Welcome again, to Holy Saturday dear people of God. We come together again, as we seek to follow Christ on his journey for us and our salvation, and find ourselves in a silent place. We stand in the middle of the great triduum, the three great days of our Lord’s work. These three days are the holiest of days. What happened on these days long ago are the only events that ever truly changed the world. And today we find ourselves living once again in the day of silence. Living on the boundary between Good Friday and Holy Easter, we find ourselves stopped for a moment, to tread water with Christ in his being-dead for us. Today we are stopped in our tracks by the narrative of death and burial.
Unlike the disciples who walked with our Lord all those years ago, we of course know that the resurrection is coming. And to know that Jesus will be raised is another way of saying that we know that Jesus is God in the flesh. We know that Jesus is how God identifies himself. When we want to tell someone who another is, we point to various identifying marks. “Mike is the one who is married to Hilda and went to high school at Thunderbird academy.” We identify people by stories (which are lived relationships). So, when we seek to identify God, the only way we have of doing that is by saying, “Remember Jesus, how he lived among us, suffered, died and was buried (and rose again, but let’s just hang on for a second)? That is God.”
And so, we are confronted with the scandal of a God who is revealed in suffering and death. What kind of God would this be who showed us his nature through a suffering and dead man? The response of the church has always and only been that the answer to this question can only be put into the following formula: “God is love.” If God is revealed by suffering and death for us and our salvation, then the only ultimate thing we can say about God is that he is love. “God is love” is the most profound and irreducible theological statement ever made. For Christians, “love” is a shorthand way of saying “death and resurrection”. And thus, what we see in Jesus is the unleashing of the unlimited love that God is.
And that is what the doctrine of the Trinity is about. The Trinity, far from being an abstract doctrine about how the number 1 can also be the number 3, is the church’s effort to stay true to its confession that God is love. What we have experienced of God is that his love is given to us in Christ, who shows us that the Father, whom he loves and obeys, loves us so much that he would give up his own Son for us, and that love comes to dwell in our hearts by someone called the Holy Spirit. If “love” is a shorthand way of saying “death and resurrection”, then “Trinity” is a shorthand way of saying what God must be like if the story of death and resurrection is true.
Through what we see in Christ we know that God is Trinity. What God is in himself is a communion of persons who exist in pure relationality with one another. In the Trinity everything is shared between the divine persons. Between the Father, Son, and Spirit all the riches of God’s plenitude, his glory, and beauty are endless given one to the other. In God, none of the persons of the Trinity hold on to anything of themselves, rather they constantly give, give, and give again. God’s life is a life of infinite, superabundant gift-giving. It is a relational space in which selfishness, self-assertion, and self-protection are literally meaningless. In God there is only giving and receiving. There is no taking and there is no possessing. And it is only because God is this kind of God that he can give himself away to us, as we see him doing in Christ. Or, put the other way around, because in Christ we see God giving himself to us so infinitely, we know that God must by pure and unending giving in himself.
Because God’s life is the eternal abundance of triune joy forever given and never held onto, God can freely give himself away to the fullest while remaining what he most truly is. The Son’s self-giving obedience to the Father to the point of death and the loving Father’s horrifying surrender of his beloved Son are the truest glimpses we have of the eternal Eucharistic self-renunciation that the Triune God eternally is. God is free to descend into the depths of sin, death and hell because the depths of the Trinitarian love are infinite, capable of traversing every distance, journeying beyond every boundary. There is nowhere the divine love cannot go. There is no self-giving, no self-limitation, no self-renunciation that the divine love fails to pour out. In God there is no self-possession, no self-protection. In God there is only the infinite depths of God’s self-emptying love. The Father who empties himself of all things to bestow them on the Son, the Son who hands all things back over to the Father, and the Spirit who grasps nothing for himself but delights to communicate the Trinitarian love to both the Father and Son.
On Holy Saturday, God proves that there is no abyss of sin and godlessness that he cannot descend into. The depths of God’s love run every bit as deep as the depths of sin and death which we unleash upon the world. And tomorrow we will learn that the depths of God’s love run infinitely deeper than the abyss of sin…but we’re not there yet.
What I want to focus us on as we contemplate the story of Jesus on Holy Saturday, and the way in which that tells us the true story of God is the question of how our life and action in this world is to be shaped by this radical vision of divine love. We have said many times that just as God is a community of mutual love and self-giving, so also we are called to be a community of love and self-giving. We, as the church, the body of Christ who are brought into the life of God through the Spirit are called, we think to in some finite, creaturely way, be an echo of the love that God is in himself.
But this is where it gets complicated. How can we even presume to image God in his triune fullness? The Father, Son, and Spirit are bound together in a love so profound that they are one being. This is a great, ineffable mystery. How could we ever image a unity as perfect as that between the persons of the Trinity? And on this point many theologians have criticized those who would argue that the church should be seen as imaging the Trinity. The Trinity, they say simply has no created analogue. God alone is God, and we are humans.
There is a definite element of truth in this statement. We are not God, nor are we both God and human as Christ is. Rather we are humans who have been united with Christ, captivated by the Spirit and have the love of the Father poured out into our hearts. We certainly are not the Trinity. We are the recipients of salvation that comes from the Trinity. These distinctions must never be lost. Nevertheless, the Scriptures repeatedly tell us that humankind was made in the image of God, which was restored in Christ. And all throughout the New Testament we find ourselves encouraged to “imitate God.” What sounds like idolatry or hubris, however is in fact an ethical calling, indeed one that takes its shape from the cross of Christ: “Welcome one another, as God in Christ has welcomed you.”
When we say that we are called to be the ikon of the Trinity in the world, we don’t mean that we somehow mirror the structure of the relations between the Father and Son, as if in this context I represent the Father and you represent the Son or some nonsense like that. We don’t seek to think of ourselves as the ikon of God’s circular, heavenly self-giving. We don’t exist in that heaven, not yet. We still live in the world of sin and death as Holy Saturday shows so clearly. Thus, when we look at the God of Holy Saturday, the trinitarian, cruciform God and ask ourselves how we might possibly image this kind of love, we find ourselves drawn into God’s loving descent into the depths of our sin for our salvation. For us to be the ikon of the Trinity is not to say that we reflect in some ideal way the eternal gift-giving abundance of the triune persons. Rather it is to say that we are called to an ethical vocation of being conformed to Christ and his cross. What the eternal love of the Trinity looks like in the world of sin and death is the cross and the grave of Christ. When we say that we, as the church are the image of the Trinity, we are making the daring statement that we are joining in the pattern of Christ, in giving ourselves away, in expending ourselves for other, in putting others before ourselves, in loving others even to the point of death for their sake. This is what the life of the Trinity looks like when translated into the life of the sinful world.
And so, dear people of God, as we seek to live and be the body of Christ, the one who descended into hell for us, his body lying cold in the grave, let us with humility and sobriety remember the horrifically great cost of love. God’s love for us cost him what was most precious to him, his own Son. If we would follow God, if we would be the ikon of his love in the world, the same pattern of self-giving must be true of us. We must, if we seek to follow God, descend into the world of sin and suffering and expend our love on all the unlovely people that we meet. And, as with Christ it may mean our death. But here is the miracle of Holy Saturday: Because Christ has died our death for us, we are never alone in death. “For this reason Christ died and lived again, that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”