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This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, Year B. It isn’t a celebration of a distant, abstract God who exists somewhere in the sky. It is a celebration of the indwelling of the one God in Three Persons who is entirely other but nonetheless dwells, acts, and loves in each of us. Our failures to get God right have left generations in rejection of him.
Jesus in the Gospel uses sentences that don’t really go together — unless he means something huge.
The Gospel relates the scene where Jesus departs from his disciples on the mountaintop, but first says: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
That’s odd. If all authority is Jesus’s, why is he asking me to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and not just his name?
And if all authority is Jesus’s, why is he asking me to go make disciples of the nations?
The consequences are clear: The three are one with him, and his life will unfold in the world through us.
Then Jesus doubles down on all of it. Though he is leaving, he says, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Clearly, Jesus intends to live in us and through us and with us — in the Trinity.
The first two readings show how God has been preparing and explaining this moment for a long time.
The First Reading, from Deuteronomy, shares the passage of the Old Testament when the chosen status of the Jewish people is most clearly stated. Moses is amazed by the grace of God who, starting with the burning bush, revealed himself and rescued his people from slavery in Egypt in the Exodus to make them his own.
In the Second Reading, from the Letter to the Romans, Paul sees Jesus Christ reenacting those same Exodus steps in Christians’ lives: The Spirit of God enters, rescues us from slavery to sin, and adopts us to be his own as “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.”
This is an even stronger connection with God than the Jewish people had. They received his special favors; we receive his inheritance. How is this possible? Because what Moses says is true. He has an understanding of God unlike any other people in the ancient world: “The Lord is God in the heavens above and on earth below, and there is no other.”
We often get God all wrong — in a way that makes him seem cruel.
We often imagine God as a great spiritual being who exists, unseen, alongside the universe, intervening in it at various points to show himself. He saw Adam and Eve sin, and began the teaching task of salvation history, finally deciding to enter the world and help his people directly.
No wonder so many people have lost their faith. That is fine as far as it goes, but the more you think about it, the less loving that kind of God seems to be. Imagine I was a father who saw my son drowning. The loving thing to do would be to snatch him out of the water. If, instead, I set up a Rube Goldberg device — if I built a system of pulleys and levers and tracks for rolling balls that would eventually drop a flotation device down, generations hence — that would reveal me to be more interested in my own ingenuity than in my son’s safety. Salvation history can look like just that kind of strange, indirect, future answer to a present problem.
Instead, as Bishop Robert Barron likes to point out, God is “the ground of being,” not another thing alongside the universe.
I think of it this way: What is God’s relation to my dog? You don’t find it by figuring out to what extent God designed my dog at some point in the past, using whatever mechanisms of nature or direct design he used. God is in the eternal now. He is creating my dog and holding him in existence, right now. I can better understand my dog’s behavior by talking to an animal behaviorist, his health by talking to a vet, his physiological make-up by talking to a biologist, all the way down to details about the molecules and atoms in his body by talking to an expert in quantum physics. But none of those can explain fundamentally why my dog is here, how he is here from moment to moment and what is keeping him in motion at all.
It’s God, the ground of being, “the non-contingent cause on which all the rest of existence depends,” that accounts for that.
God is everywhere, even there animating my dog; but he is especially there in us.
It is God the Father who creates and empowers us, in every moment — including our intellect and will and purpose, which are made in his image in a way my dog’s isn’t. It is God the Son who claims and configures us in each moment — we are created through him and saved by him and adopted in him. God the Holy Spirit renews and directs us. This God and his saving act is timeless — or better, God is not just the ground of being, but the ground of time and eternity, too. That means God’s offer of salvation is present at the heart of every being and every time, forever and “always, until the end of the age.”
The great revelation of the New Testament is that this God is love; he is defined by his generosity, in each person of the Trinity.
The Father fills our lives with the blessings of providence. You can see every good thing that happens as his radiant smile upon you. He looks at each of us at our baptism and says “This is my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” The Son looks at us and says both, “I go to prepare a place for you,” and “I will be with you always, until the end of time,” sending us to share his gift of mercy. The Holy Spirit, who is the love between Father and Son, bonds us to both: He cries, “Abba, Father” in us and enables us to call Jesus Lord.
The Christian life consists in living out this love of the Trinity that is inside us, accepting God’s offer of salvation on his terms and inviting others in.
If people today no longer believe in God, then we can point to the beauty all around us to show him again — but most of all they need to see him in our love.
Image: A window at Elizabeth Hall at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
This women’s residence hall served as St. Benedict’s Abbey for years.