Opening The Old Testament
Who Are We and Who Is God? Reflections on Genesis 1
Lectionary Reflections: Year A
Trinity Sunday (First Sunday after Pentecost)
June 19, 2011
We are about to enter that very long time in the church's year, rather blandly called "ordinary time." I first knew it as "Kingdomtide," but that name seems to fallen out of favor. For me, it is the time of the Christian year when a preacher can focus attention on some continuous texts from one major book of the Hebrew Bible. Year A brings us the vast riches of Genesis.
Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, offers to us Genesis 1 in Year A. Its partner texts provide Psalm 8 and its reference to our human creation as "little lower than Elohim," which could be translated either "gods" or "God" or traditionally "angels," though there is little support in the language for the latter reading. The New Testament readings are Matthew 28:16-20 and 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 with their straightforward appeals to "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Hence, I assume the lectionary collectors heard some Trinitarian echoes in Psalm 8, though I admit for me the echoes are faint.
And I further assume that those intrepid lectionary compilers chose Genesis 1 because of the mysterious plurals in the mouth of God in verses 26-28. The earliest Christian commentators on that passage very quickly imagined that God was in fact having a chat with the other two persons of the Trinity when God decided to create you and me. There is in fact nothing especially wrong about such a claim, given that the Christian scriptural lenses tended to discern Jesus and the Spirit lurking under every rock and tree of the older testament.
However, I suggest that the author or authors of Genesis 1 did not have the Trinity in mind when they composed this grand poem. They had far larger fish to fry than that. Genesis 1 is nothing less than the curtain raiser for the entire biblical story, and I do not only mean the first act of the Hebrew Bible. "In the beginning, God . . ." quite literally grounds all of the Bible's story in the divine life and creativity of the one God.
Furthermore, the nature of this God is portrayed in sweeping wonder as one after another, the things and creatures that make up the grand cosmos pour forth from the power of the divine mouth. Merely with the sound of God's voice the world as we know it is revealed in its splendor. The ancient stories of the Near East speak regularly of brutal combat between rival gods as antecedents of the world's creation. There is no combat here in Genesis, rather the divine word alone that bids the world appear.
And what a world! Earth and sky, water and land, sun and moon, plants with visible seeds and plants with seeds hidden, wild animals and domesticated ones, and finally we humans comprise the panoply of the world of God's imagination. And it is all wondrously good (1:31)! At the end of 2:4a we see a world balanced and ordered and structured and designed, and behind all that stands the God who made it all.
But, of course, there is a certain wistful fear that intrudes on all who read this magnificent account of creation. Would that the world in which we find ourselves were like that! Would that our world were balanced and ordered, structured and designed for all its people and creatures. But when two billion of our brothers and sisters live on $2 a day and less, we know that the world that came from the mouth of the creator is not the world in which we live.
John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.