May 26, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”
Those words spoken at the very beginning of Divine Service this morning are an ancient liturgical text that Christians have used for a good sixteen centuries or more. They capture the theme of this Sunday that we call Holy Trinity Sunday or the Festival of the Holy Trinity. Today marks the end of what liturgical scholars call the “Festival Half” of the Church Year. From the beginning of Advent, six months ago in December, to the Festival of Pentecost, celebrated last week, we have traced the goodness and graciousness that the Lord has shown to us through the life and work of Jesus Christ.
That divine mercy was behind everything that we heard and did in our worship. In Advent, we heard the great promises from God the Father about the coming Christ, especially His promised recorded in the Old Testament. The Christmas and Epiphany Seasons focused our minds on the Eternal Son, the God who became man and dwelt among us, who did miraculous things that brought restoration. But the message during Lent was that the Incarnate God did not come to earth simply to dazzle and amaze us, but to suffer in our place, so that we would be given life. Easter brought the joyous news that the same Jesus who was crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men had been raised from death, opening the gates of Paradise for us. The Festival of Pentecost reminded us that God Himself is still present with us: Jesus has ascended into heaven, but the Holy Spirit has descended to earth.
Through all those divine actions that we spoke and heard together with our fellow Christians around the world, we were shown how the Triune God has been gracious and merciful to us. He has worked our salvation; He has reconciled us to Himself and to one another; He has purged away our sins and given us life everlasting. That is why we said this morning: “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.” That divine mercy, which the Holy Trinity demonstrated to us, is shown again in the readings for this morning’s Divine Service. On this day that caps off the Festival Half, we are given a summary of all the merciful acts that the Lord has done for us.
In the Old Testament Reading, the eternal origin of God the Son was described: “The Lord possessed me at the beginning of his work, the first of His acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” The author of the Proverbs gives more than a description about God; he also tells what the Lord has done for us, how He has shown His mercy to us. That mercy was first seen in the divine act of creating the world. Notice all the statements about what the Lord did: “He made the earth with its fields…He established the heavens…He drew a circle on the face of the deep…He made firm the skies above…He assigned to the sea its limit.” The divine origin of the world is an act of the Lord’s mercy to us. It is the most basic, providential form of it. The Lord wants us to exist and live, so He creates a world according to His will and design and places us in it.
But the mercy that the Lord shows to us goes further. The same world that He established in order and perfection has fallen from that state, so He does something about it. He becomes part of His creation in order to redeem it. The Gospel Reading heard this morning shows that further aspect of the Holy Trinity’s divine mercy shown to us. We heard about Jesus and His confrontation with unbelieving Jews. Despite all the divine glory that Jesus possessed and brought into this world, what do we see Him receive? We see Jesus mocked, ridiculed, and blasphemed: “Are we not right in saying that You are a Samaritan? Now we know that You have a demon! Who do You make Yourself out to be?” There is a rejection of the Lord who is present to help His creation.
But Jesus’ response to them shows that He is not swayed from His mission of mercy. He will endure them, so that His creation will still be helped. Jesus says: “If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing. It is My Father who glorifies Me. I know Him and I keep His word.” Jesus knows that His presence in this world was not to glorify Himself. No, the divine mercy that He shows requires His suffering and dying. Jesus was present to keep His Father’s word—both His commandments and His will that He must suffer insult and total rejection, even being obedient to death on the cross. Jesus’ miracles were not the high point of His ministry; they were only ways that His identity was partially revealed. It is in His crucifixion, in His innocent suffering and death, and His resurrection that we see Jesus truly fulfilling the prophetic words spoken about Him. God Himself takes flesh and dies in our place: that is the act of divine mercy done for us.
But the divine mercy goes even further: Jesus rises again to put our great enemies under His feet. The eternal Son of God was raised from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now sits at the right hand of the Father. That is what Peter proclaimed to the people of Jerusalem, as we heard in the Second Reading this day: “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it.”
That great summary of Jesus’ life reveals the divine acts of mercy that the Lord has shown to us. “According to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,” Jesus suffered, died, was buried, but also rose and ascended. These things happened not by accident, but on purpose. And there was one more event, as Peter makes known: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
Peter’s words show us that the divine acts of mercy are not only things of the past. They do not end the moment that Jesus ascended into heaven; they continue today. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God acts mercifully to us in our own place and time. The apostles and the people of Jerusalem were shown this through the miraculous happenings of Pentecost—the tongues of fire, the speaking in many languages, the mass conversion of people: “[This Jesus] has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.”
But what Peter said about his own day is true for ours. We see the merciful work of God in our midst. It is displayed whenever people are brought to faith, when the Holy Spirit brings them into the divine household through Holy Baptism. We see it in Spirit-given maturation and growth in the faith, as witnessed by the confirmation of our parish youth. We see it when people turn from sinful ways to learn and follow the way of life laid out for us by Christ Jesus. We see it when the Father absolves our sins, no longer counting them against us, but instead reckons us as His holy people. We see it when Jesus offers us His Body and Blood for us to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins. We see it when the Father takes people out of this life of illness, suffering, and death and brings them to life everlasting.
Every single one of these actions is part of the divine work done among us. They are not relics of the past; they are the acts of divine mercy shown to us in our day. They all have the same origin: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.” The Triune God, the Three in One and One in Three, has done these things in our midst. Just as the Holy Trinity has shown mercy to His people throughout the history of the Church, He does so now. And He will do so in the future, so long as the message of His mercy is proclaimed in the world and His sacraments are offered and given.
This is why we are gathered here, why we have been made part of the Christian Church on earth, why we are heirs to an everlasting kingdom. We are recipients of the divine mercy; God has acted for our benefit, though in no way have we deserved or merited it. We have possession of salvation; not that we have achieved or won it, but it has been granted to us through the merciful, compassionate, and gracious work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That is the great truth that the Scriptures reveal to us and that we then confess in our creeds about our Triune God.
So what is our reaction to it? We praise Him, we bless Him, we worship Him, we give thanks to Him for His great glory—the divine glory that has been used on our behalf to bring us from guilt to holiness, from despair to hope, from death to life. Because He has placed His name on us, because He has made us His own people, because He has brought salvation to us, we can always rightly say those words that began our Divine Service: “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.