Genesis 1:1-2, 4a
1 When God began to create the heavens and the earth–2 the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters–
4 God saw how good the light was. (CEB)
Trinity Sunday is kind of like the Church’s version of Memorial Day weekend in that it’s sort of the start of summer vacation. It’s the end of the seasons that are full of remarkable holy days like Christmas, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord, Transfiguration, Ash Wednesday, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter, and Pentecost. In fact, there are no more commemorations of Christ on the liturgical calendar until Christ the King, which is the Sunday before Advent begins, and we have a long way to go until Advent.
Next Sunday is the season called Ordinary Time, and it lasts for about half the year. It’s actually called Ordinary Time because the Sundays are counted with ordinal numbers: first Sunday, second, Sunday, etc. But the term is fitting for the other meaning in that it’s mostly regular-old, ordinary Sundays with few significant holy days. I mean, there’s Thanksgiving (but that’s a Federal holiday) and Halloween/All Saints’ which is a great celebration, but there’s not much else.
The thing is, Trinity Sunday doesn’t sound like a really fun way of kicking things off. Of all the church’s dogma’s, God as Trinity—Three-In-One, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is one of the more perplexing ideas. It’s one that most of us have real difficulty grasping. Kind of like the infinite nature of God. How can anything exist that doesn’t have a beginning? Yet, God is infinite, with no beginning and no end. Our heads start to hurt if we think about it too much, but that’s actually kind of the point. God is a mystery. God cannot be comprehended nor defined by our limited human imaginations and languages. It’s impossible! Yet, we humans are often undaunted by such things and we try anyway. A lot of writing material has been spent across the centuries in various attempts to explain the unexplainable.
Let’s look at the text because there are a few things we need to examine. Right off the bat, we have a Hebrew translation problem that has to do with time. Some translations render the Hebrew into English as, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth” (NRSV). Translations that speak of “the beginning” understand the Hebrew as a restrictive relative clause that highlights the reality of time by giving creation a specific starting-moment in time.
Others render it as “When God began to create the heavens and the earth” (CEB). These translations point to the beginning of God’s creative work rather than the beginning of time. Do you see the nuance there? “In the beginning” points to time, “When God began” points to action. While I think the emphasis on God’s action is the preferable translation, it’s true that God’s activity of creation had a beginning. Either way you look at it, God is the actor engaged in bringing order from the formless void.
That’s the next matter we need to look at. It almost makes it sound like the stuff of creation existed in some kind of primordial chaos, and God simply brought order and shape to it all, like it was a 3D puzzle that had been dumped on the coffee table, but hadn’t been pieced together yet. Here again, translations vary. Some say, “the earth was a formless void” (NRSV), and others say, “the earth was without shape or form” (CEB). The thing is, when we look closely at those words, formlessness or being without shape is a kind of infinity. If there’s no shape or form, that formlessness, that lack of shape, is a kind of nothingness that goes on forever. And a void is nothing at all. It’s empty. The text is suggesting that, when God began to create, what existed was infinite nothingness. Nothing is what existed. That’s why later tradition, most notably in 2 Maccabees, says that God created from nothing—ex nihilo.
When God began to create, God was intimately engaged with the stuff that was being given form and substance: the heavens and the earth were created. That word, create, is only used in reference to God’s work in the Hebrew Old Testament. Humans can craft stuff, make stuff, forge stuff, and bake stuff, but only God can create stuff. One of the reasons this text about creation is used for Trinity Sunday is that it reminds us that, from the beginning, God has a relationship with creation. When God began to create, God is the one who did the work. And God called creation good. God loves creation, from the most distant galaxy to the various breakfast items God provided for us that are digesting in our stomachs right now. God has been intimately engaged with everything that exists for as long as any of it has existed.
The Gospel text for today, Matthew 28:16-20, tells us to carry the relationship we have with God and each other out into the world so we can build even more relationships. That’s how we make disciples. We show people that we love them and build relationships. To a degree, we can invite others to be in relationships with us, but really, we’re sent out to show others that we desire to be in relationships with them. Making disciples is outward focused.
Another reason we use the first words from Genesis is because it gives us a glimpse, a hint, of God as Trinity. All three Persons of the Trinity are at play here. In fact, one issue I take with the Revised Common Lectionary’s cutting out of verse 3 is that it doesn’t include God speaking the light into existence. I understand why the lectionary committee did it. In John 1, John describes Jesus as both the Word and the Light, and it appears the lectionary committee was focused on Jesus as the light. Jesus is, after all, the light of the world. But in Genesis, God creates the light, and Christian theology is adamant that the Second Person of the Trinity was begotten, not created. Jesus is God. So, the lectionary understandably tries to avoid equating the light which God made in creation with the metaphor of the true light that shines on all people in John’s Gospel (c.f. John 1:4-11).
In focusing on the Son as the light, however, what I think the lectionary misses is that God’s very act of speaking is the Word through which everything came into being. It’s the power of God’s creative Word that calls creation forth into existence from the infinite nothingness. When we look at the first three verses of Genesis, we have Father, Spirit, and Word acting together to create. The Father decides to create, the Spirit moves over the waters—water being necessary for life—and the Word is spoken: “Let there be light!” (Genesis 1:3 CEB).
In verse two, the Holy Spirit moved, hovered, trembled, brooded, moved gently, some even suggest cherished over the face of the waters. The Hebrew word actually has a connotation of making the water fertile for life. God’s action in creation is intimate, loving, and deeply connected.
The Holy Trinity is something we discuss in confirmation classes over and again. We had five chapters on God because there’s a lot to talk about. We even looked at a piece of art to help us understand God as Trinity. Andre Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity is my favorite icon, and probably one of the best examples of Christian iconography. It depicts the scene from Genesis 18 where three men, who are revealed as the Lord later in the text, visit Abraham and Sarah. Yet, Rublev’s genius is revealed in how the work is essentially the Nicene Creed in painted form.
The three men are seated around a table with a bowl of food, representing the Eucharist, in the center. The three men look alike except for the different colors of their clothing. You can tell they belong together, that there’s a kind of intimacy between them, full of love, respect, and dignity. They’re seated in a circle, but the circle isn’t closed. It’s open precisely where we stand looking into the icon. It’s an invitation for us to be in communion with God. To enter into relationship with God and share in the goodness of the Divine Trinity is what it means to have life. God is a community of love. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfect relationship, and we’re invited to be a part of that.
But there’s more. God not only invites us in, God has acted toward us in such a way that we know God loves us. The entire Bible is a love story about God’s activity on behalf of the human race and all of creation. That’s why caring for creation is important. It’s actually one of our responsibilities as human beings. We were given dominion, not domination. We are caregivers, not exploiters; stewards, not owners. We are called love each other and creation the way God loves and cares for us.
Whatever your politics on the matter might be, making the excuse that care for creation is bad for business is actually bad theology. I seriously doubt that God will excuse the destruction, exploitation, abuse, and violence done against God’s creation for the sake of our earning an extra dollar. We are intimately connected to creation, too. We need it to survive! We need clean air, clean water, uncontaminated and fertile soil, healthy game and livestock if we want to live. We need these things, and if we fail to protect them, it’s ultimately to our own detriment and destruction. The garden will only sustain the gardeners if the gardeners take care of the garden.
Trinity Sunday reminds us that the Persons of the Trinity are connected to each other in intimate relationship, and we are invited into that relationship. God’s actions have shown us that we are loved. We are connected to each other in the same kind of loving community and we are compelled to love the world around us so fiercely that others know beyond the shadow of a doubt that they are loved, too. And we are to love what God has made because we are inextricably linked to the earth, sun, moon, and stars which God has made and called good. Trinity Sunday is all about relationships. And we are invited to go deeper, to love better, to open our arms wider, to see more clearly how intimately connected we are to God, to each other, and to all that God has made. God saw that creation was good and worth every effort of God’s love and care. So are we, and so is every person we’ll ever meet. Our call is to go and love as the Triune God has loved us.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!