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2023-06-01 Holy Trinity Sunday

Updated: Jun 6, 2023

Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

How many of you have an odd in-law or relative who comes by to visit for a Holiday meal once every year? You know the one I mean, the guy who drops over smoking un-filtered cigarettes, has a bit of a grizzly appearance, rather rough and course around the edges. He is always blunt and too the point, never failing to let you know exactly what he is thinking and what he believes, even though it seems to take forever and is oh so repetitive. We don’t often know what to do with these sorts of people, or how to handle them, but we love them anyways because they are family. As hard as it is to believe, over time, we might even develop a certain kind of fondness for these eccentricities! We shall call this beloved relative … Uncle Athanasius.

Yes, you’ve guessed it, this zany Uncle is none other than the Athanasian Creed, confessed by the church just once a year! It has been deemed too theological, too argumentative and just too darn long! It is all but ignored by the church, except on this most Holy Festival of the Church: Trinity Sunday. This Sunday, ol’ Uncle Athanasius has come to visit. As much as there certainly is some mystery and complexity in this Creed, nothing has changed about the truth that it confesses. After all, God does not change – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” Hebrews 13:8. So it is good for us to jump into the deep end of the theological pool, even if we do only tread water there but once a year!

St. Augustine was walking along a beach one day, trying to figure out the Divine Mystery of the Holy Trinity. He paused to watch a little child dig a hole in the sand. Then the boy went and got several pails full of sea water and poured them into the hole he dug. Augustine finally asked the little boy what he was doing. “I am putting the ocean into this hole” he answered matter-of-factly. For St. Augustine, it was a moment of Divine revelation as he realized that he had been trying to do much the same with the mystery of an infinite God as the child had been trying to do with the sea!

We live at a time where mystery and deep theological questions have been tossed into the junk yard! Nobody really seems to care about right doctrine or biblical theology anymore. People choose a church based on programs or music or experience or worldly ideals - regardless if they teach the truth of God’s Word or not. Nobody has time to simply sit, and be still, and know that God is God. If we want theology at all, we want it “to go” just like fast food. We want it our own way, in nice bite sized nuggets that we can dip into a zippy sweet and sour sauce! But you know what? There is a wee bit of a problem with treating our faith and theology as if it were fast food. And that problem is the ingredients list. Eating food that “may contain” traces of this and traces of that is, well, just plain nasty and unhealthy. Think twice before chowing down on those theological “propeller-pigeon” chicken nuggets! The real-deal, all-natural, 100% organic truth is that the Christian faith is theological. Our faith is steeped in Divine Mystery that is fully beyond us, yet the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and minds to grasp it by faith. And the central mystery of the Christian faith is that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Three persons, yet One Divine essence, equally glorious and equally majestic. Trying to “understand” this mystery or trying to “figure it out” is totally impossible. It’s much like Augustine’s revelation about the little boy pouring the ocean into the hole in the beach. How can the whole ocean be contained in such a small space??? That is much like trying to cram the infinite awesomeness of God into our little human brains. Pretty tricky, nay, impossible.

So why do we even care about the Athanasian Creed, then? If it’s impossible for us to wrap our minds around the mystery of it all, why do we have a Creed that confesses so much intricate theological detail about it?! In a nutshell, because it is necessary! The words of the Athanasian Creed preserve the truth of Christianity and the beautiful mystery of our God the Holy Trinity. It is much like having a beautiful diamond or gemstone that shines and shimmers in the light. The men in the congregation may occassionally catch their wives looking down and admiring their diamond engagement ring from time to time, watching it sparkle and shimmer in the light, but knowing that it’s value isn’t in the money it cost to buy it, or how rare it is, but rather what it represents. The love and commitment of her adoring husband. Ok, you can all join me: “aaawwww!”

One of my favorite hymns, “Holy God we Praise Thy Name” (LSB #940), says this in the last line: “Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; though in essence only one, Undivided God we claim Thee and, adoring, bend the knee, While we own the mystery.” The Divine Mystery of God being three persons, undivided yet One God is not meant to be figured out, or scientifically dissected. It is meant to be owned, held, admired, pondered and above all believed because it is the eternal truth that this Holy Trinity: God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit has given Himself for our salvation. It is, as the Creed confesses, the “catholic” faith – that is universal, believed everywhere, always and by all – by which all who desire to be saved must hold. It shows us the love of God, and gives us but a sketch of His depth and grace for us, His sinful creatures. It gives special focus on Jesus, the Messiah and His passion for us, that He would become flesh and die on the cross for us, and rise again from the dead, the very crown jewel of the faith – yet another mystery beyond our understanding.

Our Lutheran funeral and committal services are awesome because they are chock full of God’s grace and mercy that accompanies the mystery. Every time I go grave side with a mourning family, I love speaking these words: “May God the Father, who created this body, may God the Son, who by His blood redeemed this body, may God the Holy Spirit, who by Holy Baptism sanctified this body to be His temple, keep these remains to the day of the resurrection of all flesh.” These words give so much comfort to us because they give us the blessed assurance that Jesus Himself promised to His Church: “behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Even in death, God the Holy Trinity remains with us, assuring us that He loves us and cares for us and has forgiven all of our sins, even the times we have doubted His reality, forsaken His presence, and tried to dissect His undivided Triune-essence.

That God is Holy Trinity must be kept in the forefront of our hearts and minds, always! It is essential to our salvation. This is why we begin the Liturgy in God’s Triune name, we remember our Baptism in God’s Triune name, we bless graves in God’s Triune name, we end prayers in God’s Triune name! This is why we can make the sign of the Cross with our hands and our thumb, index and middle fingers come together as 3 to remind us of our Triune God! (As an aside, our ring and pinky fingers go down together on our hand to remind us of the two natures of Jesus - both fully God and fully man). We constantly return to our Catechism and the Bible to keep His word and remember that this Holy Trinity is the One who created us, who provides for us, who preserves us, who is our Savior, Redeemer and Lord and is the One who calls us, gathers us and sanctifies us! All three persons are involved, yet they are all One God.

For now, it is enough for us to own the mystery. Therefore cherish it! Admire it. Talk to you friends and family about it. Contemplate it, ponder it and experience God in His Trinitarian fullness – not just once a year when ol’ Uncle Athanasius drops by to visit! Own the mystery yesterday, today, and forever. Amen!

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