Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Holy Trinity


The Holy Trinity (A)

June 19, 2011
Text: Matt. 28:16-20

In the Creed, we confess, “I believe in one God,” yet we go on to say “I believe in… the Father Almighty… And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God… And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son” (Nicene Creed). We are monotheists, believing, teaching, and confessing that there is only one God. And yet we believe, teach, and confess three Persons in the divinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Contemplation of the Holy Trinity is contemplation of that which is incomprehensible. One God, three distinct Persons, the Unity in Trinity and Trinity in Unity. Pretty soon we have to bring out the Excedrin. God is mysterious right down to His very essence. Which is to say, the doctrine of the Trinity is not a doctrine to be understood, but a doctrine to be believed. For the God who created us, body and soul; the God who redeemed us by His suffering and death on the cross; the God who sanctifies us and keeps us as His own; this God graciously reveals Himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, three Persons. We dare not go beyond what He reveals. We simply believe it and confess it.

This is a rather humbling Sunday. Humbling, because in the article on the Trinity we have to confess our intellectual limitations. Humbling, because we have to be content with not understanding something so mysterious and majestic. Humbling, because we realize that God doesn’t owe us an explanation about everything, not even about His essence. It’s like the child who asks his father, “why?” and the father responds, “because I said so.” God says so, that He is one God, yet three Persons, and that is enough for us. We are not to be so arrogant as to think we understand how this can be. If you think you understand it, you’ve got it all wrong! This makes this Sunday especially humbling for a poor preacher trying to adequately explain the Holy Trinity. There really aren’t even any good illustrations for the Holy Trinity, though many have tried. For example, St. Patrick apparently used the shamrock to explain the Trinity, three leaves on one stem, but even this illustration isn’t entirely adequate. We can more easily say what the Trinity is not. It is NOT the case that God is one person, who sometimes puts on the mask of Father, sometimes the mask of Son, sometimes the mask of Holy Spirit. NOR is it the case that there are really three gods, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit each possessing their own divine essence, but working together as one. Both of these are ancient heresies refuted in the Athanasian Creed which we will confess in a few minutes. No, we have one God, who is three Persons. The three Persons are of one essence, yet they are three distinct Persons. How can this be? We can’t answer that. We can only believe and confess what we have been given by God to believe and confess. A humbling Sunday, indeed.

And yet this is a comforting Sunday, because the article on the Trinity is full of comfort for the Christian. God has graciously revealed Himself to us poor sinners. He didn’t have to do that. He could justly have revealed Himself to us only in His wrath. But instead He reveals Himself as God for us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Notice, He has community built (if we can even speak that way!) right into His very essence. The god of the Muslims is all alone, and it is not in the nature of such a god to be in community. So also, the god of the Jews is all alone, unapproachable, appeased only by strict adherence to traditions and laws. But our God, the one true God, is a God of community and communion. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in one God. So when we say, along with St. John, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8; ESV), we mean it! He is love within Himself. We certainly love, and love is one of our characteristics, but God is love, because He is essentially in community. The Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father, and the Father and the Son love and are loved by the Holy Spirit. And so it is only natural that the love of God within God creates a new object of love, you and me. Just as the love of husband and wife begets a new object of love, a child to be loved, so the love of God begets us, His Church, the children of God, the bride of Christ.

It’s not just that God created us. He did, but He also created a lot of other stuff, and He doesn’t call that stuff His child. It is that God creates us to be His own. The love of God is never an abstract idea. God’s love for us is concrete. The Father sends the Son in the flesh to redeem His children who have fallen into sin. The Son is really conceived in a real womb of a real woman, the Virgin Mary. He grows up as a flesh and blood boy from Nazareth. He fulfills the Law of God as an obedient Son. He suffers in a real body, nailed to the real wood of the cross, sheds real blood, and dies a real death. He’s laid in a real tomb. That’s love. Almighty God, the Son, mysterious beyond all comprehension, dies. For you. For me. And then He rises from the dead, victorious over sin, death, and the devil, in His very real body, the same body that died on the cross. Behold, the wounds. They are mortal. Yet He lives.

And we live in Him. Because we are baptized into Him. His death is our death. His resurrection is our life. We’re born dead in sin, but He’s rescued us from sin and death. And though we die physically, He will raise us from the dead, in our bodies, just as He is raised in His body. It all starts at the baptismal font, the act of re-creation, where the Father speaks the Word, His Son Jesus, into the water, and the Holy Spirit is hovering over the waters. There God forms us for Himself and breathes into us the breath of life, His Holy Spirit, so that we believe in Him and come to new life in Him. There He places His Name upon us, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that we become His disciples, gathered from all nations into one holy, Christian, and apostolic Church. Notice, “baptizing them in the name (one Name!) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (three Persons!)” (Matt. 28:19). The Name of the Triune God is written on you. You belong to Him. You are the object of His love. He created you. He redeemed you by the blood of Jesus Christ His Son. And now He sanctifies you by keeping you in the one true faith through the teaching, as Jesus says, “teaching them to observe” (again here, the word means to keep, consider, meditate upon, believe, and yes, obey), “all that I have commanded you” (v. 20). And then the promise. Jesus says, “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” He is with us as the revelation of God in the flesh. He is with us as God for us. He is the God of our salvation, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. And He’s with us in a very real way, in Baptism, in His Word, in the Supper of His body and blood.

So don’t ever think that Holy Trinity Sunday is “too high falutin’ doctrinal” for you. It is humbling, and it’s supposed to be. But it is also of great comfort. God has revealed His Name to you and placed His Name upon you, a Name mysterious beyond all telling. You belong to Him, purchased with His Son’s own blood. You don’t have to wrap your mind around it. You can’t. Just believe it and confess it, and marvel in the mystery of the God who is love, and who loves you. Rejoice that God’s Name is written upon you, and your name is written in the Book of Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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