Abbey 2012 Trinity Sunday – B
Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40
Trinity and Unity are known as abstract nouns in western languages. They seem to appeal to the head. They came into the Christian experience when Christians began to use western languages and western ways of thinking. When Christians ventured to make disciples of all nations, as Jesus tells the Eleven today, they sought to find ways to put their experience into the words of the way people thought and into the languages in which they expressed themselves. In the beginning the dominant languages were Greek and Latin. These languages could use abstract nouns and concepts. The language of those who first experienced the mystery of God that we now call Triune did not express itself in an abstract manner.
Today’s feast of the Trinity borrows an abstract noun to try and express the God in whom we have placed our hope and the God who has shown us love. In reality our ancestors in the faith did not use abstract language to speak about their experience of the God we so easily say is a Trinity and a Unity of persons. The language of Israel and the language of Jesus was concrete. Its images could be felt, seen and touched. And so the Word of God never calls God a Trinity, a person or a unity of three.
The language of faith is really a language seeking to speak about mystery. That is the word that best describes what we stop to remember and celebrate today. As Christians we want to celebrate the fullness of the mystery of our God. Put simply, we want to acknowledge our God as Father, Son and Spirit: All names that reveal the depths of our God and how succeeding generations of believers have come to recognize his movements in their lives. A mystery is not something leaves us shrugging our shoulders and walking away. A mystery is something that is just a little more than we can understand or fully grasp, but something that pulls us toward itself. A mystery will not send us away in fear or ignorance. Rather a real mystery such as our God of Father, Son and Spirit is reaching out to touch us, to draw us firmly and gently toward him.
There is nothing abstract, nothing heady, in the Word we have heard proclaimed on this feast of the Triune God. Moses in not speaking in abstract to the people in front of him. He speaks of the God who entered whole heartedly into the people’s history and changed it. Their God is not up in heaven. Moses reminds the community that God has spoken, in the heart of the fire-the burning bush, the pillar of fire leading them out of slavery. He says God is Lord in heaven above and on earth below. God has acted: they saw the plagues inflicted on Egypt; they saw the wonder of a sea divided, walls of water on right and left and they followed the fire through the water safely. They saw their God as a God who was on their side, who fought for them. And then Moses invites the people to a comparison. Did you see any other god so involved on behalf of a people? Do you see any other God involved in working for freedom; where is the God involved in a rescue operation? No there is only the one God who has saved you! When you have been saved, when you have walked through water and your enemies have drowned in it; when you were a slave and someone bought you and freed you, there is nothing abstract about that. And so Moses says, your response to this mystery of God, this face of God can hardly be abstract either. It must look like something. And so what path will you take, how will you walk, who is leading you now? How will you be a people he has chosen? This is not abstract, it is as concrete as the fire and voice of the God of the Exodus and Sinai. It is as concrete and visible as the community like ours gathering for Sunday worship
The mystery of the Trinity doesn’t begin in the head, not with our God. The mystery of the Trinity begins by becoming involved in the human story, making a commitment to it, and then changing its course. As this mystery of God unfolds over time (time is very concrete) two things begin to happen. One is that God reveals his mystery more and more so that in the end it is we who experience him as Father, Son and Spirit. We come to discover that God himself is communion, a communion of persons. He is one and yet a communion, he shares and is sharing himself. Our language has grasped on to simple words to speak about this communion: Father, Son and Spirit. But they are all words that have to do with relationship, about going out of oneself, loving and being loved.
The other mystery that begins to unfold and unfold very quickly is that the mystery of God means making a community out of us humans. But at the same time a community with which the Trinitarian God is intimately and inescapably involved, connected with and living with. Moses speaks about God making a people for himself: All his wondrous signs at the Exodus were to make something more out of humanity than slaves. God was about to create a new people. In the mystery of this God as we experience him, there is freedom and love in his communion and in what he offers.
Paul today makes the point about creating new relationships between God and humanity even stronger. For Paul the mystery of the Trinity is that we are now children in this Trinity. We are children of God. We have been adopted. This removes us from being nobody to a new identity with God because of our relationship with his own Son. This breaks the bonds that separate different members of the human family. All can be adopted as God’s children in Christ.
Jesus makes it clear that our true identity will be found in the name we hear with the water at baptism. Not the patron saint or human ancestor. But the name of the Trinity itself. We are baptized now into that name of God. We become part of the living community and communion that is at the heart of the mystery we call God. We cannot become a Christian without getting wet. And we cannot become a Christian unless over that water is named this communion of God. The water and the word, the names of our God. Together they make it possible for us to utter the most intimate and personal of all names, “Abba, Father.” With that word we enter into the mystery of the Trinity.
We often reach out and take water when entering the church and sign ourselves in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit. We do it most times without reflection. We don’t realize that at that moment we not only acknowledge our God, but we are placing ourselves once again into the heart of the Christian mystery, namely the love and power of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Christians have struggled over the centuries to get the word about this God of ours correct. But in the end there are only the three words and each one is only about one thing: love offered, love received and love given.