The Faith of the Apostles

The Faith of the Apostles

Trinity Sunday. Fr Peter Harries urges us to continue struggling with the complex truth of the Gospel.

‘Go, make disciples of all the nations, baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit’. Recently I was returning from baptizing a baby. Mum and dad come from different continents, let alone nations. They were Christ’s disciples, and in asking to have their child baptized, they knew that the Lord was indeed with them, and their newly-born and newly-baptized baby, till the end of time.

Today is Trinity Sunday and the gospel passage chosen is the end of Matthew’s Gospel. It is a glorious and moving conclusion to the Gospel. Matthew has started with the genealogy, showing that Jesus was descended from Abraham, and from David. He tells us of the Magi, pagans, coming from the east to pay the infant Jesus homage. Matthew ends the Gospel with the disciples worshipping Jesus, falling down before him, though with some hesitation or doubt. The true king of Israel, the Messiah has come, and he is indeed God.

The disciples encounter Jesus on a mountain, which reminds us of Moses who received God’s law on a mountain. It reminds us of Elijah, the greatest of those anarchic holy men of old, who encountered God on a mountain. But on this mountain, the disciples encounter Jesus, their friend and teacher, yet they fall down and worship him. In plain language, Jesus is truly God and truly human. John similarly invites us in his Gospel to make the same profession. He starts the Gospel with the Word, who is God, becoming incarnate. Near the end of John’s Gospel, the disciple Thomas makes the profession of faith that Jesus is ‘my Lord and my God’.

Preaching on Trinity Sunday is difficult. God as Trinity is at the centre of the mystery of Christian faith. Yet the more we try to speak of this mystery, the more complex it often seems to become. What is simple, that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, seems more and more complex. Our language limits us. One possible response to this apparent complexity and contradiction is to reject all belief in God as Trinity. Why should we not be like Muslims and Jews, and simply believe in the one true God? Often such a position seems so much more rational and logical. In the early days of the church some people took that option. From the 16th century ‘reformers’ to modern times, Unitarians and Jehovah’s Witnesses and many other groups have rejected the idea of God as Trinity, and instead emphasized the unity of God.

Such disbelief in the Trinity might seem be more logical but it is definitely not being true to the scriptures and not being true to the faith of those eleven disciples. They worshipped Jesus, as John tells us that Thomas did. Their encounters with the risen Christ and worshiping him as God, transformed their understanding of God. As Catholics we try to value and respect the integrity of that faith, rather than jettisoning the bits that we don’t like, can’t understand or are simply intellectually unfashionable.

The Holy Spirit enables us to do this. The Spirit is given us to make us holy and lead us into all truth. The Spirit unites us. The eleven disciples hesitated in their worship. It did not all quite make sense yet for them. Christianity doesn’t always make complete sense for us. There are parts of the mystery that we can’t understand yet. But we live it. Our lives, as the lives of those who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, are lives of faith, hope and charity. Our lives become, in a profound way, part of the divine life itself.

We who have been made in the image and likeness of God, now start to live mystically in God. We love each other and love our neighbors – though not always very well we readily admit. We have faith in the risen Christ who died for our salvation. And we, like the parents of the baby I baptized recently, have hope in Jesus, for he said ‘I am with you always; yes, to the end of time’.

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40|Romans 8:14-17|Matthew 28:16-20

fr. Peter Harries is chaplain to the University College London Hospitals NHS Trust.