Manage episode 278337808 series 1950523
Trinity Sunday is the one Sunday of the year dedicated to the mature confession, following on from the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, that God is three in one, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The collect for the day lines it out: to confess the true faith is to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the divine majesty, to worship the unity. A bit of a mouthful and sounding symmetrically algebraic and not doxology or an act of worship of the Living God, which at its heart it is.
We should stop and ask why lectionary readings might be thought appropriate to our Sunday at all. Are they a kind of two-dimensional curtain at the back of the stage, setting the scene but in front of which the real trinity drama plays out.
Given the non biblical terminology, a real challenge is getting around think of the Trinity as piece of subsequent theological reflection arising from church councils, as the orthodox position defeated bad alternatives on either side. A 4th century idea one would have to back-date into a lectionary context.
If instead we are to think of the confession as arising from the sentences and paragraphs of scripture, which was the orthodox position en route to Nicaea and Chacledon, just how a might a lectionary properly display that. Which OT, Epistle, Psalm and Gospel readings will we hear. If the confession is out beyond the NT in time, then why any readings from it much less the OT at all? Just recite the creed and let that carry the post-biblical weight.
Of course it could be possible to say—as in a debate with Jehovah’s Witnesses—that the divinity of Christ and of the Holy Spirit does indeed have a NT warrant, in at least some kind of germ form, pregnant form, if not more explicitly, and cite the relevant texts – John 1, quotes from Paul’s letters, or the Book of Revelation. Once this argument is nailed down, so it would go, the OT texts would come alongside as warrants in a retrospective sense, working back from a NT base. A search for threesomes in a witness whose literal sense is being manipulated, or recalibrated, though of course for understandable reasons of subsequent development in thinking. Seeing the beginning on the basis of the ending, where the clues have been provided.
Yet in fact the movement was the reverse. Texts like Proverbs 8 and Genesis 1 – which are read in Years A and C—were central to the arguments early Christians made about God as trinity based upon a Bible they shared with Jewish interlocutors, and in time, others. While the NT was itself coming to form. The NT itself testifies to this. What was happening in Jesus and who Jesus was, was in accordance with the scriptures. Jesus opened eyes to the scriptures everywhere about him in his resurrection eye opening time with them.
In His earthly life he defended the first commandment –The Lord, He along, is Lord God–and at the same time said I and the Father are one. These two seemingly distinct things rhymed. David called him Lord. Before Abraham I was. Moses spoke of me.
The use of a Greek gloss kurios, already in place, for the divine name Adonai, Lord, and its application to Jesus himself in confession and in worship makes the point efficiently. And it is the Holy Spirit as Lord that enables our seeing this and confessing it as in act of praise and worship.When we cry Abba! Father! It is the spirit bearing witness with our spirit. So our reading from Romans 8. As Paul puts it elsewhere: No one calls Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit. In the central poem of Philippians, and in our lesson from John a few weeks back: God has highly exalted him and given him the name above every name —The Name of the One God—so that in turn at his name, Lord Jesus, every knee shall bow to the Glory of the Father. This is a Holy Spirit driven congruence itself arising from the promise of Isaiah given to Israel in the Holy Spirit speaking to him. For by myself, by my name, I swear, to me every knee shall bow. So Isaiah 45.
When this central and fairly uncomplicated central fact is in place—one Lord God, one Lord Jesus, one Lord Spirit—one can see that there is no back curtain and main stage but one and the same divine drama across time and scripture both. The lectionary itself – no matter when its sets down—is a testimony every Sunday to this central theological fact at the heart of OT and NT together. The creeds use a different conceptual framework—God of God, light of light—but the same judgments link them both.
A shorthand form of Trinitarian and scriptural alignment is found in the Nicene creed’s brief declaration, that the Holy Spirit “spake by the prophets.” By the prophets is meant the prophetic character of the OT scriptures taken as a whole, through and through. So while certain specific texts were favorites in the history of the church’s exegesis, it is God himself and the way the monotheism of the OT functions to describes his dual majestic and intimate character that is prophetic.
God spoke in creating. His word is his intimate disclosure of himself toward us. In the beginning was the word. And God said. Elohim is the plural, majestic divine self. His voice is himself toward us and toward creation. His voice is upon the waters, is a powerful voice of splendor, it splits flames, makes calves skips and raises up in us a voice in response, as all in the temple cry Glory. His voice is his incarnate Lordship. The Fathers routinely had recourse to this way of conceptualizing, as did the early Jewish tradition as well. Moses did not look on God’s majesty, but by his voice God made himself known. Isaiah knows he is in God’s presence, what he claims to see of God’s self can only create in him a sense of being lost, of being unclean, of needing to have his sin expunged. God’s guarding attendants oblige. Then he can hear God’s voice, the voice of the Lord, in plural reference, “who will go for us.” “Let us make man in our image.” The “spake by the prophets” work of the Holy Spirit, the voice of the Lord, and the Abba Father are the Elohim LORD God of Israel’s experience and through them, by this speaking shared through them to us, our own. And the word became flesh and dwelt among.
The Gospel reading from John 3 focuses on this Holy Spirit disclosing now when it pertains to the voice, word, Lord himself incarnate, and not made known under signs and figures as to the prophets of old. For this disclosing, for this grasping of Jesus as Lord God, one will need to be born from above. The Holy Spirit will act as before he spoke by the prophets, appropriate now to this final disclosing act. Jesus incarnate and standing before Nicodemus is the very Lord God one with his Father, present in him, as Nicodemus confesses, and by that presence able to do signs in his earthly frame. He has descended from above, the veil of signs and figures now giving way to a distinct manner of Lordship in the flesh. This is no easier to grasp, or more proximate in some special metabolic sense, for even as incarnate Lord those around him struggle to comprehend him as Lord God. Descended from heaven and returning in glory. And for the time of his sojourning as this descended Lord, he will be lifted up in his incarnate frame, just as the serpent figure of death and life and healing Moses lifted up in his season, in the wilderness of God’s speaking by the prophets.
The very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit is that spirit speaking by the prophets, bringing new birth from above as promised to Nicodemus, and enabling us by his adopting power to cry out Abba Father, Jesus is Lord, and come Holy Spirit in threefold Holy, holy, holy.