Trinity – John 3:1-17

Today is often a day when clergy seek to try to explain the Trinity. Usually we end up struggling to avoid heresy as we look for images which aid understanding. It seems to me that perhaps the most important part of the doctrine of the Trinity is that the Godhead is made up of three persons in eternal relationship. A relationship that has been broken only once, at the cross. Three persons, one God, eternally united by love. So it seems good that one of the readings set for today is the quintessential passage about the love of God explained by Jesus to Nicodemus – John 3:1-17.

What would your favourite phrase about love be?

What about……. ‘Love covers a multitude of sins’. ‘Love changes everything’? …  Any suggestions? ………….

 

I came across this story sometime ago now:

A technician was preparing a photograph of a beautiful woman for a reprint. He found this inscription on the back of the original:

“My dearest Tommy: I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you for ever and ever. I am yours for all eternity.” …………………. PS: “If we should ever break up, I want this picture back.”

This story, while it might make us smile, is actually quite sad – for in our society today ‘Love’ sometimes  seems to be something temporary. We talk of ‘romance’; about falling in love, and falling out of love. Love is – taking her out for dinner, love is  – bringing him chocolates. Love is – about red roses, and pink Valentine cards; about moonlit walks, and about good feelings. But broken relationships seem now to be almost normal, and so many of us need healing from the pain that relationships cause.

We long for relationships where we are accepted just as we are. No questions asked. Yet, it’s really hard work to stay with someone whose habits annoy you; when at times arguments seem to be the norm. Love inevitably has to move beyond romance – it has to be about commitment. We need to be able to learn to say: “I promised to love you and cherish you, and I really do – despite the difficulties we sometimes face.”

Christians talk about ‘fellowship’ or ‘brotherly/sisterly love’. And when we experience that love from other Christians it is special. But even Christian love is never perfect – and we can still be demanding and self-serving.

The truth is, that whether we talk of fellowship, or of romantic love – however good our relationships are – we are often left hurt and disappointed in our relationships.

John 3:16 says:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This verse tells us that it was God’s love that caused God the Father to send hGod the Son into the world, to live alongside us and ultimately to die for us. It tells us something of the depth and the scope of God’s love. It finishes by emphasising the need for us to respond:

“Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The depth and breadth of God’s love cannot but provoke a response. It is the Cross that provides the central focus of that love. The death of God’s Son. The place where the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is torn apart for love of us. The place where God takes into God’s very self all the pain and evil of our world.

It is the Cross which defines our faith. For at the Cross, the God we believe in chose vulnerability over invincibility. At the Cross, God the Son emptied himself of all power and authority – as St. Paul writes in Philippians:

‘Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.’

Our salvation, our relationship with God was secured not by an exercise of power, but by an exercise of submission. Christ first identified with our humanity and by doing so hallowed this world and all human existence and then submitted himself to destruction through human jealousy and rage. Love which suffered everything so that we might be drawn back within God=s loving arms of mercy. The mystery of the Cross is that there Love died so that love might live and triumph.  And it is also the image of the Love that we are called to show – where we are prepared to be vulnerable rather than seeking power and control in our relationships.

At the Cross, God’s self giving love is expressed more clearly than anywhere else. ‘This is love’, says the Bible, ‘not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to die for us’. This is love that has sacrificed all for us, love that holds us fast and sure when we struggle with doubt and fear. But more than that, this is love that gently calls us to love, that encourages us to give of ourselves vulnerably to others, love which calls us to identify with the world around us, love which gently suggests that no sacrifice that we can make is too great. For the true measure of sacrificial love is not that shown by our neighbour, but that shown at the Cross.

So when we share Communion together we take the opportunity again to identify with Christ’s suffering. We take into ourselves the symbols of his love, the bread – his body broken, the wine – his blood shed. And we recognise that at the Cross we find love in its fullness, love beyond description:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

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