Have you ever noticed how many items usually appear in units of three? Story plots which have a beginning, middle, and end. Jokes that have a priest, minister, and rabbi. And then, of course, there is the division of history which is past, present, and future. And the list could go on.
Why is this? Well, the number three is not only a helpful memory device but , I suspect, it can also be a reminder that good things can come in three–depending upon what the three things are.
It seems that the ending of Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20) could bring a bit of clarity into this concept. When they gathered, Jesus commissioned his disciples to make other disciples by preaching Jesus’ message and by baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
That is to say, the carrying on of Jesus’ message would be more effective by baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity. For these folks, the number three could be a winner. But, how would this be possible?
Above all, one would have to focus on how the Trinity would be helpful. First, the Father. Jesus taught his disciples how to pray by reciting the Lord’s prayer, which begins “Our Father….” The use of the first person plural indicates that all people are children of God who is a loving and caring father. (See Hosea 11:1-4 for illustration).
Second, the Son. The church’s liturgical year (Advent/Christmas; Lent/Easter; Ascension/Pentecost and the time after) centers around Jesus. The focus is like a circle in that these feasts occur in a cycle. One of the key themes of the year is “Immanuel” (Hebrew: “God with us”), which is said of Jesus during the Advent/Christmas season, and is repeated at the end of Matthew’s gospel when Jesus tells his disciples “”And behold, I am with you always until the end of the age.” The divine presence among people is promised to last forever.
Third, the Holy Spirit. There is an alternative translation of the “Holy Spirit” as “the creative power of God,” suggesting the the power of God is active. In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) the phrase is RUAH YHWH for “the spirit of the Lord,” which is evident, for example, in the creation account (Genesis 1:2), and the empowerment of the Judge Gideon (Judges 6:34). Things get done once the spirit of God becomes active.
How can this unit of “three” (Holy Trinity) help make us a winner? Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are reminded that we are part of God’s (Father) family. Whenever we participate in the church’s liturgical year, we are reminded of Jesus’ (Son) importance in our lives in
that we are to carry his message of promoting justice and compassion to others. The courage and conviction of actively preaching Jesus’ message is provided by the “creative power of God” (Holy Spirit).
Consequently, the message of “Immanuel” (God with us) remains with us in terms of the presence of the Holy Trinity. Every time that we make the sign of the cross we are reminded of that.