The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity sounds like a theorist's dream, a celebration of speculation fired by the theological audacity that attempts to explain God. But if we take our clues from the readings -- which is generally a very good idea -- we realize that this celebration simply focuses on the concrete relationships God initiates and sustains with humanity.
As we read the selection from Exodus 34, we see Moses, the recording secretary of the Ten Commandments, anticipating a close encounter with God. This comes just after his people fashioned the golden calf in an attempt to create a god they could understand and control. Now, Moses is as prepared as humanly possible to meet the One whose very name is unpronounceable and who has warned him, "My face you cannot see, for no one sees me and still lives" (Exodus 33:20).
Who knows what Moses anticipated? We might well guess that he prepared himself to venerate the Awesome Lawgiver in fear and trembling. But we learn that he was met by the Great Lover. While the people identified God with terrifying sounds, clouds, smoke, fire and earthquakes, God's self-description, God's own explanation of divinity, emphasized the tender parental qualities of patience, forgiveness and fidelity. This is the God whose law actually "refreshes the soul" (Psalm 19:8), the God who draws a wandering people away from sin with "bands of love" (Hosea 11:4). Not exactly a fearsome tyrant!
Our reading from 2 Corinthians has one of the most succinct and explicit Trinitarian expressions in scripture. But, as in our Exodus reading, the intent is not to present dogma but to deepen the community's life in God.
Before giving them a final blessing, Paul invites the Corinthians to rejoice. What other response could adequately express their gratitude for experiencing Christ's presence in the world? Of course, some aspects of their life together require "mending." The life Paul envisions for the community is characterized by mutual encouragement and a commitment to express Christ's love and peace in their world. They can accomplish that only if they cultivate attitudes of peace and express them in concrete gestures. Paul assures them that deepening their communion together will deepen their capacity for communion with God.
Finally, Paul prays a threefold blessing for them. He prays that they never forget that their faith is an unearned gift from God, a "grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ." His desire that they know "the love of God" expresses his hope not only that they will believe in God's love, but that they will learn to experience it within their own communal life. That is precisely what he means by the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit." Paul has introduced them to the God of Jesus Christ, One who is transcendent (Creator/Father) historical (Son) and immediate (Spirit). If they refuse to recognize God in their community, they do not know the God of Jesus.
In today's Gospel passage, John 3:16-18, we hear the end of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus -- a conversation that has inspired one of the most oft-repeated, if not necessarily well understood, slogans in Christianity. Before the lines we hear, Jesus had told Nicodemus that one had to be born again to see the kingdom of God, indicating that discipleship brings a new understanding of absolutely everything. Then, in the passage we hear today, Jesus reverses normal expectations about God, salvation and judgment. Whereas religions often slip into portraying God as the lawmaker, cop and judge upholding established order, Jesus describes God as the one whose excess of love cannot be adequately expressed without sending the Son to incarnate that love in the world. In Jesus' view, God makes an offer and human beings take on the role of judging. Those who decide that the offer is worthwhile give themselves wholly over to it; those who do not, exclude themselves from the life God would give. There is no middle ground.
The readings we hear on this Solemnity of the Trinity teach us to plant our feet firmly in creation in order to encounter the Triune God. They call us to abandon the confines of any narrowly "religious" conception of divinity in order to know our Creator, Redeemer and the Source of our union with God and one another. The first reading invites us to be surprised with Moses at the tenderness of the God who gave the Law to lead us to life. Paul reminds us that communion is the way we come to know God. In his conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus teaches us that God is love, offers only love, and has sent the Son to lead us to love. Rather than being a feast for scholars, this is a celebration for lovers -- and it is none other than God who invites us into share the divine life of love.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA, a charitable foundation that supports work with people with disabilities in Ecuador.]