Holy Trinity · Acts 2:14a, 42-48 · May 18, 2008
By Leopoldo A. Sánchez M.
On Holy Trinity Sunday, it is tempting to find in Luke’s portrayal of the life of the Jerusalem community, where all brothers and sisters confess the same apostolic teaching and share all things in common, an analogy of the three divine persons in communion with one another who share the same divine will, works, and essence. Luke’s description of the community might not flow out of such a general analogy of the Trinity but it does flow out of a Trinitarian narrative of salvation that directs us to the mystery of Pentecost.
Peter’s Pentecost sermon interprets the awesome event as the exalted Christ’s outpouring unto others of the promised Holy Spirit whom He first received from His heavenly Father (Ac 2:33). We have here an act of sheer Trinitarian generosity. The Holy Spirit whom Jesus received from His Father, He does not keep to Himself. Rather the one anointed by the Father with the Spirit at the Jordan is the one who baptizes with or pours forth the promise of the Holy Spirit to the nations (cf. Lk 24:46-49; Ac 1:4-5, 8). For Luke, therefore, to call the Holy Spirit “promise” and “gift” is precisely to highlight the gracious outreach of the Father through His Son to sinners by means of the proclamation of repentance that leads to Baptism in water for the forgiveness of sins and the reception of the Holy Spirit (Ac 2:38).
From Pentecost onwards, it is the gift of the Spirit given in Baptism that will make of repentant sinners a community that gathers around the apostolic teaching of the Word and the breaking of the bread (Ac 2:41-42). There is no other community that the Holy Spirit from the Father creates and gathers around the risen Christ through His apostolic Word and His sacraments. The reality of the church—its very existence and life—appears in Acts as the product of the gracious work of the Holy Trinity, the fruit of the generous outreach of the Father through His Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Jerusalem community is outward-looking because the apostles “with great power bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Ac 4:33; cf. 2:43). This apostolic “power” is actually a description of the Holy Spirit in action as the one who moves the church out into the world to proclaim the risen Lord even as the same Holy Spirit gathers the world into the church. (Note: “Spirit” and “power” are parallel terms in Luke; e.g., Lk 1:35; 24:49; and Ac 1:8; 10:38.) The community’s bold witness in word and deed earned them “favor with all the people” so that “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (2:46-47; cf. 5:12-16).
There are marks that make this Trinitarian creation and gathering of repentant sinners we call church stand out in the world. In addition to their adherence to the teaching passed on to the apostles by the risen Lord and their fellowship around the table of the Lord, these brothers and sisters lived out their faith through a life of prayer and praise to God (Ac 2:42, 47) and by caring for the poor neighbor in their midst (2:44-45). In particular, the church’s commitment to the poor is striking because the brethren “would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need” (2:45) so that “there was no needy person among them” (4:34).
Nowadays social models or analogies of the Trinity highlight the ethical implications for the church and society of a communitarian vision of divine persons in communion with one another. A problem with this approach is that the Trinity only serves as a model “out there” for us to create a better community “down here.” Luke provides a more faithful way to think of our being church in the world by helping us contemplate the lasting significance of the Trinitarian mystery of Pentecost for our lives together.
The evangelist reminds us that the fullness of community—one’s being and living in relationship to God and the neighbor—is the gracious work of the Trinity “down here.” To be forgiven before God through Baptism into Christ and to be for the poor who need us is not our human project but the generous work of the Holy Spirit in the world. The risen Christ’s continuous and merciful outpouring of the Holy Spirit from God the Father creates and gathers the church from all the nations. Such outpouring also empowers the church to proclaim boldly the Lord’s death and resurrection and work on behalf of the poor in her midst. Through the church’s work of proclamation and mercy, Luke reminds us that the Lord is able to add to her number those who are being saved.
The text for Trinity Sunday provides a call to repentance for failing to be the ideal, faithful, outward-looking Christian community Luke so favorably portrays. It also provides an invitation to the baptized to seek strength in the Word and the breaking of the bread for boldness to proclaim Christ and care for the poor in church and world. The Gospel promise lies in the gracious outreach and sheer generosity of the Trinity who continually creates and gathers the church from the nations even as He leads her into the nations.