After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter. (Rev. iv. 1)
Today is Trinity Sunday. So, following as we do the traditional Western lectionary, we enter the season not of Pentecost but of Trinity Tide, intending no disrespect to the Holy Spirit, but acknowledging that our life in the Holy Spirit must never be severed or divorced from the Father and the Son. Trinity means three, and Trinity Tide is an invitation into the trifold life of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Should we make the mistake that many post-modern churches do in abandoning the Trinity in favor a seemingly independent season of the Spirit, we should end up finding ourselves being moved far more by spirits other than God’s Holy Spirit and by our own imaginations rather than Jesus Christ the express image of the Father’s person. (Hebrews i. 3)
Christianity is a religion founded on the facts of Divine Revelation. Its God is a God who wishes to be known. (The Christian Year, p. 142) Christians believe that God the Father created all things through the wisdom of Christ His Word by the effectual operation of His Holy Spirit. Christians believe that the Father has never ceased to illuminate His people through His Word and strengthen them by His Spirit. In His Incarnation, Christ himself reveals the same Trinity when He obeys the Father through the Spirit, even unto death upon the Cross. (Phil. ii. 8) And following His Ascension Christ invites all men into new life which He has won for them, promising to send…the Holy Ghost (St. John xvi. 26) whom the Father will send in [His] name that they may persevere in their journey to the Kingdom. So God the Holy Trinity reveals Himself to His people, a door is opened, and man learns the way that leads him up higher and higher.
A door is opened in this morning’s appointed Psalm. It is the Lord that ruleth the sea; the voice of the Lord is mighty in operation: the voice of the Lord is a glorious voice…. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; the voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness…the voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to bring forth young…in His temple doth every man speak of His honor…the Lord remaineth a King forever. (Psalm xxix. 4,7,8,9) David understands that the Father’ voice or Word rules, governs, combines and separates, creates, informs, and illuminates the whole of creation through the Holy Spirit’s strength and might. Isaiah is similarly overwhelmed as a door is opened to his soul also. He saw the Lord upon the throne, high and lifted up, [whose] train filled the temple…that above it stood the seraphims…. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. (Is. vi. 1-3) The Thrice-Holy Trinity abases and humbles the prophet. Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. (Ibid.5) But the Lord has work for the Isaiah to do. The Father sends one of the seraphim to purify the prophet’s tongue of all evil, that the Spirit might inspire him to articulate God’s Word for His people. And in this morning’s Epistle we learn that the same door in opened in Heaven to the Apostle and Evangelist, St. John, whose symbolic vision illustrates the worship of God the Holy Trinity and the call to come up higher.
Yet doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not easy to understand. St. Augustine of Hippo, that great 4th century North-African Doctor of the Church, finds an image of it in the human soul: The human soul is – it exists; the human soul knows –it understands; and the human soul wills – it loves. So also God is, He knows, and He wills. God is pure being -He exists always; God is pure knowing – He begets His Word or His Son eternally; and God is pure loving –His will and love proceed as Spirit always. God is one substance who expresses His spiritual life through three Persons. (De Trinitate. Aug. RC summary) Man is one substance who expresses his spiritual life through three activities. The comparison is helpful, albeit imperfect, since God is God and man is man.
But God intends not only to be known in the abstract, but also understood and desired in the particular life of every man. In fact, He wills to be known by humans, at first, through their encounter with His Son in the flesh. This morning’s Gospel illustrates the point nicely. For here we read that a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews, named Nicodemus came to Jesus by night. (St. John iii. 1) Matthew Henry tells us that coming to Jesus by night is an act of prudence and discretion. For we should all come to be with Christ ‘when the busy world is hushed’ that we might then better learn from Him. Coming to Him by night shows [also] a greater zeal for truth since we are willing to forsake the evening’s pleasures for the sake of the truth. (Comm: John iii) St. Thomas tells us coming to Jesus at night symbolizes also that honest state of obscurity and ignorance that seeks to be enlightened by Christ’s wisdom. (TA: Comm. John iii.) So in the night, Nicodemus approaches Jesus. Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. (St. John iii. 2) Nicodemus knows that Jesus’ teaching is divinely inspired. And he asserts boldly that God is with Him because of the miracles, which Jesus had performed. Moved by Christ’s theological teaching and moral goodness, Nicodemus is nevertheless blind to the meaning and nature of Christ’s Person. Jesus says: Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. (St. John iii. 3) He means that the mysteries of eternal salvation can be seen only through the cleansing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit, (Tit. iii. 5) in the righteousness of faith. (TA, Idem) Nicodemus is confused: How can a man be born again when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb? (Ibid, 4) The only kind of birth that Nicodemus understands is that of the flesh.
Jesus clarifies His response in order to help Nicodemus to understand. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.(St. John iii. 5-7) If man’s fallen corruption is not overcome by rebirth through water and the Spirit, he cannot be saved. The washing of the body with water is an external and visible sign of how the Holy Spirit will cleanse, transform, and rebirth the soul. Man is born of the flesh, and so neither his body nor soul can save him. Jesus sees Nicodemus’ incomprehension. Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. (St. John iii. 8) Jesus says that the wind comes and goes, and we can never chase it to catch it. We inhale and we exhale, and without a thought ever consider whence our breath came and wither it goes. Jesus says, If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? (St. John iii. 12) Nicodemus is a religious ruler in Israel and in his pride has forgotten that God’s Word enlivens and defines all created life through the undetectable breath of His loving Spirit. Nicodemus, if you do not humbly believe and remember thankfully that the invisible and inaudible Spirit animates your earthly life, how will you believe that He intends to birth you again inwardly and spiritually for a better heavenly future?
God the Father’s Holy Spirit is alive and well in Jesus Christ. We speak of what we know, and bear witness of what we have seen. (Ibid, 11) But Nicodemus remains blind. He does not yet grasp that no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven. (Ibid, 13) Man has fallen down from heaven; he cannot ascend up through his own reason or on his own merits. The Son of Man must come down from heaven to open man’s spiritual eyes to his fallen flesh that the desire of the Spirit might breathe new life into his soul. That which is born of flesh is flesh; that which is born of Spirit is Spirit. (Ibid, 6) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (Ibid, 13-15) Man can begin to return to God the Father, only if the Holy Spirit lifts him up into Christ’s Death, so that then he might be born again. And as man begins to be born again in heart and mind, the Holy Spirit will lift him into the Son’s Resurrection and then into the Ascension of return to the Father. Behold a door is opened, as God makes all things new.
God the Holy Trinity desires for us to participate in His life that we might reveal it to others. For ours is not a religion whereby man worships an external, distant, and unreachable deity. God is pure goodness, and with the same Spirit of goodness and generosity that creates and informs all of reality, He longs to redeem and save us. Our God desires that we should be born again each and every new day as the Holy Spirit brings the Word of God to life in us. He longs that we should be as He is, to know as He knows, and to love as He loves. When we worship the Trinity, we find our Origin and End in God the Father, derive our Wisdom and Truth from the God the Son, and practice the presence of His love through God the Holy Spirit. And then as born again sons and daughters of the Father, we shall sing out the Son’s Word of salvation to all nations, with that Love that alone makes Heaven and Earth one, in and through Jesus Christ our Lord –both flesh and Spirit perfectly blended to be shared with you and me. Amen.