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Sunday 26 May 2024 Trinity Sunday

The Eternal Mystery: love beyond us, among us, within us

Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40; Romans 8:14-17; Matthew 28:16-20

By Teresa White

A sister in the Faithful Companions of Jesus, former teacher and chaplain, author of Hope and the Nearness of God, the 2022 Lent Book (Bloomsbury)

Context: a parish Sunday Eucharist, with an average mix of ethnicity, age and educational attainment

Aim: to help people see that the Trinity is not an abstract concept, but an expression of our experience of God’s presence in our lives

Trinity Sunday is the feast of God. On this day, the Church invites us to contemplate the mystery of God in whose image and likeness we are made. Mysteries, though we narrow our eyes when we think of them, are not unfamiliar to us, and in some deep part of ourselves, we recognise them, accept them. After all, our most profound human experiences – birth, life and death, goodness and evil, love and hate – are mysteries, ‘far beyond our understanding’ (Psalm 139). Not surprising, then, that the highest, deepest mystery of all, the existence of God, three-in-one and one-in-three, can never be fully grasped. God made the universe; God is love made visible in Jesus Christ; God is our unseen companion, in life and in death.

Today’s first reading, from Deuteronomy, affirms that God is the creator of all that is; that the voice of God, who inhabits the silence of eternity, is ‘audible’ in our lives; that God is our intimate companion, in life and in death. In the second reading, from Romans, Paul rejoices in the fact that through Christ, we share the divine nature: we are God’s children, God’s heirs. The Gospel Acclamation has a similar trinitarian message: God is Father, Son, and Spirit. In the beginning, God was; in the present, God is; in the future, God will be.

In the Gospel, from Matthew, we listen to Jesus’ final words to his disciples. Assuring them that he is speaking with Divine authority, he sends them out to pass on his teachings to people of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And he promises that he will be with them always. Here again we have that same emphasis on the trinity of the divine persons: the name of the Father, the word of the Son, the intimate presence of the Spirit until the end of time.

The event that Matthew describes in these verses, commonly referred to as ‘The Great Commission’, takes place after the resurrection. Jesus had arranged to meet his close disciples in Galilee, and the eleven were all there. When they saw him, some of them bowed down and worshipped him, clearly recognising him as the Messiah, the Lord of Life. Others, however, hesitated; they couldn’t believe their eyes – after all, they knew he had died, and yet here he was, alive again. Was this really Jesus? Thomas, it seems, wasn’t the only doubter.

What is especially interesting about this text is that Jesus does not command the disciples to ‘preach’, to evangelise, to win the world. He simply tells them to pass on his teachings, to create new disciples, people of faith. By the time this Gospel was written, baptism in the name of Father, Son and Spirit had become standard practice in the Church, indicating that this outward sign of initiation into a new relationship with the Divine, embodied by Jesus, encompasses the three Persons of God, who is beyond us, among us, and within us.

What we call the ‘mystery’ of the Trinity is God approaching us in three ways: through transcendence, through incarnation, through immanence. In other words, God is timeless Love; but being utterly above us, beyond us, God made that Love visible in Jesus, who lived with us, among us, and continues to accompany us on the journey of life through the presence of the Holy Spirit. In our wonderful world, unjust, troubled, and destructive though it be, God is at the heart of things.

These thoughts are difficult for us to take in, but they are not entirely foreign to us. We experience a feeling of beyond-ness when God touches us through goodness, beauty and love; there are times when we know in our heart of hearts that Christ walks with us, especially in times of suffering and hardship; at other times, we are keenly aware of the inspiration of the Spirit, encouraging us to do what is right, to live in harmony with God’s creation.

The Trinity is not an unsolvable puzzle we may be tempted to disregard. God intervenes in our lives; God is always ‘whispering in human hearts.’* In a moment of stillness, we can hear that whisper in something we see or hear, something we are thinking about, reading about, talking about, and our thoughts are raised heavenward. When we live with faith and hope and love, we encounter the mystery of God’s threefold presence in the concrete experiences of our everyday lives.

*R. Strange, Journey into Light, Hodder and Stoughton 2021, (p. 5).

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