As we follow the Sundays of the Church year, this coming Sunday is “Trinity Sunday.” There have been many images to explain the Trinity, some unhelpful, some mystical, some needing further explanation themselves just to understand the image, some profound.
When you understand that it was only after about 150 years into the life of the early Church, that Christian teachers started to use the language of “Trinity”, you begin to appreciate the heart of the matter.
It is all about Jesus of Nazareth and calling him “Lord.”
In our prayer and worship, we use the word “Lord” for God. When we call Jesus “Lord” we are saying this person who once walked around Palestine is the Lord of Creation, to whom be all praise. As the early Church were formulating their prayers to the Lord Jesus they reflected on the significance of praying to him as one would pray to God.
In the Scriptures, we read Jesus of Nazareth declaring, “I and the Father are one.” and “whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The early Church appreciated more and more that when we call Jesus Lord, we are saying he is God in the same way that the Father is God. Therefore, we are careful about using the phrase “Jesus and God”. It is probably more clear to speak of “Jesus and the eternal Father.”
In the plan of salvation, Jesus goes to the cross to take upon himself the sin of the world. The early Church realized that since Jesus was “fully God”, he was able to exchange his holiness completely for all sin. Since Jesus is fully holy, there is nothing more that we need to add to his work on the cross.
So, as the early Christians grew in their understanding of the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth, and prayed to him as “Lord”, the doctrine of the Trinity was developed: The Father is God, the Son is God, the Spirit is God. But since there is only God, the Trinity was the language to describe three persons as one God. The core message here is that Jesus of Nazareth is not only the “son of God”, but also “God the son.”
In Acts 7, we read the prayer of the early Church’s first Christian martyr, Stephen. He prayed directly to Jesus, saying “Lord Jesus receive my Spirit.” This so enraged the hearers who realized that Stephen was equating Jesus of Nazareth with “The Lord God” that they killed him by stoning. It is a powerful testimony to say, “Jesus is Lord.”
When we say, “Trinity” we are not saying, “We come through Jesus to God.” Rather, when we say, “Trinity” we are joining with the confession of faith by the disciple, Thomas: Jesus of Nazareth is “my Lord and my God.”
My wife Heidi is currently recording her piano playing of a number of hymns and songs from the Lutheran Hymnal and Supplement for singing, and putting them onto YouTube. What Heidi and I continually find to be astounding and inspiring, is the number of hymns and songs of our Lutheran tradition, that are actual prayers to Jesus the Lord. “Come Lord Jesus, come, into this weary world.” (LHS 732)
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (2 Corinthians 13)