Worship preview for 5/27, Holy Trinity Sunday

Trinity Sunday is one of the few Sunday festivals in the church year during which we celebrate a doctrine, not an event. Today we recall the identity of the one true God. Trinity Sunday is a celebration of the revelation, as seen in Scripture, that our God is one God in three persons.

During the last six months, the center of our attention was on Christ and his work for us. For the next six months, our attention shifts to the results of Jesus’ work through the Word. On Trinity Sunday, we see how the Word of God creates faith in the Holy Trinity, resulting in our status as children of God.

In the Old Testament reading, Isaiah is purified to become one of God’s children and spokesmen through a holy coal—representing Jesus, the Holy One of God. According to the Epistle reading, belonging to the family of God is not restricted to Jews only, it is open to all who have faith in Jesus Christ. The Gospel reading tells of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, who thought membership in the family of God was by physical descent. But no, Jesus says, it is by spiritual rebirth. The Holy Triune God is not a tribal deity, he is God of all!

The Athanasian Creed normally is recited on this day. This creed (Latin for ‘I believe’) separates the true God from all false gods and points to the only way of salvation through faith in the triune God and more specifically, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the Athanasian Creed, we confess what we believe about the triune God, including phrases such as these:

  • We worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the substance.
  • But the Godhead of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is one: the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.
  • So the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God; and yet there are not three Gods, but one God.
  • And in this Trinity none is before or after another; none is greater or less than another.

Because of the length and challenging language in this creed, some congregations elect to confess only a portion of this creed or to use it responsively, dividing the lines between the pastor and the congregation.

The hymn of the day for Trinity Sunday is “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” (ELH 15). It proclaims the identity of the true God and his status over all creation. The triple-holy is the call of the angels in God’s presence from today’s Old Testament reading. We continue to sing those words every time we sing the Sanctus in preparation for the Lord’s Supper.

The Gospel reading:

John 3:1-17

Faith in the divine mystery of the Holy Trinity is a miracle of new birth, completely the work of the Holy Spirit. The author of our salvation and the author of our trust is one and the same: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Nicodemus was one of the few Pharisees who recognized the divine origin of Jesus’ teaching, but he needed more. He needed to see that the kingdom of God is not a political body, but is rather the reign of God in the heart of the individual. A new spirit is needed, but that can only be generated by God’s Spirit.

The Old Testament reading:

Isaiah 6:1-8

In bringing us into his kingdom the Holy Trinity employs both the law and the gospel. The law shows us God in all his majesty and terror; it kills us and makes us despair of our own goodness. We certainly can’t waltz into God’s presence because we choose to or because we’ve earned it. Even the sinless angels covered their faces in God’s presence! No, it is all God’s work and doing when he forgives our sins through the gospel. Isaiah’s impurity was removed by the holy coal from the altar—that coal represents Jesus, the Holy One of God. God’s holiness is a powerful force that must be treated with respect, not handled according to our own feelings or reason. And God’s holiness is a powerful gift, able to heal a broken and impure world. He allows us to participate is spreading that gospel holiness throughout the world.

The New Testament reading:

Romans 8:14-17

In that kingdom of the Father, created by the work of the Son and brought to us by the Spirit in the gospel, we are not fear-driven slaves. No, so great is the love described in the gospel lesson that God even makes us his adopted sons. We are brothers of Christ the King, children of God the Father, impelled to live and work and pray by the Spirit who lives and works and prays within us. As sons we strive to live not according to our old lusts and desires, but as befits those whose Father is God, whose brother is Christ, whose leader is the Spirit in the Word. St. Paul is not a sexist with his use of the word ‘sons’—he is describing a relationship not just of children but of heirs; and that’s what sons were, heirs of the father’s estate.