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Trinity Sunday

02 June 2022

12 June, Proverbs 8.1-4,22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5.1-5; John 16.12-15

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JOHN’s Gospel for this Trinity Sunday so dazzles with its depth of meaning that in worship it risks crowding out all else from our minds — readings, prayers, and hymns. So the challenge is to use it as a torch, to cast its bright light into obscure corners of the mystery of faith.

Even as I began to read John 16.12, I immediately had to pause. What does Jesus mean when he says, “you cannot bear them now”? I had always thought of it as “bear” in the sense of “endure”. Thus, Jesus would be pointing forward in time, with predictions of his own imminent Passion, and prophecies of the disciples’ consequent persecution. His soon-to-be (in the Gospel narrative) or recently inaugurated (according to the Church’s calendar) apostles are as yet ill-equipped to cope with either.

Looking more carefully, I think that this may be wrong — or at least only part of the truth; for the verb does mean “bear”, but in the primary sense of “carry off”, “carry away”. That shifts our point of view. Jesus is telling the disciples that now is not the moment for them to be proclaiming abroad all that he has taught them. For a little while longer, the good news is still good news only for the chosen few.

There is, then, much still to be said; but it has to wait until after his death and resurrection. What we have here is nothing less than a plan for the future of the Church. This is not a diagram of contents and dimensions, though, but something more flexible: something much too precious to be entrusted to stone (like the Ten Commandments) or paper (like the law, prophets, and writings), or even to memory, like the powerful, variable memories of the individuals whom we know as Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John himself.

This plan is the Holy Spirit. John’s readers would have been waiting — as last week we, too, were waiting — for the moment when the scripture revealed how the Spirit was being poured out. On Trinity Sunday, we move on to the interwoven being of the Holy Three. Proverbs reminds us that the divine Wisdom is a way of understanding the Spirit. Romans reveals the true nature of the relationship between the Father and (on the one hand) the Son who justifies us, and (on the other) the Spirit who communicates God’s love to us.

The teaching that our God is three Persons in one Being (or Essence) was teased out of texts such as these, in which the Holy Three is not set out as a sum or diagram, but narrated, as the story of a relationship, in terms of God’s actions and effects.

In John, Jesus has a clear vision of his relationship with human beings as having a direction and a destination. Theologians call this “eschatology”. In Greek, the closeness of Son and Spirit is even clearer than in the English, because embedded in the Greek verb for “guide” (hodegesei) is that earliest name for the new faith; the verb can be more fully translated as “he will guide [someone] on the way” (my emphasis).

In a rush of future-tense verbs, Jesus revealed that the new faith would look to the future, as a journey to a destination. In Romans, Paul speaks to us from an early moment in that future (well within living memory of the first Pentecost). He, too, is looking forward: “hope . . . hope . . . hope”.

Paul sees the Holy Spirit as the channel through which God’s love is communicated to his people, both Jew and Gentile. The Spirit has not been dabbed, dripped, or drizzled, but poured out, in an act of stunning generosity. When Paul writes to these Christians whom he did not evangelise, that has been lived Christian experience for a little more than two decades. His summary of faith is dazzling, too: it ties together God’s love, Christ’s justifying sacrifice, and the Holy Spirit’s communication between divine and human.

On Trinity Sunday, we learn that “Truth” is our companion and destination, with the Word (the Bible) as our guidebook on the journey. The Holy Spirit is our sacred satnav: we input our intended goal, and the Spirit gives us directions. Even though sometimes we ignore the Spirit, thinking we know better, the Spirit exists only to get us home. Last week, the Church; this week, the Trinity: together, they form the triumphant fulfilment of the incarnation.

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