Frances writes on the Readings for Holy Trinity Sunday :- One of the pitfalls besetting those who rarely read their Bibles, except at Mass on Sundays, lies in the wrong impression they leave of the actual situation and the point the scriptures are trying to make. Our Reading from Exodus is one such. (Ex 34:4-6.8-9) Here everything seems to be lovely, God and humanity are getting on fine and all is well. But this is actually far from the case, for just prior to our Reading Moses had received the first of the sets of the Ten Commandments and found, when he returned to the people of Israel, that they had deserted God for the deities of Egypt, made the Golden Calf out of metals, and worshipped it. In fact things were very far from good, they were the pits! Moses in fury smashed the tablets and expected God to destroy the Israelites. Yet God, being a God of compassion and faithfulness relents, gives Moses his servant a second set of the Commandments, and sends him back to carry on his difficult task with recalcitrant Israel, God’s ‘chosen’, which he ratifies with a Covenant at Sinai. I suppose therefore that the first element of the Trinity that we learn about, from this rather strange choice of Readings for Trinity Sunday, is fundamentally about the kindness, the graciousness, of Almighty God towards an undeserving humanity. One who holds such power chooses to exercise it with creative mercy and compassion. Old Testament writers frequently resort to a presentation of God as all powerful, even willing to punish and command; yet here we meet a different element of the All Mighty, one willing to nourish, restore and tutor, one who recognises the failings and imperfections of his people, and be with them on their great Exodus journey, which was actually about a discovery of their relationship with the divine, and not simply about a land grab in Palestine, however significant that might come to be.
The last part of Paul’s Letters to Corinth (2 Cor 13:11-13) might be said to be ‘more of the same’. For in our Reading it appears that everything in the Corinthian garden is peace and harmony, as Paul sends them his final, and Trinitarian commendation. However anyone reading the Corinthian Letters would surely blench at this point, for we know that the Christians in Corinth were a source of unrivalled disquiet to Paul. The Christian movement there was divided, as people followed different ‘important’ figures; their grasp of the faith appears to have been sadly array as members commit incest, profane the Eucharist, treat their fellow members of the Churches with contempt, and generally seem to have a lamentable lack of appreciation of what life in Jesus Christ was all about. In comparison to Thessalonians, Philippians or Ephesians these Christians seem to have totally lost the plot, if indeed they ever had it. Yet clearly Paul loved them, and saw them not just as a challenge, but as the very stuff of redemption, surely so much in need of grace. No doubt this is why he commends them to ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’. Surely the united power of the Trinity was needed there, and that abiding sense of the ongoing work of all three, manifested in the Spirit, was never more needed. Perhaps we too identify with the Corinthian Christians, rather than others who seem to have had a greater understanding of things, precisely because we too discover our faith in the rough and tumble of daily life, in which much of the time we perform rather badly. Grace, love and fellowship are surely what we needs must cultivate too, above all other graces.
This theme of the love and kindness of God in Trinity is also something which our Gospel focuses upon. (John 3:16-18) Clearly, in discussing the nature of God in Trinity, there is so much one could say; and yet none of our selection of Readings even attempts to tackle that mysterious and massive subject, focussing instead on God as love, here in Greek as ‘agape’ that sense of care and solicitude for the other. For John, known to history as ‘the Beloved Disciple’, and the one we assume to have been closest to Jesus, there is that greater realisation of the meaning of Jesus, of his relationship to God the Father, and of theirs to the Spirit, and always one gets the sense that their shared relationship is one of total devotion, concern and solicitude for the other. ‘Love’, or agape, for them is not an emotion to be turned off or on at will, or lost through pique; it is about their ‘being’ what they are, given-over to the other.
As Jesus instructs Nicodemus, his secret convert from the Sanhedrin, we see him reaching out to stretch Nicodemus’ horizons, to enable his vision of God to grow and embrace the world and every human. We have to remember that Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a devout man who lived strictly by the rules, and believed that by so doing he would become perfect in relation to God, and qualify for eternal life. Distinction, separation, was the name of the game for Judaism; and Pharisees separated themselves, the ‘pure’ or ‘holy’, even from fellow Jews who did not keep the purity rules, let alone foreigners. Perhaps the very fact that he was in dialogue with Jesus suggests that for all his perfectionism he knew there was something lacking – something this renegade Jew, this extraordinary man Jesus had – and it formed a bond between them. At his death, Nicodemus buried Jesus with 100 pounds of spices – the burial of a king in the Old Testament – something of that great love had got through. God in Trinity ‘gives’ himself – all that he is – to his creation, and in that flinging away of self which we witness so abundantly in Jesus the Son, and find continually echoed in the life of the Spirit, we find like Nicodemus what divinity and our lives too are finally about.