Trinity Sunday is a rare feast in the Christian calendar insofar as it celebrates an idea rather than an event.
Trinity Sunday falls on the first Sunday after Pentecost. At Pentecost, we remember how God the Holy Spirit came to earth and created the Church. One of the Spirit’s principal tasks was to teach us about God. So it’s natural that the Spirit should start by teaching us that God manifests Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
When God first revealed himself to the ancient Israelites, they perceived him as a straightforward ‘personality’. They also thought of Him as a single being, though He not generally show himself to humans. But there was an underlying tension: many Jews saw how their Scriptures describe God’s Spirit as active in the world:
- His Spirit supervised the creation of the world (Genesis 1:1).
- His Spirit gave supernatural power to ordinary people. So, for
example, Joseph could interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s response was, ‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God?’ (Genesis 41:38).
- The Hebrew prophets thought of themselves as speaking the very words of God. For example, King Saul became a prophet as ‘the Holy Spirit entered him in great power’ (1 Samuel 10:11).
Jesus helped correct these misconceptions by showing how God’s personality is more complex and far, far richer. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Because God manifests himself in three ways, we refer to the Trinity. We also refer to God as ‘Triune’ and his being ‘Three-in-One’.
The first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) often describe the baptism of Jesus as manifesting all three persons of the Trinity at the same time: ‘As soon as Jesus [God the Son] was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that very moment heaven was opened, and he saw God the Spirit descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven [God the Father] said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:16,17).
The concept of the Trinity can be difficult to understand but is, nevertheless, a central belief within Christianity. There is one God but he exists as three persons. For example, we sometimes talk of God as existing as three ‘Persons’. Each of these three is distinct, yet they are united in terms of substance or nature. Each aspect of God is distinct. Stated another way, the three persons of God who make up the Trinity are completely melded together to the extent they are completely indistinguishable.
The simple concept of love helps describe the Trinity. The Father loves both the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son loves the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit loves the Father and the Son.