Rogers