In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When it comes to things like math, philosophy, and theology—or any number of other areas where people think about things theoretically—I have always needed a physical or concrete example. Why should I solve for x in this equation? What’s the point? Where does this come into contact with life? There are people who simply enjoy tracing every path, going down every rabbit trail, exploring things to their particular ends. That’s great. But in order for me to understand something, I need a concrete example so that I can make it clear in my own mind. I suppose the ancient philosophers would say I don’t really love truth, because to love truth is to love it for its own sake. I accept that. But if something doesn’t eventually come into contact with something that isn’t abstract, I’m going to get tired of it.
Is the Trinity one of those abstractions that doesn’t have any concrete examples? Is it like Dorothy Sayers laid it out in her imaginary skeptics’ catechism: “What is the doctrine of the Trinity? ‘The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the whole thing incomprehensible.’ Something put in there by theologians to make things more difficult; nothing to do with daily life or ethics.” Now there are any number of people who have thought theoretically about God within the Trinity: what are the relationships between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Is the Trinity like this, or like that? A lot of those questions are important. But why?
I have no idea how we got to the place where images and symbols became a way to explain the Trinity, as if God was an abstraction. If God was not an abstraction, we wouldn’t need anything to “explain God.” But God is not a passive object, out there in space somewhere, sitting still there for us to consider. He is the active subject, acting, doing, giving. That’s how Christians originally came to talk about the Trinity: not because some smart people sat around thinking about how to make Christianity more difficult, but because God acted. God confronted them. God revealed Himself. If that’s so, then there’s no leisure time for us to sit around thinking about God, as if He were an absent, distant abstraction. In Deuteronomy, Israel’s creed was simple: Hear, O Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one. Setting aside the Name of God given there, probably a Muslim or a Jew could assent to the singular, solitary nature of God.
But then Jesus appears in the world. The Son of God is conceived and born from a Virgin; He lives, dies, rises again, and ascends into heaven. And three times in the Gospel of Matthew, the disciples worship Jesus. Consider for a minute what that means: are devout Jews going to worship a man? That’s the number one thing—literally—that you don’t do. You shall have no other gods before My face. You shall not make images to worship of things on the earth or things in heaven. So when the disciples worship Jesus, there’s only one possible explanation: they believe that He is God. And more than that, they believe that He’s of the same “God-ness” as the Father who sent Him and to whom He prays. Because you can’t have two Gods, and you can’t worship a creature. This is why Jesus has always been the problem for thinking of the one God in the singular. And this is why God is not an abstraction which we sit around thinking about. He confronts us in the flesh of Jesus, and we either confess Him or deny Him. There is no leisure for us to do our own theology about who God is and what He might be thinking or doing. Two possibilities: confess or deny; worship or blaspheme.
But if Jesus is the center, the rest of the Scriptures that revolve around Him confront us with the concrete action of God as well. Going back to the very beginning, in the beginning there was God and the Spirit brooded, hovered—whatever that means—over God’s unformed creation, over the water, over the chaos. And then God speaks a Word, and things happen. This is the Word who is God, through whom all things are made, and who took on flesh. Creation is an action of the Trinity.
And before Jesus ascends, what does He tell His disciples? Make disciples—learners—of God. And here’s how you do it: you baptize them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teach them to keep all the words of Jesus. Notice, there’s only one Name. The Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. They share one Name, into which people are put by Holy Baptism. It doesn’t get more concrete than going down in the water, or having water poured over your head according to the word of Jesus. The Spirit does this physical action at the water, just like at the first creation.
And then this Jesus—the real, flesh and blood Jesus—tells His disciples to eat His Body and drink His blood, and He gives it to them in bread and wine. Real Body, real blood, real bread, real wine. Concrete and physical. And if Jesus really is the Son of God in the flesh, if He is the Second Person of the Trinity, then when you eat His glorified flesh and blood, you’re eating and drinking the life of God.
And all of this is God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—acting, giving, doing. What do creatures do when God acts, does, gives? They worship. Thus, the Trinity in unity and the unity in Trinity is to be worshiped. What is worship? Believing what we have been given. Because we have nothing that we have not been given. When we worship, we have nothing to give God that He has not given us: we do not have physical life, spiritual life, no life, except God has given it. He creates and gives us as creatures into His creation. So we worship Him as our Creator. The Son takes flesh and dies and rises and buys us back from our self-made slavery. So we worship Him as Savior. The Spirit gives us faith and forgives our sins in the midst of the Church He has made and will raise our bodies from the dead. So we worship Him as the one who makes us holy. This is the story of all creation, and the story of the Church. This is the story of this Lord’s Day and every Lord’s Day: God gives and gives and gives, and we give it all back. He gives and we receive. He speaks and we confess—we say the same thing He says. Because if we are saying something different from what God has said, then we are lying. We are not confessing, we’re denying. We are not worshiping, we’re blaspheming.
So God keeps giving His Words, keeps giving His Gifts, keeps giving His life to you, until the day when we rejoice in the presence of God, worshiping Him in full Truth, in the concrete and physical reality of resurrected bodies in a renewed creation, in perfect love and in sight. This is what we’ve been given; this is the catholic Faith. Now we speak the same thing back to our God and worship Him in the Spirit and in the Truth.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/9/17