I can’t think of a better weekend for Trinity Sunday than Memorial Day weekend. Pentecost was about the coming of the Holy Spirit into the Church after the departure of Jesus in the Ascension. Corpus Christi Sunday, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, is celebrated next week. Sandwiched in between is this week, Trinity Sunday, so we can remember that the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ, together with God the Father, make the unique wholeness of God, which is called the Holy Trinity.
Now I know this doesn’t seem to make sense. The Church fathers way back two thousand years ago anguished over what it could mean when Jesus prayed to His Father and said that He was going to send His spirit. The Jewish people always understood God to be one God, all the way back to Abraham, but with Jesus talking about Father and Spirit, something the Jewish people never understood or taught throughout the entire Old Testament, the net result was confusion for the early Christian theologians trying to figure out what Jesus actually meant. Could Jesus mean that these other names for God that he used, Father and Spirit, together with Jesus Himself, constituted, three gods, not one? Could it be that the Jewish people were wrong all the time? That didn’t make sense; if God was leading the Jews personally through the ages as their loving God, He certainly wasn’t going to lie to them about who He actually is. The early Fathers of the Church reasoned that Jesus could not possibly be saying that there are multiple Gods, and they fought and fought in their councils, sometimes growing so angry at each other that fistfights broke out. People can get pretty emotional about dearly-held beliefs, to say the least. And forget they are Christians in the process, I guess. Just as we fight today over partisan politics, they fought over partisan theology. But their arguing wasn’t to see what political opinion would gain prominence; they fought to fully understand the Truth which Jesus promised would make all men and women free, so they knew they had to get it right. Politics may change, but who God is obviously cannot.
In today’s Gospel, we hear, plain and clear: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…” Baptizing not in God the Father only, not in Jesus Christ only, and not in the Holy Spirit only but in all three. This must be the proper way to understand God, or Jesus wouldn’t have phrased his baptism command the way he did. There had to be an answer, and the Fathers had to find it. Then in time, in the ecumenical council held in the year 325, also known as the Council of Nicaea, from which we get our present profession of faith, the Church Fathers came to understand what Jesus meant: the early Jews before Christ only knew one of God’s personalities, the one God needed to show them so as to be able to lead them with authority to the Promised land. The Father-figure. Then, with the coming of the Messiah, the second personality made itself known, the redeemer, the brother, the personality of God that most clearly reflects on our humanity and is most accessible to us. Jesus, the brother-Messiah figure. Not two gods but really, two distinct manifestations of God’s personality. Just as a soldier has to be tough on the battlefield but gentle with his wife and children, which doesn’t mean two personalities but two manifestation of a single personality according to need, so the Father and the Son manifest two manifestations of the single personality of God in his fullness.
But what about the Holy Spirit? How does this personality of God fit in? On this Memorial Day, let’s pretend we’re asking a veteran who gave his life for his country why he did it. He might reply that he gave his life because he loved his country. So, you’ve got the person who loves, that’s the veteran, the object of the veteran’s love, his country and her people, and the love itself, that’s the bond between vet and country, the thing that ties the two together. It’s really a special spiritual relationship if you think about it. Likewise, the bond of love that ties the Father and the Son together is a special spiritual relationship we call the Holy Spirit. The lover, who is the Father, the object of the Father’s love, who is the Son, and the love itself. When we speak of true love, it’s always a trinity, whether on earth between husband and wife, vet and country, or in heaven, within God Himself or between God and His angels and His saints.
I want to take a moment to thank all living veterans here today, as well as to honor all who gave their lives so that we don’t have to goose-step yelling Sieg Heil! or to be forced to live in a godless political situation like those living in the Communist block were forced to do for so long. Good men and women with their whole lives ahead of them took bullets for you and me so that we could gather here today in freedom. We honor them for their strong leadership, so reflective of God the Father, their selfless self-sacrifice, like Jesus on the Cross, and for the love in their hearts that impelled them, as President Lincoln said at Gettysburg, to engage themselves in a cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion. For the love in their hearts, so clearly reflective of the love within the Trinity, may they rest in peace, and may we always be grateful to God for the freedoms we share and the selfless people willing to defend them, while we look forward to a day in which all men and women can live in a world that no longer needs them to do what they have so selflessly done for you and for me. Again, quoting Mr. Lincoln, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
May God bless you and all of our veterans, living and dead. Amen.