TRINITY SUNDAY - A - 17 MATTHEW 28.16-20
Last week the waiting period ended for the disciples. Immediately before his Ascension, Jesus had instructed them to do just that, to wait until they had received power from on high before they dare to venture out.
The Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost and drove them out of their hiding place where they were empowered to speak to the crowds gathered for the feast in languages understood by all. Needless to say, the pilgrims from across the empire were astonished at this dramatic display of divine revelation; as I am certain were the disciples.
With the descent of the Dove Jesus’ promise to send the Comforter was fulfilled and the work of the Church begun. The Spirit was given on that day and the Spirit remains with the Church. He is personally and powerfully present. Individually and corporately, we enjoy a person-to-person association with the Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son and shows forth God’s love through the work of the Church.
Today is Trinity Sunday, a feast day that reminds us of this community of love to which we belong by virtue of our baptisms. The Church’s task is to reflect the love the Father has for the Son and the Son for the Father manifested through the Spirit of love that has been given to each of us in carrying out the mission Christ has commanded.
St. Matthew’s gospel alone contains the Great Commission, as it is called. Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples is filled with action words: “go, make, baptize, and teach,” and is sealed with a promise of presence. The disciples did not hesitate to undertake the task once they recieved the gift of the Spirit.
However, when the disciples met Jesus in Galilee, prior to Pentecost, in the only post-resurrection appearance recorded by Matthew, Matthew says they worshipped him, yet some still doubted. What was it they doubted? Was their doubt focused on Jesus or themselves? Or both?
If they doubted their ability to carry out the mission, it was assuaged by His promise that they would not be alone. If some of them had a lingering doubt about Jesus, it too was assuaged by his pronouncement that all authority had been given to Him in heaven an on earth and now He was giving it to them.
Not only would they soon receive the Holy Spirit, but they now had Christ’ promise of his abiding presence in this age and the age to come. Though daunting and demanding to put into practice, this commission, or mission of the Church remains our focus, or at least, it should be.
Sadly, the Church in all of its various forms has got so much wrong down through the ages. She has made so many mistakes, has let the Lord down so often, that many people, including many who love Jesus for themselves, have lost faith in the Church’s ability to do what we have been given to do. Others have become so dissatisfied with organized religion altogether they suppose that nothing will ever change until the Lord comes again and sorts it all out.
Yet Jesus’ final commandment given on earth is to be lived out in the Church until He returns. It is the Church’s Apostolate to “Go, make, baptize, and teach.”
To “go” is to be active. It does not mean that we are to just sit here and wait for people to come to us, although, if we are doing what we should be doing in spreading the gospel, they will come - God will send them. On the other hand, we are not to be like one vestryman I knew from years ago who made the statement, “this church has been right here on this very corner for over 100 years. They know where to find us,” and be satisfied with doing nothing in terms of evangelism. Apostolic witness needs to be intentional.
Jesus said we are to “make” disciples. How do we do that? One at a time. As Christ called the fishermen by the sea of Galilee, and trained them up as “learners,” imitating his way of life and coming little by little to understand the kingdom message, so are we to “call,” that is invite, others to come and see what being a Christian is all about. It is what we say and do in reflecting the love of God that either attracts them or repels them.
In addition, we are to baptize. Jesus himself linked baptism to his own death. In baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised to new life in Him. In baptism we are given a new name - Christian - and with it the responsibility and the resources, Vis a Vis, the Holy Spirit, to fulfill the tasks we have been given.
To baptize “in the name of” means rather “into the possession of” or “into union with” that is, into the community of love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As Christians we share in the responsibility of continuing Christ’ work in the world guided by the Holy Spirit of God.
Finally, the Church has been given the task of teaching all that Christ commanded. Here is where I feel that the Church has often failed. We do not have the option of “watering down” what Jesus taught in order to make it more palatable. Nor do we have the authority to add to or subtract from what He taught. Yet in recent decades, the Church has been guilty of this very thing and the result is a shrinking church.
The Christian lifestyle is meant to be quite different from the way of the world. If it were not, how would the world recognize us? Throughout the gospel, Jesus has highlighted this on various levels from the personal morality outlined in the Sermon on the Mount to the high demand for forgiveness, to His commandment to love as He loves us. Regrettable the task remains incomplete in our day.
If only we, as Church, would give as much time and energy to carrying out our commission as we do in other things not nearly as important, we would make much more headway in spreading the gospel than we seem to be doing. The consolation lies in the fact that we have not just been given a list of things to do, but a list that is held in place by a promise; a promise that is meant to encourage us in the task Christ has set before us.
The promise of presence given by Jesus to the disciples and through them to the continuing Church is the promise of the presence of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May God keep us steadfast in our faith and our worship of the co-eternal and equal glory of the Blessed Trinity.
And renewed by Christ’s promise of presence, one day accomplish the task Christ has given us, “to make disciples of all nations” by reflecting the Love of God in all that we say and do. AMEN+