This feast ends the journey we have been taking through the celebrations of God’s redemptive mercy from the Passion through Pentecost. Today’s focus is on the source of all that love which is poured out for us. The Bible does not define the Trinity – not even the familiar phrase ‘three persons in one God’ appears. Instead it describes in various ways how the first Christians experienced the love of Father, Son and Spirit interacting in their own lives.
This is a poetic celebration of how God moves through the whole of creation. The idea of ‘wisdom’ as an intermediary between humanity God is in part based the poetic idea of Wisdom speaking as a person, most often a woman because the Hebrew and Greek words for wisdom have feminine gender in grammar. This Old Testament idea of Wisdom has been seen by Christians as foreshadowing both Jesus (as the ‘power and wisdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 1:24) and the Holy Spirit (‘there is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy…’ Wisdom 7:22). We could either choose one or the other, or we could see Jesus and the Spirit acting together. There are also aspects of the Trinity as a whole, powerfully at work within us but beyond the power of the mind to explain. Poetic language is one way towards understanding and is often the choice of the writers of scripture.
The first words, ‘the Lord created me’ can mean ‘the Lord brought me forth’ which better fits with the image of birth a few verses later and with the idea of Trinitarian interpretation. The description of the play and joy of Wisdom in creation is a delightful one, and picks up in a different mood the psalm following on the place of humanity in God’s creation, God ‘rejoicing in the human race.’ (as translated in the New Revised Standard Version.)
The response continues the theme of God’s creation and brings in the relationship of people to the Lord. ‘What is man…’ this is from the Grail version of the psalms and might be more accurately translated for our times as ‘a human’ and the following line as ‘human children’ to point out that it is not just males who have received power over the earth. ‘Less than a god’ – the Hebrew word can mean ‘heavenly beings’ and in some translations based on the word used in the Greek version of Psalms reads ‘less than the angels’. While giving humanity an exalted role, this can also be seen as a reminder of the responsibility that comes with power, especially in a time like ours with care for the natural environment urgently needed.
This short selection from St Paul brings into relationship the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. (In the New Testament, ‘God’ is used sometimes for the Father, at other times as the wholeness of divinity.) In the previous section, Paul has been describing the saving work of Christ, by which ‘we are judged righteous’. There is a playful irony in our ‘boasting’ not of anything we have achieved on our own, but what has been given to us. And the paradox of ‘boasting of suffering’ (or ‘hardships’) because of another free gift of God, hope. The trio of ‘faith, hope and love’ are seen as flowing from Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit.
Another selection from the words John records Jesus speaking the night before he died. Here Jesus stresses the comfort to come after his resurrection and ascension with the gift of the Holy Spirit who will be constantly present to his disciples. One role of the Spirit is guiding us to truth. Earlier in the Gospel, he had said, ‘I am the Truth’, so the Spirit is seen as united with Jesus himself, as Jesus is united to the Father. Although this is all presented in simple language and not the abstract theological terms the Church would later develop, we do get a strong indication of Three, yet One – totally united in love and action and totally offered to those who accept the words of Jesus, which are as well the words of the Father revealed through the Spirit leading us.
These readings have the intent that we in our individual and community lives will deepen our own experience of what the Trinity is and what it means for us. Our God ‘is a communion of love, an irrepressible fountain of life, beauty, love, ever communicating itself, sharing itself in all creation but in a most special way with humankind…. What we must try to grasp is that God gives Godself totally to us… We are in God’s heart forever.’ (From Ruth Burrows, Love Unknown.)
From the alternative prayer for today
God, we praise you: Father all-powerful, Christ Lord and Saviour, Spirit of love. You reveal yourself in the depths of our being, drawing us to share in your life and your love. One God, three Persons, be near to the people formed in your image, close to the world your love brings to life. We ask you this, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, true and living, for ever and ever.