The Ways We Experience God
Most Holy Trinity - Ordinary Time
2 Cor. 13:11-13, Jn. 3:16-18
Today on Trinity Sunday we celebrate the central mystery of our faith. Although not specifically stated anywhere in the Bible, it is implicit all through the New Testament. The first Christians were all Jews and fiercely monotheistic. They believed in only one God and that did not change, but this one God touched their lives in three different ways. The mystery of the Trinity emerged not so much as doctrine but from experience.
They had seen God in the natural order of things. The first words in the Bible are, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" – the basic assumption of the church's faith that everything started with God. His initial act was to create. The Earth on which we live was made by Him. The air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat were all made by Him. The stars that shine above us are His handiwork. He also made us.
His fingerprints are on all of Creation but this raises some questions for Nature is very diverse. It includes gentle rains that cause the crops to grow, drastic droughts that lay waste the land and leave people on the verge of starvation, beautiful sunsets and horrible earthquakes. It includes the playful dolphin and the great white shark. Small wonder then that when ancient people looked through the lens of Nature they saw many gods - some good and some evil.
The glory of the Hebrew people is that they saw one God over all of Creation. For centuries, they had recited it in what is called "the Shema", recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4 as saying, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord." While the nations around them recognized many deities, the Hebrews affirmed their faith in the one true God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, Who alone was to be worshipped and obeyed. The fishermen of Galilee had been brought up in this faith. It was as much a part of them as the air they breathed - one God, not many. But a strange thing happened to them one day and it forever changed their understanding of the one true God.
They met a Man named Jesus from Nazareth. His outward appearance was not unusual. He had a human face and a human body. He wore the same clothes and spoke with the same accent as other Galileans, but the power of His words and the impact of His personality were almost beyond belief. He was a carpenter by trade and had no more formal education than they did, but He was different. They had never known anyone like this Man. He was the most compelling person they had ever met. When He said, "Follow me", they left their boats and nets and went with Him.
For three years, He was their constant Companion. They observed Him in all kinds of situations. The more they saw of Him, the more they marvelled. When others were vindictive, jealous and hateful, He never retaliated. When the crowds wanted to crown Him king, He rose above personal ambition. When influential people plotted to get rid of Him, He seemed not to be frightened or embittered. He fascinated them when first they met; with the passing of time, that fascination only increased. Sometimes they would talk among themselves and wonder aloud, 'Who is this?' and 'What manner of Man is this?' A conviction grew in them that He was the Messiah, the promised Redeemer of Israel, with Simon Peter saying, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." They were led to believe this because God the Father revealed it to them. They did not fully understand what this meant. Their hopes seemed to be set on some kind of an earthly kingdom. When His arrest and crucifixion destroyed that dream, they ran for cover.
Fuller understanding did not come until after His Resurrection. For 40 days He appeared to them over and over again. Slowly the truth dawned upon them that this Man was more than a mere man - He was God incarnate here on Earth. He was the one and only true God who had laid aside His Godhead in taking on the form of a man. At last they had come to believe that this Man was the Son of God. It was almost more than their minds could grasp. But one more dimension was yet to be added to this mystery.
It was the fact that God would actually dwell within them. Jesus had promised them that before He died. He spoke of "another Comforter" who would take His place in their lives, to be with them everywhere and forever. Jesus referred to this new Companion as a Person, "When He the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth" (Jn. l6:13). At first they did not understand what this promise meant. As long as Jesus was visibly present with them, that was enough, but after His Ascension, the almost-forgotten promise was remembered. They thought of little else. Absorbed in prayer together, they awaited the coming of the Holy Spirit.
He came on the day of Pentecost and His coming was accompanied with wonders, hard to describe in human speech. The promise had been fulfilled. God was now living within them. They could go their separate ways, while God stayed with all of them. Their monotheistic faith was unchanged. They still recited the Shema, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord," but their understanding of that faith had undergone profound change. The God who was always above them had walked among them and the God who once walked among them now lived within them.
So the early church came to say, "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit." It is the central mystery of our faith - One God in Three Persons, Three Persons yet one God. Let me close with the blessing Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians centuries ago …
"May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Amen.