God’s very essence is a relationship of grace, love, and communion, which means relationship is the essence of the whole universe. Our promise and joy, that we are also in this relationship, that all belong.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The feast of the Holy Trinity, year A
Texts: 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20; Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit are with all of you.” That’s it.
That’s all we need to know about the nature of the Triune God. Not Greek philosophical terms or centuries of systematic theology attempting to define the boundaries of who and what God is, and driving out those whose definitions don’t fit.
No, only twenty years after the resurrection, Paul blessed his friends in the Corinthian church with these words that say everything. Paul names the Triune God by naming three blessings we know: the grace of Christ Jesus, the love of God, the communion of the Holy Spirit. Paul offers the blessings we have received from the Three as the truth about the one God and the signs that God is with us.
Paul starts with the grace of Christ Jesus, the only place to begin.
It was Jesus who put together for us the hints the Hebrew scriptures had given. Jesus, whom his disciples came to recognize as the Son of God, connected himself to the Creator, whom he called Father, in a profound way. He said he and the Father are one, that the Spirit is from them. That to know him is to know God.
And Jesus taught us of God’s endless grace, revealed God’s constant forgiveness and welcome for all who stray. Christ’s entering our suffering and death, the grace of loving us even when we rejected that love, all that we have seen at the cross and empty tomb, is our entry into the life of God.
We could not imagine such grace. Only God could show it to us in the Son of God who gives us life.
This grace we meet in Christ leads us to the heart of God.
Looking at the cross of Christ as the Scriptures show it leads to no other conclusion than the center of the heart of the Triune God for us is love. We have tried to claim God needed a substitute for punishment, needed appeasement, had a wrath that couldn’t be quenched except by death. But that is not what Jesus showed us, nor what Paul proclaimed so powerfully.
The grace of Christ Jesus fully reveals the undying, self-sacrificing love of the Triune God for us. This is how much I love you, God says at the cross. I will die to show the universe my love. And my love will break death’s power forever.
So the grace of Christ leads us to the love of the Creator for you. For us. Beyond our hope, we find that we are beloved of God. All creation is.
And this grace and love are meant to be shared with God and each other and creation in a communion.
The communion of the Holy Spirit. Jesus promised we would not be orphaned, the Spirit would come to us. But here is the real joy of the Ascension: Christ returns in bodily form to the life of the Triune God so that we are not bound to see God only in this one human person. Christ ascends so we can finally recognize the Spirit of God moving in our lives and in the world, creating communion in the creation.
Just as the Creator and the Word have been moving in the world since before time, so has the Spirit. Now that we’ve met God’s Son, the Word made flesh, now that he’s died, risen, and ascended, we are ready, as the early Church was, to see the Spirit’s life in us and the world.
In the Holy Spirit, the new life that gives birth in us and in the world is a life of relationship, communion, shaped by this grace and this love that the Triune God has poured out on the world.
The Holy Spirit is how God keeps the promise to be with us always.
This communion of the Holy Spirit shows us that the very essence of the Triune God is relationship.
There is this strange line we heard in Genesis 1 that now makes sense: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness,” God says. God uses a plural pronoun because God exists as relationship, the Creator, the Word, who is Christ, and the Spirit, all present before the dawn of time, as we prayed today, all at creation, all still living and moving in the world. God’s Oneness is in the relationship of the Three, the place where the Three move and relate and live and love, what the ancients called a dance.
If this is true, and God creates in God’s image, that means the essence of the universe, the blueprint of all things, is also relationship. That is the image of God placed on all creation. The oneness of creation is also in relationship. Outside of relationship – with the Triune God, with each other, with the creation – we cannot exist.
Grace can only be received and given in relationship, not alone. Love can only be received and given in relationship, not alone. And communion, fellowship, by definition is only relationship. It’s not communion when it’s just one.
The joy of Paul’s blessing is that we are in this relationship, too. “The God of grace and love and communion is with you,” Paul says. Now we understand why God created the universe. If you’re a God who is at your core a relationship, an internal dance, you live to have relationship. God makes the creation, makes us, to be with us, to have more life join the dance, join the relationship that is grace, love, and communion.
If the Triune God’s relationship is also the blueprint of the universe, then our path is clear.
We cannot live apart from relationship. But God’s true nature teaches us the challenges of this.
First, God always shows us that relationship means risk and vulnerability. If, as we claim, we see the depth of God’s truth at the cross, then the Triune God is chiefly known to us not as almighty but as all-vulnerable. To be in relationship like God is to be open to being wounded, to risk for the other. Once again we see the cross not only is where we find life, it is, as always, the path we walk to live the joy of abundant life in relationship with God and the creation.
Second, God shows us that relationship involves responsibility. The Scriptures tell us that God’s love for us and the creation is such that God cannot walk away. Will not walk away. No matter how angry, frustrated, disappointed God might be, God’s love means God stays with us. God is responsible for us.
We can’t avoid the responsibility that relationship brings. The only way to be irresponsible is to break relationship. If the other person or part of creation isn’t related to me, I don’t have to be responsible for it. But once you matter to me, and I to you, once we belong to God and each other and the creation, all things matter, too.
But this is our joy as we celebrate God’s true nature on this day.
We matter to God. We matter to each other. We matter to the creation. We belong to God. We belong to each other. We belong to the creation. And in that relationship, that communion, shaped by God’s astonishing grace and infinite love, all our hope and life, and the hope and life of the whole creation, exists.
It really is all we need to know about the Triune God. The deeper mysteries of God’s nature, how the Trinity exists within Godself, we can never know.
But that this God is with us in grace and love, calling us to communion with God, with each other, with the creation, that’s everything. And it’s enough. It’s more than enough.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.