Incorporation into God

Frances writes on the Readings for this coming Trinity Sunday :- At a first glance it is difficult to see how our readings, with the exception of the second have anything to do with the Trinity or make for greater understanding of it in our lives. It is only after quite a lot of thought that one can begin to make some suggestions as to why these readings were chosen for this great feast.

Our text from Exodus (34: 4-6, 8-9) comes towards the end of this ancient book all about the escape of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt and their long journey to the Promised Land.  It was clearly a work, whose origins began in the distant past with that journey, but many of its rules and regulations clearly come from later periods when Israel was settled in Palestine, and they had buildings like the temple and its priesthood and people owned land and had to accommodate to very different conditions. The core, the 10 Commandments, are probably much older and the account of the Exodus clearly grew in the telling; making it Israel’s founding epic and giving them identity. Its final form derives from the 6th century reforms made just before the Babylonian exile. We have to remember that our reading comes after all the historical and legal material and after accounts of the frequent failures of the people to worship God; to trust in him as they should. God had delivered them from slavery; he had given water in the wilderness; manna and quails for food, and as the account continues, clothed them for forty years, but is was never enough. Israel constantly moaned: they complained about the lack of Egyptian fruits and vegetables; feared that their oppressors would follow them; rejected God and made a golden calf to worship instead after the manner of the sacred Apis bull of Egypt. In fact, at each and every opportunity, Israel rejected their saviour God. In our reading, Moses meets with God who promises them that he is a God of ‘tenderness and compassion’, (our reading omits the verse about God’s threat of reprisals on renegades). This then is a story of the discovery of the different aspects of God by his chosen people as they struggled to accept and understand the purpose of their ‘salvation’ and ‘deliverance’ and what it meant to be the Chosen People of God; in a special relationship with him. Whilst we may shake our heads in exasperation at their blindness, it is a rocky journey most of us travel too, though the scenery inevitably is very different.

Reading between the lines from Paul’s closing remarks in 2 Corinthians, (13:11-13) we see that their world too, even among the small Christian community in Corinth, was fraught with difficulties and disagreements.  Paul appeals for them to have peace, to have a united community, suggesting that there were serious and disruptive internal situations threatening the future of the small Christian community in Corinth. Anyone familiar with these letters will be aware of the difficulties there; from immorality; from profaning of the Eucharist by different social groups who ignored its call to solidarity in worship regardless of social status and rank; and from issues raised by meat offered previously by pagans to idols; and then finally by the promises some had made to send monetary aid to Palestine and their subsequent reluctance to do so. It is these people that the long-suffering but ever hopeful Paul commends in Trinitarian form to the “Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.”

It is an extraordinary leap from the simple view of God as alone: that of Exodus and the one made by Paul, who wrote these letters in the 50’s AD, the fruit of some 20 years engagement with the Lord Jesus Christ. Think of the enormity of the shift which permeates the whole of Paul’s thinking about the Christian message, in which Father and Son offer to humanity a revolutionary new vision of our destiny: life eternal in and with God through the self-gift of the Son in the power of the Spirit. In writing to the Corinthians Paul does not believe it would be a ‘good thing’ for them to clean up their act; rather he insists that it is the vital and fundamental behaviour of every believer in the Christian gospel who truly begins to penetrate the vision of what the Father has done for us in Christ Jesus. It is the only fitting response of the redeemed, who began this long journey to a new understanding of God so long ago through our forebears in the Exodus, and is now accomplished in Jesus. It is through our contemplation of the Trinity that we finally perceive our place in God’s life through the power of the Spirit.

This wondrous story is further mapped out in our Gospel from John (3:16-18) where Jesus is speaking to Nicodemus the Pharisee, a member of the elite Council of the Jews. In our passage, Christ speaks of how the Father brings about the salvation and redemption of the world; for, since John believed that the entire creation is through and in Christ, so too he must be its final end, he and the Father are One. Our translations sadly fail to capture clearly the profound and Trinitarian aspect of this divine action when they turn God the Father’s action into something motivated by emotion: “God so loved the world.” The Greek is actually suggestive of something far greater and in paraphrase it says, ‘This is how, or, the manner in which God loved the world’, by projecting his whole identity into it in the Son. By giving the Son (God), it makes the relationship of believer to Christ and therefore to the Father much stronger and we see that our believing is not merely an intellectual thing but an entering into the will of God himself which can only be through the work of the Spirit. What an immense gift and privilege it is then for us to celebrate the Trinity and to ponder its effect in our lives. It is something to remember every time we receive a Trinitarian blessing, which can surely never be, as we might think, just a conventional ending. It is the statement of our incorporation into God’s life.

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