This feast is a transition between Easter and Ordinary time, and presents us with the mystery of Jesus in ‘the glory of the Father’ who, with the Spirit sent on Pentecost, is always there for us in our ‘ordinary’ daily lives.
The New Testament does not give a theological definition of what ‘The Trinity’ is, rather it gives us glimpses of how the early Christians experienced Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Despite catechism formulas and other illustrations, there remains a ‘Mystery’ beyond the power of our minds to grasp it. Perhaps people in our time can accept this when quantum science puts before us the unexplainable events of nature. The world of matter and energy as a hint to the reality of the world of the power of spirit.
Jesus stressed the relationship he offers between ourselves and our God, and that leads to the deep truth that relationship is at the heart of God, the love between the Three which reaches out to draw us into all that ‘faithful and enduring love’ which is always active and shown in action.
Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40
This book of the Old Testament is written as the last address of Moses to the Jewish people, both a reminder of all they have been taught, and a sermon to remain faithful to God and all they have been taught. At first glance, it seemed an odd choice for this feast for there is no hint of a God we know as Father, Son and Spirit. We can see it, however, as showing us how the love of God is always seeking relationship with humanity, and we can see how gradually people have learned details of that love and the life it draws us to live out. What our part is, now as then, is to receive and respond to this privilege.
Our selection begins with a hymn of praise for God’s dealing with his people. These past wonders should convince them that God is worthy of all their service. Moses’ farewell address foreshadows Jesus’ ‘farewell’ in today’s Gospel.
Psalm 32/33: 4-6, 6-9, 18-20, 22
A hymn of praise, which in the selected verses unite a description of creation by the power of God – the vastness of the heavens and all else that exists – coupled with how God personally cares for each one of us.
St Paul’s Letter here joins all the persons of the Trinity, beginning with the Spirit who lives in our hearts and gives us the knowledge that God is our intimate Father. The Aramaic word Abba is a family term, not quite as casual as ‘Daddy’ or ‘Dad’ of our times, but expresses the closeness of a loving parent to whom we relate truly as beloved children. As children of God, he explains, we share fully in the inheritance of Jesus as the Son of God. While we live out out lives on earth we still share to some extent the suffering of Christ when he lived among us as a human, but we are promised the full share in Christ’s resurrected glory with the Father and Spirit for eternity.
This is the most explicit point in the gospels where the three persons of the Holy Trinity are joined together. When baptized in these words, we are drawn into that divine life. This selection is the end of the Gospel, the point at which Matthew stresses that the followers of Jesus are to carry out his commands as he returns to the Father. Although the call to preach is directed here to the ‘eleven’ (the 12 Apostles minus Judas), all who are baptized can share the Good News with those around them, each in their own way. It is often noted that the best evangelism is for others to see those who show the love of Christ in all that they do.
In Matthew and Mark, Jesus after his resurrection first appears to the women who came to the tomb planning to anoint his dead body. The heavenly messenger sends them to ‘his brothers’ to tell them to go to Galilee where he will meet them. Neither Jesus nor the evangelists give any explanation of why they are to leave Jerusalem (Luke and John have appearances to the apostles of Jesus there). It was of course where the apostles were first called and taught by Jesus, and he may want to remind them of that. Since it was called ‘Galilee of the Gentiles’ (Matthew 4:15) it may symbolize that the Gospel is to be preached to ‘all nations’ and will no longer confined to the first Chosen People.
‘Some doubted’: compare the story of ‘Doubting Thomas’ in John’s Gospel (20:24-29). Even at this stage with the positive conclusion, Matthew reminds us that there is still a human choice to be made in faith. God does not overwhelm us with the power of his loving presence, but calls all who are then free to respond – or reject.
Mountains have been a significant feature of Matthew’s gospel. The first teaching of Jesus, in chapter 5 and 6, is from ‘the mountain’. Neither that one or the mountain of the Transfiguration are ever named, nor is this mountain to which Jesus had ‘directed’ them. This suggests that for Matthew ‘the mountain’ has a symbolic meaning, and is more than a geographic place. In the Old Testament, the Law was given to Moses on a mountaintop (variously named Sinai or Horeb). Following that, there were other mountain tops as places of revelation and encounter with God. Matthew seems to be following that tradition, setting significant events in this Gospel on ‘the mountain’.
As Moses in the first reading called on the people to follow the Law he had passed on to them, Matthew shows that the disciples’ new direction is to observe the commands of Jesus. Jesus is revealed as the one having ‘all authority in heaven and earth’, making him one greater than Moses.
The final sentence of our reading is the last verse in Matthew, and full of consolation for those in our times who were not present at the resurrection but can count on the presence of Jesus in our lives and community ‘till the end of time’. ‘With you’ echoes the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel (1:23) where Jesus is to be called ‘Emmanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’. It thus encloses the Gospel with Jesus as the God who is always present to us in the fullness of the Spirit and of the Father.