The Holy Trinity Sunday, cycle A– 4 June 2023
Lectionary Readings: Exodus 34:4-6,8-9; Daniel 3:52-56; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Jn 3:16-18.
Theme: God so loved the world.
The reading from Exodus today follows the story of the apostasy of the people in worshipping the golden calf. Moses, fearing God’s punishment of the people, had tried to gain God’s personal presence among the people. In response, God had told him, “My presence will go” (Exodus 33:14) – but without the vital word “with”. Eventually, God concedes: “I will do what you have asked, because you have won my favour and because I know you by name” (Ex 33:17). God then tells Moses to cut fresh tablets of stone, thus showing his intention of restoring the covenant shattered with the broken tablets. So Moses again ascends the mountain to intercede with God on the people’s behalf. This evokes yet another revelation of God as “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity” – a God who knows the suffering and weakness of humanity and is constantly calling them back to God’s love and mercy. The stress is on God’s forgiveness: the covenantal relationship is restored and will be kept in perpetuity, however much the people’s sinfulness may test it.
Fittingly, in the context of the Israelites making and worshipping of a golden calf in the wilderness, the song of praise is from one of the stories of deliverance in Daniel. The singers are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, three young Jews who have refused to worship a golden statue erected by King Nebuchadnezzar. As punishment, the King had thrown them into a fiercely “burning fiery furnace” but, untouched by the flames, they “walked in the heart of the flames, praising God and blessing the Lord”. Echoing Moses’ own prayer on behalf of the Israelites and God’s revelation about himself on Sinai, Azariah prays, “Do not abandon us for ever, for the sake of your name; do not repudiate your covenant, do not withdraw your favour from us… Treat us gently, as you yourself are gentle and very merciful.” As the fire is stoked even more by the king’s servants, “the angel of the Lord” came and created “a coolness such as wind and dew will bring, so that the fire did not even touch them or cause them any pain or distress.” At this, “all three … began to sing, glorifying and blessing God, there in the furnace.” God, as he had promised Moses, is present among God’s people, especially when they are in deep distress.
In John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus’ words to Nicodemus who, impressed by what he has seen him do, has come to him “by night”. He still must learn in what sense Jesus “has come from God”. The Greek form of the verb “loved” in the words “God so loved the world” implies a supreme act of love. (Cf 1 John 4:9: “In this way was God’s love revealed in our midst: God has sent God’s only Son into the world that we may have life through him.”) The absolute use of “the Son”, as contrasted to “the Father” is frequent in John, paralleling the use of “Son of Man” in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The verb “sent” is parallel to “gave” and, significantly, the same pair of verbs is used of the Paraclete in John 14:16 & 26. For John, “judgment” takes place within history as people consciously choose evil over good and turn away from the covenant God of love, mercy, grace, and truth.
The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us that we are loved not by a distant God, but one who remains, as God promised, during God’s people. We live in the gift of the Spirit from Father and Son, which forms us into daughters and sons of God. So today we celebrate the essence of our Christian belief: God’s fatherly love, the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection, new life in the Spirit. Although Paul’s formula at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians, written in 55-6 CE, is more due to his style of writing than a reference to the Trinity, it does prepare us for the later expression of this development of our faith: ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.’ And to this we can add a fervent ‘AMEN’!
Bibliography: McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible (New York: 1965).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Sr. Margaret Shepherd, NDS. England, Bat Kol Contributor.