Sunday Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8 Psalm 29 Romans 8:12-17 John 3:1-17
Every Christian has heard the phrase, “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” many times. We hear it every Sunday during worship, often more than once. We mention all three persons when we confess our faith in the Creed. Prayers often close with a reference to all three persons, sometimes rather lengthy. The pastoral blessing at the end of the Eucharist always names all three persons. We hear it at a baptism. We hear texts with reference to the three persons in more abstruse terms. We all know that God is the Mysterious Three in One, one God in three persons, but we all struggle if anyone asks for an explanation.
This phrase was not familiar to Nicodemus who, as a Pharisee, was well acquainted with the texts we call the Old Testament. He was more accustomed to think of God in terms of the most important words to Israelites: Hear O Israel. The Lord our God is one God. When Jesus began to speak of being born from above, Nicodemus was not prepared to understand what he meant. Jesus actually introduced Nicodemus to all the elements of the Trinity. That concept is not likely the message he took home with him, yet Jesus had to talk about all three persons for his message to make any sense. He pointed out that a person must be born of the Spirit in order to enter the kingdom of God. He talked about himself, saying that he had come down from heaven, where the Father lives eternally, the same Father who spoke at Jesus’ baptism saying, “This is my beloved Son.” He summed up his teaching in probably the most famous words in the Bible, saying that God, who exists in three persons, loved the world so much that the Father sent the Son into the world to save the world. Faith in the Christ the Son is the work of the Spirit, by whose grace and power people are born into the Kingdom of God.
The whole idea of God who is one existing in Three Persons without being divided – it overwhelms human brain capacity and human language. Mohammed couldn’t accept it, and he created the religion of Islam for that very reason. His inability to accept the Trinity as an article of faith led him down a different road. Mormons, on the other hand, seem to acknowledge many gods, even though they focus on God the Father, and they ascribe no divinity to Jesus. They cannot accept One God in Three Persons, either. During two thousand years of Christian history, Christians have felt that they needed to explain this mystery, and this need has led to numerous heresies.
The simple truth is that we cannot explain the Trinity. We can only accept it. It is a mystery. God, infinite and eternal, is already beyond our comprehension. The Trinity is simply another mysterious truth about God. We confess faithfully that it is, but we also confess that we have no idea how it can be so.
The Book of Concord touches on the mystery, summing it up as the message of the gospel. It is the Father’s perfect plan that the Holy Spirit creates true faith in our hearts that we may come to Christ, our Redeemer. The gospel only makes sense if the Trinity is truth, and the Trinity comes clear to the eyes of our hearts in the gospel, even though our minds of flesh are still mystified. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus introduces Nicodemus to the mysterious Three in One, and when John sat down to write about Jesus, he thought this conversation was important enough that it needed to be preserved, even though the whole world could not contain everything he might have written about Christ. When we hear this story, we listen as Nicodemus listened, and Christ opens our minds and hearts to the truth of the gospel and the mystery of the Trinity.
Why does it matter? Because God himself, mysterious Three in One, ordained that faith in Christ the Son is the gift of the Holy Spirit by the grace of God the Father. This is the faith we hold dear and confess each Sunday in the Creed.
What difference did it make to Nicodemus? When Joseph of Arimathea took possession of the body of Jesus and laid it lovingly in his own tomb, Nicodemus brought costly spices for wrapping the body. The Trinity made a huge difference to Nicodemus. What difference does it make to you?
© 2012 Katherine Harms