After the celebration of Pentecost and the conclusion of the Easter season, we resume ordinary time with the celebration of Trinity Sunday. We celebrate Trinity Sunday immediately after the Easter season and Pentecost in order to affirm the presence of the Triune God among his chosen people… us. While the biblical story of Jesus may have concluded with his resurrection and ascension, the Pentecost event makes clear that God – the Father, Son and Spirit – is still very present and at work in the church and among his people.
As a Church, how did we come to understand God as Trinity? The answer to that question is found in John’s Gospel, which is one of Christianity’s founding document on the Trinity.
The Last Supper Discourse
Jesus mentions his Father ( πατήρ, Strong’s G3962) about one hundred and thirty times in John’s Gospel. However, central to Jesus’ Trinitarian theology is a single sermon that he shares with the twelve apostles in the Upper Room at the Last Supper (John chapters fourteen to seventeen). In this sermon, he mentions the Father some fifty times. He refers to the Holy Spirit eight times: four times as the Spirit, and four times as the paraclete, which is a biblical Greek term for lawyer, advocate, counselor, or advisor.
In the Last Supper discourse, Jesus makes it clear that he is very close to the Father and the Father is close to him. For instance, in John 14:10-11, Christ explains,
…the words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his work. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…
Jesus also promises to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:15-16) when he leaves, a promise that is fulfilled on Pentecost Sunday.
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.
In his Last Supper homily, Jesus articulates a theology that he is sent by the Father, and the Spirit is sent into the world by the Father and through the Son (cf Jn 15:26; Acts 2:33).
Baptism – to be born again is not an act of faith, it is to subject oneself to a work of God
John 3:16-18 is only an excerpt of a long dialogue that Jesus has with Nicodemus, a high ranking pharisee – a ruler of the Jews. Nicodemus is well-meaning and he says of Jesus, we know that you come from God. Jesus tells Nicomdemus that no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. It is an express mandate, which does not speak of faith but of the work of the Spirit. If you recall, Jesus himself was baptized of water and Spirit in John’s Gospel (Jn 1:31-33), and he orders the disciples to baptize all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit (Mt 28:19).
Faith in Jesus is a gift of the Spirit
When Nicodemus conveys that he does not entirely understand the words of Jesus, Jesus doubles down and explains to Nicodemus that not only must he be born of water and spirit, but that his salvation is won through the exaltation of Christ on the cross: the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. Jesus make clear in chapter three that at least two things are required of the believer. First, the believer must be born of water and spirit, just as Jesus was. Secondly, the believer must accept the divine sonship of Jesus, and the good news of his resurrection.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
The Spirit bears witness to the Truth about God
John writes towards the end of the passage, and this is the verdict, that the light came into the world. If you recall, Jesus refers to the Spirit as the Advocate in the Last Supper sermon. What Jesus suggests in chapter three is that the divinely revealed truth of the resurrection and the saving work of God is a gift of the Spirit, the counselor, who helps us to bear witness to the truth about Jesus, the Spirit and God. If we speak of Jesus Christ as the light – this life was the light of the human race (Jn 1:4) – then we can also concede that the light came into the world through the Spirit, as Mary conceived by the Spirit.
Jesus is Begotten: He is the Unique Son of God
If we look at John Chapter 3 and John chapters 1, 14, 15, 16 and 17, we have a rather full expression of the Trinity. We know of Christ’s mission by his actions and words. We know that he healed the sick, cast out demons and raised the dead. We know that Jesus was the Word, even before he was born (John 1:1-2). We believe that he was crucified and rose from the dead. We also know that Jesus calls God abba, or daddy. We know that Jesus dwells in the Father and the Father in Jesus.
Technically, we say that Jesus is begotten of the Father. By this we mean that Jesus is always coming into the world (Jn 11:27), and that he is sent by the Father as his only son (Jn 3:16). We also believe that Jesus was never born or created. Rather, he is eternally generated.
The Procession of the Spirit
Johns’ Gospel also tells us that the Father sends the Spirit at the request of the Son (both 14:15 and 15:26). In the Greek language of the Council of Constantinople, we believe the Spirit proceeds from the Father (τὸ ἐκ τοῦ Πατρός ἐκπορευόμενον). In Latin, we say the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (qui ex Patre Filioque procedit).