Read in concert, the lectionary passages selected for Trinity Sunday serve up a message that builds upon itself like a well-planned progressive dinner party.
I’ve never had occasion to participate in one, but it sounds fun. You gather a group that travels together to eat at different homes for the evening. Various members are in charge of hosting a particular part of the meal. At the first stop, you enjoy appetizers and drinks, for example. The host at stop number two has prepared a main course, and stop number three features dessert.
A plan is helpful to ensure a coherent and palate-pleasing experience. The menu at each home should stand on its own, but also complement, build on or reference the others.
Welcome to a delectable party – Bon appétit!
Course 1: God empowers life.
Genesis serves as our first host. The creation story – a passage rich with visual detail – recounts God’s prolific work calling the world into being. God not only creates various life forms – vegetation; sea, sky and land creatures – God empowers them with the ability to self-propagate God’s gift of life. Plants yield seed; fruit trees bear fruit with seed in it. Sea creatures, birds and humans are blessed and told to be plant-like (fruitful) and multiply.
This passage also foreshadows the main focus of the second course – that God empowers life together. In addition to creating particular beings, God establishes ecology: relationships within the created order. Sea creatures depend on God’s pooling of the waters. Plants provide sustenance for creatures with breath. Humans, created in God’s image, are granted dominion. We are all indebted “to the generations of heaven and earth” (2:4) that came before us.
Course 2: God empowers life together.
We now take a trip down to the conclusion of Matthew, a creation story in its own right. In a statement that recalls the language of our first course, Jesus invokes the authority of the heavens and the earth – the entirety of created order – to commission something new. He empowers the disciples to offer life together with each other and God, and he promises God’s continued presence.
Like the ecological community in our appetite-whetting first course, Jesus establishes this community with mechanisms to self-propagate its collective life: baptism and discipleship. (How the church goes about this is fodder for another blog, although author Sara Miles gives a succinct vision in her book, City of God, that is too poignant not to share: “To be sure, the brutal, crusading history of Christianity presents any would-be evangelist with a very low bar: don’t convert others by violence, bullying, blaming, lying or selling.” p. 138)
Course 3: God empowers life together shaped by God’s own grace, love, and communion.
After a short and final trek over to 2 Corinthians, Paul helps flesh out the shape of the community that Jesus commissioned during the main course. As we draw our individual and communal lives from God’s own eternal wellspring, so to should the church – the hands and feet of Christ – draw the shape of our lives together from our triune God’s expressed character.
Paul extends the “grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit” (13:13) to his “brothers and sisters” (13:11) at Corinth, inviting them to live peacefully, great each other in love and be of the same mind.
Because Jesus is the manifestation of God’s continued presence with the church, we are also benefactors of these gifts. As disciples, we bear the responsibility of manifesting God’s grace, love and communion in our church and larger communities. We strive for this so as to continually point beyond ourselves to the originator and giver our life, our life together, our life together shaped by God’s character.