OUR reading from the prophet Isaiah is “both doxology and polemic”. Verses 12-14 dismiss Babylon’s gods, and verses 15-17 dismiss its politics in parallel fashion. While in worldly terms the empire may seem formidable, in the Lord’s eyes Babylon is “‘emptiness’ (tohu, v.17), not in any way important or substantive” (Walter Brueggemann, Westminster Bible Companion: Isaiah 40-66).
The second half of the reading applies this theological perspective to the practical choices of God’s people. As Bruggemann explains, the function of these latter verses is both pastoral and political. Pastorally, they remind the exiles that they have a “source of energy and power”, and, politically, they invite God’s people to imagine life “outside the bounds of Babylonian possibility”.
On Trinity Sunday, we contemplate the nature of this “source of energy and power”. Christians worship a God who is “self-distributing” (Benedict XVI). We are able to pray and to worship only because God has come among us, to draw us back to him. We do not simply pray to the Triune God: we pray in him. We pray because his Spirit cries out within us (cf. Romans 8.26). We worship because the Spirit draws us into the body of Christ — in whom alone we can offer an acceptable sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the Father (cf. Hebrews 13.15).
The Son and the Holy Spirit draw us into the Triune life, making us “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1.4). In the words of Hans Urs von Balthasar, they draw us into “an eternal circuit of love in God”. As we see in our epistle, God reveals himself to us in “the grace of Jesus Christ”. Balthasar writes that this consists in “his having announced the love of God the Father to us with his entire existence”. Such a revelation would be too “lofty and incomprehensible” if we were not also given “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (Light of the Word).
Indeed, it is the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit” that makes it possible for us to pray at all. As Sarah Coakley explains, “the dialogue of prayer is strictly speaking not a simple communication between an individual and a divine monad, but rather a movement of divine reflexivity, a sort of answering of God to God in and through the one who prays”(God, Sexuality and the Self: An essay ‘On the Trinity’).
Being drawn into the divine life necessarily shapes us into the likeness of Christ. Just as the Trinity is not a distant “divine monad”, so in Christian prayer and worship we are never simply solitary “individuals”. Through our encounter with the grace of the Lord, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, we are drawn into one body.
When we are united to a “self-distributing” God, we are both drawn into communion (with God and with the Church) and are sent out into the world, to call it back into a restored relationship with him. The commission that Jesus gives the disciples at the end of our Gospel reading is to “make disciples of all nations”. Faith in the Triune God is not simply a matter of personal edification and consolation: it is good news — disturbing and transforming news — for all peoples.
Doxology, pastoral care, and politics are necessarily intertwined. Our understanding of the one we worship will affect our understanding of individual and communal flourishing. The eucharist gives the shape of our mission, which flows from the mission of our “self-distributing God”. It is, therefore, fitting that we celebrate Corpus Christi — giving thanks for the institution of the eucharist — on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
On the eve of his Passion, Jesus handed himself over to the disciples sacramentally, just before he allowed himself to be handed over physically to violence and death. In the eucharist, he summons us to live outside the “Babylonian” imaginations of our own age — to believe, instead, that the world is held in being by an “eternal circuit” of divine love, which seeks to draw each human being back into its Triune life.
As St Augustine tells his flock, their mission flows from what Jesus Christ has given them sacramentally. “You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of the eternal love. Behold what you are. Become what you receive.”