First Week after Pentecost: Trinity
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
— Matthew 28:16-20, NIV
It’s Trinity Sunday in the church calendar, the one church festival dedicated to a theological idea rather than an event or a person. We are now in the season after Pentecost, the long period of Ordinary Time. But this year, the change seems insignificant as we are not only still in coronatide but also, lenten-like, being called to repentance by the laments of our black neighbors.
And yet, this passage feels incredibly relevant. Here’s Jesus, risen from the dead, meeting with his disciples. What a mixture of emotions they must have felt: joy, confusion, excitement, anticipation — and doubt. What is it that they doubt? Matthew doesn’t tell us specifically, but surely they doubt the reality of what (who) they’re seeing. Surely they wonder if this man who died could really be the Messiah. Surely they are confused about what happened and what is supposed to happen next.
Still, however, the disciples worship Jesus. And instead of either lecturing them on their doubts or offering ironclad proof, Jesus give them the Great Commission and the great promise that he will be with them, always, no matter what. Along with the Father and the Spirit, Jesus sends us out to do the work of the kingdom with the promise that we will never be alone, even when we are filled with doubt. Sometimes, we need to wrestle our doubts. But sometimes, we worship Jesus in the midst of our doubts.
This is such good news to me. The power of the Trinity, the power of God to work in the world — even to work through me in the world! — doesn’t rely on my constant, perfect belief. Not that belief is unimportant. But wrestling with what I believe, wondering where God is in the midst of a pandemic and widespread social upheaval, doesn’t mean that God isn’t always already at work all around me and within me.
Andrei Rublev’s icon, above, is titled The Trinity, but it’s a representation of the three men who visited Abraham (Genesis 18). These men bring the message that Sarah and Abraham will have a child in their old age, and upon hearing this Sarah laughs. I always imagine it as incredulous laughter: what ridiculous thing are these men saying? It’s the laughter of profound doubt, the laughter of encountering something too ludicrous to be true.
But Sarah’s doubt doesn’t stand in the way of conceiving Isaac. And when Isaac is born, the name she gives him means “laughter,” a name that will constantly remind her that even in the midst of her doubt God worked a great miracle for her.
Even as the disciples doubted, they obeyed Jesus and began to spread the news about the coming kingdom of God. And that has been the case over and over throughout history: doubts are endemic to the Christian life, but they do not prevent God from working and they also need not prevent us from obeying and from living as members and ambassadors of the kingdom of God.
This is a time, for me at least, of many doubts, including the doubt that God is with us. As a global pandemic continues to kill, as political norms continue to crumble, as the voices of the oppressed rise louder and louder, it’s easy to wonder where God is in all of this.
But whether we believe or doubt, Jesus is still with us. The end of the age hasn’t come; viruses and social unrest and even our own doubts cannot keep Jesus away from us. And so let us look for where God is at work around us, and let us join that work in the confidence that we are never alone.
On Saturday, Fr. Joshua Steele preached this sermon for my church. It’s an excellent reflection on why the doctrine of the Trinity should matter to those of us who are Christians in this specific moment in time.