This weekend marks the end of an era, as my old CBS colleague Bob Schieffer makes his last appearance on “Face the Nation.” He’s retiring at the young age of 77, after 46 years at CBS News—capping a career that began as a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the 1960s.
Friday, the New York Times had a long story about Bob and his career. He was the only correspondent in CBS News history to cover every major beat in Washington – the White House, State Department, Pentagon, and Capitol Hill. Significantly, what he considered his greatest achievements—anchoring the CBS Evening News, moderating three presidential debates, writing a best-selling memoir—all happened after he turned 65.
The Times profile mentioned Bob’s remarkable staying power, and quoted a famous line from Woody Allen: 80% of success is just showing up. But Bob looked at it a little differently. A big part of his success, he said, was not just that he showed up, but that he didn’t really change. As he put it: “I always was what I was.”
It was all about constancy. And if you want another example of it, look no further than the gospel we just heard.
“Behold,” Jesus told his followers, “I am with you until the end of the age.” Here is the God who was, who is, and who always will be. He is unchanging in his mercy, in his steadfastness, in his love.
Or, if God were a TV reporter from Texas, he might put it the way Bob Schieffer put it: “I always was what I was.”
And, we are assured, he always will be.
It is that constancy, that consistency, which underlies the great feast we celebrate today, Trinity Sunday.
The Trinity defies everyone’s best efforts to explain it. The other day, a friend told me her church always had its annual hot dog picnic on Trinity Sunday. Her pastor explained that they did that because both the Trinity and the contents of the hot dogs are an unknowable mystery.
He wasn’t far off the mark. The notion of one God in three persons has confounded and challenged theologians for centuries.
But you don’t need to grasp the theology to understand something fundamental about the Trinity and this feast.
It is this blessed truth: God does not forsake us. He is with us, “until the end of the age.” He is not detached from us. The God who created us is the same God who suffered with us and redeemed us—and he is the same God who dwells with us now in the Spirit of wisdom and wonder and hope.
Through it all, across the ages, God is with us.
The Trinity is a mystery, yes. But what isn’t a mystery is the reality of God’s love. It is constant. And it goes on—just as the gospel goes on.
That is what Jesus wanted his followers to know.
In popular terms, what we heard today is called “The Great Commission.” It is the parting message of Jesus to his apostles, and it concludes the gospel according to St. Matthew.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus told his followers, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
There are two things that strike me about this: first “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Teaching the world, in other words, to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless. Teaching those “disciples of all nations” to “love one another as I have loved you.”
But then there is the first half of that great commission: baptizing in the name of the Trinity. On this Sunday, those words stand as a powerful reminder not only of the vital work that we have to do, but of the unique way our faith brands us – claims us – for God.
We have been branded in the name of the Trinity, and we acclaim the Father, Son and Spirit again and again. Every time we make the sign of the cross, we relive our baptism and mark ourselves on behalf of the one God in three persons. We do it at the start of many prayers – and at the start of the greatest prayer, the Mass.
And there is this to remember: we have help. Christ’s concluding statement in the gospel – “I am with you always” – echoes what the angels proclaimed at the time of his birth.
“He will be called Emmanuel. God is with us.”
This Trinity Sunday, we affirm that, and celebrate that.
As we gather around the Lord’s table, we pray in thanksgiving for all those disciples down through history who carried out Christ’s great commission. They made it possible for us to be here today, and inspire us to continue their work tomorrow—bound together in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.