McFarland

Wednesday Bible Study by Pastor Tim

Light a candle

Read John 3:1-17; 8:12-17

This Sunday is the festival of Holy Trinity, and the gospel text is John 3:1-17—Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. The heart of their nighttime chat is Jesus’ pronouncement that “no one can enter the kingdom of God, without being born of water and Spirit” or “born from above” (vv. 5, 7) There is a lot to this story, but since it is Holy Trinity Sunday, we can lift up the promise of baptism. In waters of the font, we are joined to the Triune One, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are given the enduring identity of children of God and inheritors with Christ of the kingdom. (The first reading from Romans 8:12-17 proclaims this baptismal identity as well!)

Since it is Trinity Sunday, I also thought it would be fun to explore other images of the Triune God, beyond the baptismal proclamation of Father, Son and Spirit. There are diverse ways of describing and praising the Trinity that our forebears in faith shared through writing, hymns and prayers.

First: Root, Tree, Fruit. You can almost taste this delicious image! Second-century theologian Tertullian wrote frequently of this Trinitarian connection. He may have been inspired by John 15, in which Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.” (15:5) The cross is sometimes called the tree of life, and out of Christ’s incarnation, death and resurrection comes the fruit of the Spirit, manifested in lives of disciples.

The next image lifts up a feminine and relational perspective: Mother, Brother, Holy Partner. This springs out of Genesis 1:1, where God is compared to a mother eagle brooding over the waters of creation. (See also Deuteronomy 32:11 for a maternal eagle metaphor for God.) One hymn uses this Trinitarian language to pray for God to bring forth new life through us: “Labor with us; aid the birthing of the new world yet to be, free of servant, lord, and master, free for love and unity.” (Ruth Duck, “Womb of Life and Source of Being,” in All Creation Sings, #948)

Hildegard of Bingen was a contemplative Christian who lived in 12th-century Europe. She wrote of the Trinity as: Root of Life, Living Word, Holy Wisdom. Jean Janzen turned Hildegard’s images into a hymn that praises God for encompassing and carrying us, “encircling all above, below, and through the world.” (Janzen, “O Holy Spirit, Root of Life,” ELW #399) The Root of Life surrounds and connects all of creation!

Finally, Martin Luther described God as: Speaker, Word, Listener. This reminds me of Genesis 1 as well as John 1. God speaks the Word of Life, and a new creation comes into being, full of grace and truth. Luther wrote that Speaker-Word-Listener shows “there is no difference or inequality in the divine essence, neither a beginning nor an end.” (Luther’s Works, vol. 24)

It is enlivening to praise God with so many different words! Of course, God is beyond all human categories and images, wonderfully resistant to being put in a box. God is transcendent, majestic, and mysterious. Yet the Trinity also shows how God desires relationship with the universe and humankind, drawing near, carrying us, infusing all with the breath of new life.

Reflection Questions

1) In the waters of baptism, we are joined to the life of the Trinity. How do we live out this identity as children of God, branches connected to the Vine?

2) What new images of the Trinity resonate with you? Are there other words that you would use to name and praise the Three-in-One, One-in-Three?

3) God is both beyond human experience, and deeply connected to human experience. How do you experience this both/and paradox: God beyond and God with? Where do you delight in the mystery of the Trinity?

Extinguish the candle