This Sunday’s feast, Most Holy Trinity, is underappreciated. I think there are two reasons for that, both amounting to it seeming trivial.
First, it seems useless. We love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the mechanics of the Trinity seems like trivia, debates for theologians but unconnected to our practical or spiritual lives.
But worse than useless, it seems almost hurtful. It seems like the only use for the Trinity is to catch someone making an error that doesn’t matter.
Simple saints (pick your favorite), it seems, wouldn’t care about these technicalities, and might even get in trouble for explaining them wrong. The Trinity seems like an academic test designed to get in the way of our relationship with God.
Our Gospel, from John 3 (“God so loved the world”) responds to the second problem. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. . . . Whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The name of the Trinity, like the name of Jesus itself, is not there to condemn, but to save. Put it this way: it’s not that life is going along smoothly, and then along come these theological concepts to get us in trouble. It’s not that we were already basically in heaven, and then it turns out that they’ll kick you out, or even punish you, if you don’t learn these obscure facts.
To the contrary, “whoever does not believe has already been condemned”: that is, life before the Gospel, life without God – especially unending life without God – is pretty empty. There’s only so much television you can watch, so many donuts you can eat, before you realize that you were made for something better, and you wish you could reach it.
God tells us his name not to push us lower, but to raise us higher. That knowledge is liberating.
The story begins in the Old Testament. In our reading from Exodus 34, God begins to tell Moses his name. The Old Testament doesn’t tell us everything, but it tells us some wonderful things.
“Moses went up Mount Sinai as the LORD had commanded him.” The Lord commands – but what he commands is intimacy. He isn’t asking Moses to jump up and down and pat his head; he isn’t asking for trivia. He is telling Moses where to meet him.
And he tells Moses good news: “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” It’s easy to believe in a God who is “slow to anger”; our culture has no problem believing that God ignores our sin. What is harder to believe is that God is kind and faithful, that he actually does something for us.
The Lord is telling Moses his name: merciful and gracious, rich in kindness. He is telling Moses good news.
In our reading from Second Corinthians, we learn more about the name of the Lord.
Here we learn that his name is peace. But this peace is more than an absence of war, it is active communion. “Encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace”: this is an active peace. “And the God of love and peace will be with you.” Who is God? He is a God of love, a God of friendship, a God of fellowship: active peace.
And so the next sentence is, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” The Greek for “greet” is “embrace,” or even better, “pull one another in.” Handshakes and waves are nice, but the Biblical kiss of peace is not a gesture for strangers. This is active love. Paul moves back and forth between the God of love and the love of God’s people to show us what this name of God, “peace,” means.
And then comes a greeting that should amaze us: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” This is our feast day: the Trinity. And we find that the name of God is grace and love and fellowship. The Father is love, the Son is grace, the Holy Spirit is fellowship.
This isn’t a secret code to keep people out, and it isn’t trivia. This name of God is the good news.
The first line of our Gospel is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” It’s not “Loved the world so much”: it isn’t talking about the quantity of God’s love. It’s talking about the way of God’s love, how God loves us.
He loves us by sending his Son, “so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life . . . believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The way God loves us is by telling us his name, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, and by inviting us into the unfathomable love that name describes. The Trinity is good news.
How do you go about pondering, or contemplating, who God is?