"The LORD, a merciful and gracious God"
Ex 34: 4B-6, 8-9
2 Cor 13: 11-13
Jn 3: 16-18
There is an Indian folk tale about three blind men who examine an elephant to try to determine what sort of animal it might be. So, the first grabs hold of the elephant’s tale and says, “This animal is like a rope.” The second man stands towards the front and rubs his hand over the large tusks as he declares, “This creature is very much like a sword.” The third reaches up and runs his hand over the side of the enormous elephant, patting it firmly, and states, “This creature is surely a wall.”
Each man sensed one characteristic of the elephant but their understanding was limited. Yet, as they shared their perceptions, each of them was given an understanding of the animal they could not have come to on their own. But, the animal still remained a mystery as to its full identity. It would take many more of the parts to put together a true image of the elephant.
When it comes to the question of God, in the same way, we may feel somewhat limited in our understanding. After all we deal with spiritual mystery here. Yet, we comprehend a part of who God is but he remains beyond our full understanding. As Christians we have come to know more of God through his own Son Jesus Christ. He revealed to us, in a true sense uncovered for us, some of the hidden aspects of God. If Christ had not come to us we would be in total darkness. There is a good reason why he referred to himself as the “light of the world” and Jesus himself reminded us that the “Father and I are One” and “we will send the Spirit.”
This weekend on the Feast of the Holy Trinity, always falling on the Sunday after Pentecost, we mark that great uncovering on the nature of the divine. Belief in the Holy Trinity is uniquely Christian for no other world religion sees God in this way. As we have come to know him as a Trinity of Persons we know what God is like. We have an image not of just one part but of the whole of God. Although limited in our full understanding, we believe God is three yet one; three divine persons yet one in their unity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit - One eternal God. Our Jewish brethren, while joining with us in belief that there is only One true God, see him as totally other and single in nature.
True, this is heady stuff to be sure. Yet, the Church, in direct defense against false understanding about the nature of the Son, formally defined the Trinity in what we proclaim as the Nicene Creed in the year 325. It should be very familiar to us for we proclaim it every Sunday and Feast Day of the year: “I believe in one God the Father Almighty . . .I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit . . . who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It is the central (objective) truth of the Christian faith and what we profess to believe.
We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each time we make the sign of the cross we proclaim this core belief of the Christian faith. Still how important is this and how will it impact my daily personal life? I need more than a theological explanation to live by.
Our Gospel reading from John offers more than theology but an invitation: John writes a very familiar phrase: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16).
In the same way, in the first reading from Exodus we hear God reveal his nature: “merciful and gracious . . . slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Here Moses pleaded with God on behalf of a people who had quickly forgotten the original covenant on Mt. Sinai, that he would give his people a second chance. God relents and assures Moses he is Lord who reaches out and desires a renewed covenant with his people.
John tells us: God “loved” and God “sent.” Those two words to love and to send imply an active God. A God who reaches out, who extends himself not out of vengeance or punishment but out of love and mercy towards those he reaches to. He communicates with us as a living being. His Son is his Word. Like a hand reached out to rescue a drowning man God has extended himself out to us in love to rescue us from our own sin.
So God is love as John tells us. God did not remain hidden but took on our own flawed human nature and became visible to us on our terms, in a language we could understand. This Jesus, his Word, as our Creed reminds us is God from God, light from light, true God from true God, made a proposition to us – love God and love your neighbor. That God does not desire our death but offers us eternal life. Faith in his Son is the promise of eternal life.
This reach out in love for humanity tells us that our faith is not one of just laws, rules and regulations. We are invited to a personal relationship with this living God who invites us through his Son to come to know him on a personal level. He desires a covenant, a promise with us that is eternal and binding. God is a God of promise, of love and communicates himself to us.
Therefore we might say that God in his unity creates a community of persons whose very nature is to love us into life. This unity in community is the great understanding for how we are to live. If we as Christians live as God desires then our own lives will promote unity and not division; faithfulness and not selfishness; love and not violence; inclusiveness and not prejudice; forgiveness and not judgment. The potential for human society is unlimited if we were to follow the way Christ has shown us.
This Trinity of Persons invites us to be united as one and to become a force for truth in the world and an inspiration that gathers rather than scatters and a community which welcomes rather than rejects. With Christ himself as the center we stand around him particularly in the Holy Eucharist which reveals the true nature of God to us.
A unity in community is a model for marriage and family life, for the diverse collection of parishioners in any parish, in our own personal prayer to desire a deeper knowledge of God as we experience his presence in our life.
How blessed are we in our Catholic life which promotes community of persons united by one faith around a common word and his altar. May that unity in community reflect the true nature of this God who loves and reaches out to us continually.
May the love of the Father,
the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with us and remain with us
for all the ages.