Reflection on the
Readings for today
by John G. Gibbs, PhD
During the first few decades of Christian existence the "threefold-ness"
of God, so to speak was a matter of experience rather than of
philosophical theology. They spoke of Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit because they had experienced God in those three ways.
13:(5-10)11-14] The experiential basis of Trinitarian
language is especially evident in the last verse of the epistle
lesson: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."
Both the apostle Paul and his
Christian readers had experienced grace, love, and communion.
They also thought of the risen Lord as giving especially grace
(charis), and God the Father as giving love (agape)
from the first creation onward forever, and the Holy Spirit
as having permeated the Church and made it into a real community
(koinonia). Already in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 the apostle
had spoken in practical terms (gifts, services, activities)
about the Spirit, Lord, and God who is "the same" in all those
gifts, services, activities.
In short, any near-Trinitarian
language within the New Testament arises from everyday practical
Church experience.The New Oxford Annotated Bible NRSV
(NY: Oxford Univ., 1994) annotates 2 Corinthians 13:14: "The
order is significant; the grace of Christ expresses and
leads one toward the love of God, and the love of God
when actualized through the Spirit, produces communion
with God and with one another." There is no tyrannical God here,
only the God of sovereign love (cf. also 1 John 4:13-21). If
we see anything "Trinitarian" in the New Testament, we see "the
persons" of the Trinity at work for the creation and for the
People of God therein.
The first gospel concludes with what we call The Great Commission.
By so doing, Matthew serves the pastoral need for closure in
the wake of the Resurrection. Some of the 11 remaining disciples
prostrated themselves in worship, something they had not done
prior to the crucifixion. Others in that small group "doubted."
To both groups Jesus makes the same statement and gives the
same charge, using the same language.
Matthew's Jesus says in effect
that the resurrection has established who is in charge of the
universe: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given
to me." (This echoes Daniel 7:13-14.) On the basis of that sovereignty
the Church makes disciples, baptizes, teaches, and remembers.
There are no boundaries after the resurrection, unlike earlier
(Matthew 10:5), against disciple making. Mark 16:15, which may
have been written after Matthew, emphasizes this wide scope:
"Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole
creation." This closure brings new beginning.
It is not individuals alone,
but whole groupings of peoples (ethne, nations) that
are made to be disciples. Communities are changed thereby.
Value-orientations are transformed so that the new community
(the Church) lives out the sovereignty of God in human experience.
They are baptized into the possession and protection of ("in
the name of") Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They are taught beyond
thought "to obey" everything that Jesus commanded. Through all
the changes of their life together they remember: "I am with
you always, to the end of the age."
What a corrective to the hyper-individualism
of Western civilization in our time! The center of attention
is not the individual sinner who has to be saved. True evangelism
transforms whole communities between heaven and earth. Here
the whole Church is the evangelist, not just one person. That
People sees every today in view of"the end of the age." Our
lectionary quite rightly, therefore, includes the first Creation
Ecological consciousness was not an afterthought among early
Christians. From the very first their evangelism (!) spoke of
heaven and earth and the end of all time. "To the mountain"
chosen by Jesus (Matthew 28:16), and not to a house or any man-made
place of worship, those first eleven disciples went to be commissioned.
Jesus' choice of place sets the infant Church out on the vast
landscape of creation.
"In the beginning when God created
the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and
darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God
swept over the face of the waters." Just as God spoke, and all
was/is, so Jesus (the Word incarnate) spoke, and the Church
was/is. Just as "a wind from God" blew order into chaos at the
first, so the Holy Spirit creates the "communion" that is Church.
New Creation builds on, and
partakes of, the first creation. Referring to the creation of
the universe, this story emphasizes by repetition: "And God
saw that it was good." That is to say, the creation was fit
to serve God's purpose. Not even the subsequent murders and
other catastrophes in human conduct could succeed, as it were
in a reverse anti-creation, to destroy or annul that "good"
creation. God's imprint remains on/in it.
Early Christians later reaffirmed
the creation of humanity in the image of God. They found in
Jesus Christ the Second Adam in whom all humanity potentially
can be restored to their original "goodness" (Romans 5:12-21).
But that is not all, for there arose "hope that the creation
itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain
the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Romans. 8:21).
That is the mood of this Trinity
Sunday. It is the atmosphere, the ambience, of exaltation to
the God who has been made known to us in Creation, in Redemption,
and in Sanctification. The One God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
creates and re-creates.
[A short meditation
or even homily cannot very well be comprehensively systematic.
More to the point, no biblical text goes to the extent of Trinitarian
doctrine that the Cappadocian Fathers and Augustine hammered
out in the fourth and fifth centuries CE.]