A sermon by Michael Pahl on June 16, 2019, Trinity Sunday, called “The Fellowship of the Holy Spirit.” It is a reflection on the threefold benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:13 as a way of exploring the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
Here is a written excerpt:
Some of these sorts of passages [that speak of God in a three-fold way] might prompt thoughts about what God is like in God’s very essence or being. So, for example, Matthew 28:19 refers to God as “the name,” which is a very Jewish way of talking about God: hashem, “the Name.” But it is “the name,” singular, “of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” One Name, yet three being named.
Many other passages talk about what God does, God’s actions or functions. In fact, this is the most common way the New Testament talks about God in a threefold way:
God delivers us from sin and evil
through Jesus, the crucified Messiah and resurrected Lord,
by the work of the Spirit in our lives and in the world.
But our text, 2 Corinthians 13:13, focuses on God’s relationships, even God in relationship. Our text suggests that God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is a God of charis, agapē, and koinōnia. God is a God of grace, love, and fellowship. God is a God of unearned favour, self-giving good, and shared togetherness.
In other words, the Three-in-One God is a God of relationships, the One-in-Three God is a relational God. One might even say that the Triune God is eternal relationship.
But what does this eternal relationship of God look like? How should we understand the “fellowship of God,” the sharing together of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
As soon as we ask a question like this, we need to recognize that we’re in the realm of metaphor and analogy. This is the only way we can speak about God, actually. We are created in God’s image, so we can speak about God. But God cannot be captured in any image we might make, so there’s always an element of mystery and even a good dose of ignorance in our language about God. The best we can do is metaphor and analogy.
Many of you have probably heard the common analogies for the Trinity: God as three-in-one is like the three leaves of a single clover; or like an egg as yolk, white, and shell; or like water as solid, liquid, and vapour.
But these sorts of down-to-earth analogies focus on what God is and not who God is. Yet the Bible never talks about God as a what; the Bible is much more concerned with who God is and what God does.
So, these analogies may be helpful as far as they go, but they de-personalize God, they miss the personal and relational dimension of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Solid, liquid, and vapour are not three persons in relationship with each other and with others! Yet that is the dimension highlighted for us in 2 Corinthians 13:13, with God described in these terms of grace, love, and fellowship.
So let me suggest some fresh analogies for us, analogies which highlight who God is, not merely what God is, seeing God as a God of relationships, even God as eternal relationship. (I say these are “fresh” analogies, but in fact each of them has been suggested along the way throughout Christian history, often through art.)
First, to help us imagine the Three-in-One God, imagine a Banquet.
This banquet is an intimate affair with the glow of candle-light and sincere conversation. Some of this conversation is serious as life’s harsh realities are explored, yet it’s not without its explosions of riotous laughter as stories are told and jokes are shared.
The host is attentive to her guests’ every need, pouring wine as glasses are emptied; the guests in turn pass the overflowing platters around for seconds, compliments to the host echoing around the table. Bonds of affiliation and affection are strengthened as the meal is shared, food mysteriously transformed into friendship.
It is one of those times of true fellowship which we’ve all had, which—when we’re in the midst of it—we might wish would never end. An eternal Banquet.
Now imagine a Dance.
This dance is along classical lines: music from a live orchestra floating fluidly through the air, choreographing the dancers in their intricate give and take. One dancer follows another’s lead, yet the lead is so sensitive, so subtle, that an observer cannot tell who is leading and who is following.
All is beauty in this moment; the movements are so smooth, so effortless, the dancers so intent on the music, on one another.
It is one of those moments of real grace which we’ve all witnessed, which—when we’re in the midst of it—we might wish would never end. An eternal Dance.
Finally, imagine a Family.
There is no dysfunction in this family. Relationships are characterized by a healthy interdependence, not a detached independence or a sticky codependence. Members of this family support and appreciate and enjoy one another, they don’t compete with each other for favour or manipulate others for their own ends. They are together through thick or thin.
This family has the aroma of intimacy without possessiveness, it has the flavor of affection without fawning, it has the texture of selflessness without shame.
It is one of those experiences of genuine love which we’ve all tasted, which—when we’re in the midst of it—we might wish would never end. An eternal Family.
A Banquet, a Dance, a Family.
These are images of our Triune God: a servant host, gracious guests, growing bonds of affection as time and space are shared together for eternity; movement and response, give and take, beauty and grace, all woven into the fabric of an eternal melody; giving and receiving care, encouragement, and support, in relationships that last through an eternity of whatever may come.
Eternal fellowship, grace, and love, to use the words of 2 Corinthians 13—this is our Triune God.