Trinity Sunday June 15, 2014 Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4a
Rev. Catherine Purves
I have never quite understood why some people get fixated on creation being accomplished in six days. Charissa told me that when she was interviewing at one church (not the one that called her) there was a man who made this his make-or- break issue. If she couldn’t confirm that the earth was formed in six days, he didn’t want to have anything to do with her. As far as he was concerned, this was a non-negotiable article of faith. When you think about all of the things that ministers need to know and understand and all of the different tasks that they need to be able to do, to squander one of your few interviewing questions in order to make sure that your candidate believes that creation took place in six days seems rather ridiculous to me.
What is so magical about the number six? If we acknowledge that God is the creator of everything, what difference does it make how long God took to make it? Is it any less awe-inspiring to think of the creation process taking millions of years when each tiny incremental step was as act of almighty God? I don’t think so. People who are insistent about the six days of creation being sacrosanct don’t seem to be bothered by the notion of a dome covering a flat earth with waters above and beneath it. They seem to accept that the earth isn’t the center of the solar system, not to mention the universe. They don’t expect to find sea monsters in the ocean. Nor are they all vegetarians (see verse 30). They are just stuck on the number six.
Certainly, the writer of this first Genesis account of creation was also greatly fascinated by the number six. It provided the structure for the entire story. Six times God spoke an essential element of creation into being. Six times God declared that what he had made was good. Six times there was evening and there was morning and that day was given a number. Of course, the author of Genesis wasn’t there to count the days or to witness what was created when. So why did he write the story of the creation in that way, providing us with a six day model which would, several thousand years later, become a fundamental article of faith for some 21st century Christians?
I think that the answer to that question is revealed in what the creation narrative says about the seventh day. The seventh day was God’s sabbath, a day of rest. If you stop to think about it, you might wonder why God needed to rest. Not that it wasn’t a lot to accomplish in six days or even hundreds of millions of years, but isn’t a little odd to think of God requiring some down-time after completing the creation and declaring it good? Maybe the implication was not meant to be that God needed to rest, but that God chose to rest. That is probably more to the point. But what is this rest and why is it significant? In many ways this seventh day of rest is the climax of the whole story of creation. If you thought that the creation of human beings was the climax, note that we actually shared our day, day six, with “cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” It is the seventh day that is set apart and unique among all of the days.
Genesis says that God “blessed the seventh day and hallowed it.” That is, God made it holy. After six days of doing, the seventh day was to be a day of being, and a day of resting. It was a day when God rested in his relationship with all that he had created, recognizing that it was very good. That word ‘relationship’ is an important one for us today on Trinity Sunday. Because today we celebrate the fact that God is a God of relationship, and, as Trinity, God is a God in relationship as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is content and complete in that relationship. Creation was not necessary. But God chose to create and then chose to be in relationship with all that had been created. God relates to and takes pleasure in earthworms and stars and rivers…and in us.
Another important thing that was created “in the beginning” was time. Now, time doesn’t get its own day, but we can see that time was embedded in the whole act of creation. “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” On the fourth day, the sun, moon and stars were created. “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Time and the marking time was an essential part of the creation itself. Time didn’t exist until God created it, and it became one of the gifts of creation and a key part of how we and all of creation would be in relationship with God.
Now we can go back to our six days and discover their true significance, if we add the all-important seventh. As a foundational part of creation itself, God created a week. This was to be our primary measure of time. And this was how we would structure and maintain our relationship with God, on a seven day model. The fourth of the Ten Commandments states this clearly, “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20: 8-11)
So the seventh day was consecrated, that is, set apart for a special use. It was set apart for that other essential building block of creation which weaves its way through all of the days: relationship. The reason why this reading was selected for Trinity Sunday is because we can see already “in the beginning” the nature of the triune God as being in relationship. We see in the first few verses the Father creating, the Word of God, the Son, speaking everything into existence, and the wind of God, the Spirit, moving over the waters of chaos and bringing order. Creation was a corporate act of the three persons of the Trinity acting in concert and in joy to bring form and order and life in all its abundance and variety into being. And everything that was created was in relationship with everything else and with the Triune God. The gift of time was the way in which those relationships would be experienced and honored, particularly our relationship with God.
And that is the real significance of the six days and of the crowning seventh day. They provide a matrix for life in relationship and an essential rhythm of work and rest in which our relationship with God is remembered and highlighted every seventh day. This primary ordering of time and relationship is every bit as foundational to creation as wildebeests, fireflies, and stars. That is what the author of our creation story is saying. The six days plus one are non-negotiable, but that doesn’t just mean that this is a law to be obeyed. Resurrecting the old blue laws of yesteryear would not solve our problem. These necessary realities of time and relationship which bind us to God and sustain us in life are realities of grace and not law. They are gifts not simply obligations. The six days plus one enable us to ground our lives in the very fabric of creation itself which is built out of time and relationship to the God who is by nature in relationship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The story of creation ends in this way, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” Whether those “generations” lasted literally six days or hundreds of millions of years, we can see why six days plus the all-important seventh became the foundation for our relationship with God. Let us continue to seek that rhythm and that relationship with our Triune Creator.