First Sunday after Trinity

Benjamin Lee

June 18 AD 2006

1 John 4:7-21     St. Luke 16:19f


“God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.  Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, so are we in this world”       

(I John 4:16-17).

What do these words of Scripture have to do with the journey of sanctification we have embarked upon in Trinity Season?  Not only do these words address us at the beginning of our journey, on this First Sunday after Trinity, but they are the same Scripture sentences which we repeat again and again at the beginning of our daily Offices throughout Trinity Season.  Surely this must be a signal to us that the lesson to be learned here is of weighty importance.

Last Sunday, we celebrated that most central doctrine of our faith, that of the Trinity, which, as the Athanasian creed declares, is necessary to our salvation: “He therefore that would be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity” (BCP, 697).  But this rule of faith, however perplexing and difficult it is to understand, is not merely some abstract, remote, philosophical quandary.  Rather, it is who we believe the one God to be, who revealed himself in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and the ultimate goal of our human existence is to participate in this divine, Trinitarian life.

But perhaps you are thinking that this is all still rather abstract or obtuse?  For what could it possibly mean to “participate” in the Trinity, in the God to be worshiped in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity? 

This question concerning the Trinity, and our life in it, is fundamentally the question of what charity is, and our life in charity.  There really is nothing else to be considered here than what true love or charity is, and how we are related to it: for the revelation of the Triune God is the revelation to us and to all creation of the God himself who is charity itself:  “Herein is love, not that we love God, but that he has loved us, and given his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (I John 4:10).  In Christ is the love of God manifested towards us.  Thus, the love of God for us comes first—for we in our sin, could not approach the God whose Divine wrath hates sin, and so to reconcile the world to himself it was necessary that Divine charity should come to us in the flesh, as “the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.”  God’s descent into the world in the form of our human nature was so that we might be drawn up to God, to become partakers in his divine nature.  This is God’s free gift to us, his grace, his Divine charity.

Our participation in the Trinity, then, is a participation in Divine charity: Because God is love, “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him” (I John 4:16).  We love one another, because the goodness, beauty, and truth in God’s love towards us compels us to be conformed into the likeness of that love, to enter into and partake of it.  Our life in the Trinity is not a paralysing perplexity; but rather, a life in love manifested in willing the good of others.  To be united to true charity, to enter into the joy and superabundance of God, we must indeed become like the God who is Charity: this requires that we must come to love God, and love what God loves.  And so, if we love God, we shall love our brother, our sister, our neighbour, and our enemy—and our love for them shall be unconditional, unmerited, and gracious.  There is not opposition between love of God and love of neighbour; but rather, our love of God issues forth in acts of charity to our neighbour, and our love of neighbour depends utterly upon God’s love for us.  Ultimately, there is only one love.  If we do not love one another, if we do not love our neighbour, we are not “abiding in love” and therefore we and we do not know or love God who is Love.  The spiritual vision which we seek, and which Nicodemus failed to grasp, requires an inward conversion, and an elevation of soul.  But this is not a spirituality which contains or encloses the love of God within us.  For our true love is the divine charity, a current which flows downward to us, draws us upwards, and outward on every side.  In the act of loving God’s creatures, especially those created in his image, we come to love God, because if our love is true and authentic, is nothing else but a participation in the love of God.

God’s love for us, our love for God, and the love by which we love at all: these three loves are mysteriously bound together—lover, beloved, and love—like the three Persons of the Trinity. 

And so this Trinity season is about the perfection of our love.  The conversion and purification of our love and will to the will of God, to what God loves, to God himself who is charity itself—this is perfect justice.  And as we are reminded by our Gospel today, our perfection in love anticipates when we must one day come before the perfect judgement seat of Christ: before us is a stark contrast between participation in the divine life or in damnation, between being caught up in the bliss of Abraham’s bosom or the torments of eternal fire.  For we shall, in the end, be united to what we love.  What, then, do we love?  We must consider this question well, and search the secrets of our hearts.  For in the end, we shall get what we want, and dwell with what we have loved, eternally.  Whatever boldness we have in the day of judgement consists in the divine charity in which we seek live, and into which we seek to be made perfect.

But this is of course easier said than done.  What we know is good, we do not necessarily will.  In our state of infirmity, we need nothing less than divine help to make love a habit.  And so we pray in our Collect:

Mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us the help of thy grace, that in keeping of thy commandments we may please thee both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, p. 217).





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