Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear, (Acts 2:33).
If you are not familiar with the liturgical calendar you might not know that this coming Sunday is Trinity Sunday. I didn’t. On the historic, ecclesiastical calendar, followed by many branches of the Christian church, this officially marks the end of the Easter season and the beginning of what is called “regular time”.
Today’s text is taken from the Apostle Peter’s famous message given in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. As noted in earlier posts, this was the day the Church with a capital “C” was born. In this one verse, Peter lays out the reality we today refer to as the “Trinity”. The “he” Peter refers to is Jesus. The verse speaks of the interaction of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost.
The word “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible. It is a word that we use to refer to the fact that God has revealed that he is the only God, but he exists in three distinct persons that are all part of the one being we call God. Theologians refer to one essence existing as three persons. It is a concept so baffling that there is really not a perfect way to describe it with the limitations of human intellect and human language. It is also a concept that has been at the center of some of the ugliest fights in Church history.
There is a faulty concept in our time that somehow the church councils of the early centuries decided what would constitute orthodoxy. This faulty concept also implies that other understandings of true faith were crushed by church zealots. This way of thinking shows a great deal of ignorance about the process that led to the early creeds which were shaped in response to early heresies. By saying what I just said, in the way I said it, some might identify me as one – a church zealot, that is. I’m really not.
The apostolic message of the New Testament itself identifies Jesus as not only the Son of God…but as God the Son. Jesus himself said, “I and the Father are one.” His audience understood what he was saying because they picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy. Ultimately, he was crucified because he was a man who claimed to be God.
In the same way, the Holy Spirit is directly referred to in the Bible as not only being the Spirit of God…but God the Spirit. The creeds simply put these biblical concepts into words that helped the broader Church articulate an accurate biblical faith. When problems like Arianism arose, asserting that Jesus was not equal with the Father, and not eternal, the councils met, not to dictate theology, but to affirm what the Apostles taught from the beginning. They taught that there is only one God…YHWH…but that this one God exists eternally as three distinct, yet interpenetrating, and equal persons. Historically, this has been visually represented by the three intersecting circles that form one geometric figure – with areas of individual distinctness and areas of interpenetration. Not perfect, perhaps…but you get the idea. St. Francis used the shamrock as his teaching device to illustrate the concept.
YHWH is marvelous beyond our ability to fully comprehend. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Wherever Jesus is present…the Father and the Spirit are present. Wherever the Spirit is present…the Son and the Father are present. Wherever the Father is present…the Son and the Spirit are present. The Father is in the Son, and the Son is in the Father, and Spirit is in both, and both are in him. Pretty wild! Draw the three intersecting circles on your hand today to remind you that God is the Tri-unity we call the Trinity. And have a great Trinity Sunday on Sunday!