Yesterday was Trinity Sunday in the church calendar, a menu of teachings for every day, including many “feast days.”
Calendared feasts serve to nourish our beings. On feast days the task of the worship leader and preacher is to spread out a feast of what God has revealed. In a book first published in 1959, Ernest Koenker summarized the preacher’s task in relation to the church calendar:
“As the seasons of the church year make their annual circuit, the preacher has no other task than to unfold the mysterium Christi, the mystery of Christ. He makes it known in all its splendour, with a sense of awe and wonder and with all its meaning for the faltering lives of Christ’s little ones.”
In Christian usage the meaning of the word “mystery” is different from normal usage. In normal usage a mystery is something which is yet to be explained, e.g. the disappearance of flight MH370. In Christian usage a mystery is often something which is being exposed. A Bible dictionary says:
“In the New Testament (NT) mysterion signifies a secret which is being, or even has been, revealed, which is also divine in scope, and needs to be made known by God to men through his Spirit. In this way the term comes very close to the NT word apokalypsis, ‘revelation.’ Mysterionis a temporary secret, which once revealed is known and understood – a secret no longer.”
Christians use the word Trinity to signify the great mystery there is in the Godhead – a mystery which it is beyond us to explain, but a mystery which we need to understand as individuals and in groups in order to establish right relationship with one another.
In every Lutheran service the leader pronounces “This service is conducted in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” The pronouncement reminds us all: we approach with words the unapproachable God whose mysteries we cannot fully explain; we desire to approach in unity the greatest unity of all; we strive to be united as the Triune God is united.
Thomas Watson (1620-1686) wrote of the Trinity: “This is a divine riddle, where one makes three, and three makes one. Our narrow thoughts can no more comprehend the Trinity in Unity, than a nut-shell will hold all the water in the sea.”
Martin Luther (1483-1546) produced a Catechism, a set of Questions and Answers, which set out the Christian faith according to his understanding. He designed it to be used by all families. The Catechism has this to say about the Holy Trinity:
Question 19: Who is the only true God?
Answer: The only true God is the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three distinct persons in one divine being (the Holy Trinity).
Numbers 6:24-26. The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
Deuteronomy 6:4. Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
Matthew 28:19. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 8: 4. There is no God but one.
2 Corinthians 13:14. The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Those who attend church services regularly will immediately recognize that the first and last of the scriptures in the above list are used in every service. The sentences are repeated as “the benediction,” the blessing.
A benediction is almost inevitably spoken at the end of each service. A Chinese pastor once told me that the older generation of Chinese will leave a service only after they hear the pronouncement of the benediction by the pastor (priest).
The first blessing makes it clear that there is only One God, the LORD, YHWH, whose name is so awesome that in the writing of it the Jews would not use vowels.
The last blessing is post-revelation of the mysterion of the Holy Trinity in numerous ways. These include the coming of the Holy Spirit “as a dove” upon the Son, accompanied by a voice from Heaven (the Father) when the Son was baptized by John (Matthew 3:13-17); the Messiah’s promise to send the Spirit (John 14) – fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2); the admonition in Matthew’s gospel to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19, cited above).
Why has God revealed Himself as the Triune God?
The Trinitarian understanding of God should keep us humble when we explain and recommend our faith: there is a limit to what we can explain; we can only lead people to the threshold of God; God alone can lead them in.
The Trinitarian understanding of God is not esoteric, i.e. to be understood only by a few; rather, it is public, i.e. meant for all; it is practical: the Father’s love sent the Son on a mission to save the world; the Son’s obedience completed the mission; the Spirit leads us into the Kingdom, and guides and empowers us as we live in the world as disciples of Christ.
The Matthew passage, one of the set readings for yesterday, reminds us of the Messiah’s last words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
A disciple is “one who embraces and assists in the teachings of another.”
On Trinity Sunday, I receive the Trinitarian blessing and leave pondering “Am I a disciple?” Do I know what it means to have a mystery entrusted to me, to live according to that mystery and to proclaim that mystery by my actions and my words? Do I strive for harmony and oppose disharmony because I have been apprehended by the Triune God?