This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, perhaps the most under appreciated feast of the Church year. We have talked a lot about the doctrine of the Trinity in recent months. Today let us examine the short readings for this feast day.
Perhaps we can sum up the “problem” of the Trinity through a first glance at the Gospel. We have the famous John 3:16, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” God loves us! He wants to save us!
But immediately thereafter comes perhaps the most objectionable line in Christianity: “whoever does not believe has already been condemned, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Christianity is about love, and God’s love for us. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world.” What, then, is all this business about doctrine, especially obscure doctrines? Why do we need to “believe in the name”? “The name” almost underlines the arbitrariness of it: profess “the name” of Jesus and you’re saved, don’t, and you’re condemned. How does that match God’s love for us?
And, to make it worse, why should the ultra-obscure, almost humorously obscure, doctrine of the Trinity matter at all? Isn’t this obscurantism the pure opposite of the Gospel of God’s love for us?
The first answer is, obviously John doesn’t think so.
Our first reading is from Exodus. “Moses went up Mount Sinai. . . . The LORD stood with Moses there and proclaimed his name, ‘LORD.’” (By convention, modern translators write this unspeakable name, YHWH, as all-caps LORD. The Jews substitute their word for “Lord,” Adonai, when they see the name, and the Vatican has asked us not to pronounce the unspeakable name. We put it in caps, though, so we know that’s what the Hebrew word really is.)
Why does God speak his unspeakable name to Moses?
Moses “took along the two stone tablets” when he went to meet God, as if a sign that this somehow fulfills the Law. But then he “bowed down to the ground in worship,” as the Lord himself proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Moses begs him “come along in our company. . . . receive us as your own.”
The point is simple. Far beyond moral observation, Christianity (and Judaism) is about a relationship. It’s not just what we do for God. It’s knowing God himself.
And who is God? He is “a meciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” He reveals himself precisely as a lover, a friend, one who “comes along in our company.” That’s what “the two tablets,” all the moral precepts of Christianity, are really all about.
The short reading from Second Corinthians is almost nothing more than a salutation: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
But this salutation takes us deeper into the relationship revealed on Sinai. The name of God is Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Indeed, this salutation takes us deeper into that name. The name of God is “love”: the love of Father and Son. The name of God is “grace”: the grace of the Son joined to us. The name of God is “fellowship”, communion: the bond of the Holy Spirit, who is both the eternal communion of Father and Son and our entrance into that communion.
The Holy Trinity is the revelation that God is relationship, and invites us into that relationship.
And this spills over: “Brothers and sisters, rejoice . . . live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” We rejoice in the love that is God-with-us. It spills into love of one another, and the bond of peace, the bond of communion with one another.
This is the real secret written on those two tablets of Moses. The real heart of the Commandments is, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” But we discover that holy kiss in the love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is himself that kiss.
God, says John, “gave his only Son.” To know that is to have everything: to have the divine love itself.
It’s not that God condemns us if we don’t believe. It’s that life without that divine love is hardly worth living.
How could we make ourselves more aware that Christian love is rooted in our faith in the Trinity?