by Tyler Arnold
Your birthday. Your baptism. Your confirmation. Your graduation. Your wedding anniversary. Your retirement. Milestone celebrations tend to revolve around acts. You did something special or something special was done to you, and you celebrate its anniversary once a year.
Celebrations during the Church Year tend to be marked in the same way. God’s people celebrate acts, specifically acts of God. For example, Pentecost celebrates the “birthday” of the Christian Church as the Holy Spirit descended upon those gathered in Jerusalem and they began to speak in all sorts of different languages. Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, and Ascension are the same — all acts of God that involve God Himself and others through whom He was acting.
The celebration of Trinity Sunday, however, is different. On June 16, we do not recognize an act of God, but a fact of God. Of the 52 Sundays in the Church Year, only Trinity Sunday commemorates a doctrine rather than an event.
Of course, God’s acts in Scripture constantly point us to facts about His nature. The doctrine of the Trinity is itself seen through God’s acts, with a key scene being the baptism of Christ: Christ is baptized, God speaks, the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove. But Trinity Sunday shows us that it is important to take a step back from the story of these acts to ponder the facts that they point to. This doctrine of the Trinity is vital to the Christian faith. Our Lord is Father, Son and Holy Spirit — three persons in ONE GOD. Nothing expounds this central teaching of the church better than the Athanasian Creed (found on pages 319–320 in Lutheran Service Book). On Trinity Sunday, we ponder this creed as it confesses the facts of our Triune God.
The same balance is needed as we seek to understand ourselves. Acts are certainly important to the Christian life. God’s Word gives us law, including countless examples of God’s people acting in admirable ways. God’s Word prescribes actions, and when we do these things we can recognize ourselves as God’s people.
But the facts Scripture gives us about ourselves are important, too. For example, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) — created in His very own image. We are loved by God because He loves what He made, even though His creation was marred by sin after the fall of Adam and Eve. Since then, we often do a masterful job of messing up our lives, the lives of others, and God’s creation. Yet we sinners are redeemed by God, and this fact is assured through God’s precious gift in Holy Baptism. We are baptized into HIS name with water and the Word: “I baptize you in the name of the FATHER, SON and HOLY SPIRIT.” The facts about who we are in Christ Jesus and the acts of God’s created children that flow from them define who we are.
The fact of God’s nature, that He is three persons in one God, is a mystery that defies comprehension. Although we may not grasp how the Trinity is possible, we can hear and believe what God tells us in His Word. God gives us acts to hold on to even though the facts of His divine perfection are beyond our capacity to understand! For that reason, might I offer a suggestion? Take time by yourself or with your family during these anticipated months of summer to review and refresh your knowledge of the facts and the acts of God.
Study Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, and ask: Who is God according to the three articles of the Apostles’ Creed and Luther’s explanation? What does God command us to do in the Ten Commandments? And, how is God present for us today in the Divine Service through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion?
In your study and throughout the Church Year, keep an eye out for the facts and the acts of God — who He is and what He does for you! Be reminded of this: God loves you so much that He gave His only-begotten Son to die for you. That selfless act is unequivocally, 100 percent fact.
The Rev. Tyler Arnold is senior pastor at Christ Lutheran Church, Platte Woods, Mo. He is also a Collegium Fellow for DOXOLOGY – The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel.