“DID ANYTHING SO GREAT EVER HAPPEN BEFORE??!!!!! WAS IT EVER HEARD OF??!!!!”
That sounds like something you’d hear from an excited little kid, doesn’t it? I’d easily believe that was a direct quote from one of my nieces.
But… it’s actually quite the opposite. These are the words of a dying old man. Moses speaks them in the Book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is his last testament and teaching before he dies on very threshold of the Promised Land, toward which he’s led Israel these forty years, and into which he now knows he will never set foot. And Moses says: just think how amazing God’s self-disclosure is. Did anything so great ever happen before? Was it ever heard of?
It’s a rhetorical question. The answer, obviously, is: it’s bonkers. It’s unheard of. It’s amazing and unprecedented.
They lived in a time rich with gods and goddesses. There were Baal and Astarte, Dagon and Chemosh, Molech and Ishtar and Asherah and so on. And there were all kinds of ways for human beings to try to placate or gain the favor of these powers. The ancient world is brimming, bursting with stories about human beings trying to win the favor of the gods.
And it offers exactly one story of God trying to win over human beings. The true God. The one who, introducing Himself to Moses, refuses to give Himself just another name among all those false gods, but Who simply says, I AM WHO AM.
He isn’t impressed or flattered by the size of their sacrifices. He isn’t motivated by rivalry with the neighbor gods… in this story, He has no rivals, there are no other gods. Indeed, that seems to be the very first lesson He is determined to teach. The first thing Israel needs to get straight if they’re going to be in relationship with I AM. First lesson: There’s one of me.
Read your Old Testament. It turns out this is a difficult lesson.
But He doesn’t give up on teaching it, and more. He speaks to them and guides them. He gives them the Law, the Commandments, as a guide to holiness, something greater than any treasure map, the road to where they want to be.
He protects them and saves them, leading them out of bondage, guiding them through the desert.
And, yes, he tests them and chastises them, when this is what is needed to keep them on the path to the Promised Land.
Did anything so great ever happen before?
That reading is such a perfect introduction for Holy Trinity Sunday! It’s worth boggling our minds at what Moses is recalling, about God’s self-revelation to them back in the time of Exodus… because in Jesus we go so far beyond that. So let’s think about the Trinity now.
At first it looks almost like a contradiction of lesson number one: “there’s one of me.” And suddenly now we’re talking about Three? But this is no contradiction. God is one God, there is no other. But God now reveals that in one nature, He is three Persons. He is not a solitude. He is not an infinite loneliness. He is, in fact, Love. But, then, why keep it secret for so long? Why does this only turn up in the New Testament?
Well, it’s not exactly secret before Christ…it was there. It’s impossible to read the Old Testament about Holy Wisdom without thinking of the Holy Spirit. It’s impossible to read the Old Testament about God’s eternal creating Word without thinking of the Son. The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God who called Moses and led Israel out of slavery, He was always the Three-Person God. But it was never really put into words until the Second Person, the Son, took our nature and walked among us.
Humanity doesn’t know about the Trinity until humanity is taken up into the Trinity by the Incarnation of Christ.
In other words, God was revealed as Trinity only when we were invited inside the Trinity. In Jesus, divinity and humanity are joined. More than joined, they are inseparably wed.
It’s a metaphor, but I can almost imagine the joining of divine and human nature in Jesus as a conduit, a doorway, between the inner life of God and the life of us humans. He did say “I am the gate and no one comes to the Father except through me.” And through this gateway, through this opened conduit, the Holy Spirit flows from the inner life of God into us.
That’s what we celebrated last week in Pentecost. Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us.
Romans 8 called it a spirit of adoption through whom we cry “Abba, Father!”
That’s what Jesus called the Father. And now we call Him that!
And this is where we go so far beyond what Moses rightly called at the time the greatest thing ever. By the Incarnation of the Son and the Gift of the Spirit, we are brought into relationship with God from the inside of the eternal fire of love that God Himself is. I don’t know if these words are even making sense… I’m trying to talk about how completely, how closely God has shared His life with us. By the Incarnation of the Son and the Gift of the Spirit, we are brought into relationship with God from the inside of the eternal fire of love that God Himself is.
Abba, Father, is what the God the Son calls God the Father from all eternity. And by His death and Resurrection and sending of the Spirit, we call Him the same. To use the word from Romans, we are adopted. What is it to be adopted? It’s to be made a member of a family. What family are we adopted into? The family of the Trinity itself. The family that God eternally is.
I think it’s good and necessary to have some Moses moments with this, just boggling our minds and praising God and being amazed and captivated and delighted. Did anything so great ever happen?
It’s also good to come down from the lofty mind-boggling with some solid takeaways. Here are two. First, the more I meditate and am amazed by our adoption in Jesus, by the Father sending His Son and the Spirit given by them together… the more I feel in my guts how incredibly dumb it is for me not to be a Saint. Do you feel that too?
A second take-away, Saints already or not, is the mission that comes to every one of us. The last words Jesus speaks before ascending. “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Being joined to the divine life of the Trinity and bringing others to the same is the reason we are alive. Did anything so great ever happen before?