Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV)
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I often wonder what the committee who decided what scripture readings were appropriate for which week were thinking. They take things out of order, skip over sections that have some really good stuff in them, leave out bits that might give us a better idea of why we think some of the things we do . . . I really don’t understand how they made the choices they made. Of course, it was a committee, and we all know what they say about committees. Although I really think God designed the camel. Even the best committee ever selected couldn’t have been that creative!
Anyway, today’s passage comes right at the very end of the Gospel according to Matthew, after the resurrection. But the committee skipped a section, and I really want to share that section with you. Right after Jesus tells Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee, Matthew reports that, “11 While they were going, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story is still told among the Jews to this day.”
So, exactly the very thing that the chief priests and the Pharisees had been worried about had come to pass. Because in the 27th chapter (in another section we typically skip over) after Jesus was crucified, they went to Pilate and said, ““Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.” And now, they are stuck with the reality of Jesus having been raised from the dead. The very guards they set had witnessed the angel of the Lord. Their fear of that angel had made them tremble and become like dead men. (They fainted!) What do you do when the very thing you are trying to avoid dealing with actually happens? Lie! Pay the guards to lie and then promise to swear to it if Pilate should happen to ask.
Only, the thing the chief priests and Pharisees were really worried about was that the disciples would come steal the body and claim it had been resurrected. They never expected that Jesus would actually be resurrected from the dead! They never imagined that this thing that Jesus had predicted would come to pass. And yet, it had. After three days he rose from the dead. But even today, there are those who think that his body was stolen by the disciples and the story of his resurrection is fiction.
And the disciples met him in the place where he had told them to go. And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. I wonder what that was like for the disciples. I wonder what exactly some doubted. Maybe they doubted that he had even really died? Because you know, there are those who doubt miracles. There are those today, and maybe even back then, who wondered if Jesus had really died, or if Joseph of Arimathea had managed to bribe his way clear to taking Jesus down from the cross before he was completely dead, and had him nursed back to life. Because that’s another story that’s told around the resurrection. That Jesus hadn’t quite died, and so resurrection story is made up.
For very logical, science oriented people it can be hard to understand how miracles like the resurrection can happen. How can something that is completely impossible just happen? (For proof of a miracle, can we just look at the camel, again? That particular design couldn’t possibly have simply evolved, could it?) But for very logical, science oriented people who believe in God, it’s not so hard, because miracles do happen. Doctors, for example, see miracles happen all the time. Because anything is possible with God. Because - camels. Because, regardless of how important the people were who tried to spread other stories, and regardless even of the doubt of some of his own followers, we know that Jesus did rise from the dead, and he did meet with his disciples after that happened, and the Holy Spirit did come and pour out upon them the ability to speak and be understood by people who spoke many different languages, and Peter did preach so persuasively that 3,000 people who spoke many different languages heard the story of Jesus’ ministry, believed what they heard, and were subsequently baptized, and themselves filled with the Holy Spirit. All of those stories that were spread hoping that people would reject the story of Jesus failed. Because even now, even nearly 2,000 years later, we do believe in the truth of what happened in Jerusalem all those many years ago.
Jesus told his disciples to go out, and make disciples of all nations and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. He told them to teach everyone to obey all the things that he had commanded them. To speak truth to power, as he had done. To care for those no one cares about, as he had done. To comfort the comfortless, as he had done. To heal those whose bodies and souls were broken, as he had done. Notice that he didn’t say, “Teach them to believe these things.” He said, “Teach them to obey, to do these things.” This is the Great Commission, which still binds us today. To teach, to make followers who will do the things that Jesus taught his first disciples to do. And to baptize, to bring those new believers to that place where their greatest desire is to change, to repent of their old ways and become the person that God wants them to be, to be cleansed of sin and made new and whole again. And to remember, always, that no matter what, Jesus is with us.
In John’s Gospel, this one statement is expanded into a very long and beautiful speech. It is eloquent and moving, but it is very long. Matthew keeps it simple. “… remember,” Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I like simple. I like short statements that I can remember. I like the hope that comes with a statement like this. “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” It tells me that I am never alone. Never. No matter what happens, I am never alone, for Jesus is always with me.
When Leah and I were talking about the artwork that would be best for today, we started with a Celtic trinity knot with a circle woven through it. I told her that if she could find one with a heart woven through, that would be awesome, and perfect. And look, she found one. She found one that is sitting in someone’s hand. When I looked at this picture, I realized that Leah had captured in the one image the entire message I hoped to leave with you all today. The trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, is so wrapped up in being with us, in loving us and being loved by us, that our heart is inextricably tangled together with God’s, and in the very same way God’s heart is tangled together with ours. And somehow, that heart of ours, that core of our belief in the totality of God, is held in God’s hand, so that no matter what, we are never alone.
And this is the Good News, my beloved. No matter what, we are never alone. When good things happen, God is with us. When bad things happen, God is with us. And whether in our words we speak to the Father, or the Son or the Holy Spirit, we are in actuality reaching out to all, and one, at the same time. No matter what, we are never alone. God will Father us, care for us, guide us as a loving parent guides a child. Jesus will walk along side of us as he walked with the disciples on the road to Emaus, reminding us of the teachings we need to follow, reminding us God’s commands that we have been given through him so that we might change the entire world and reconcile all of humanity with God. The Spirit will give us the creativity, the strength, the power, even the words that we need to do everything we are called to do, in God’s name. No matter what, we are never alone. May that knowledge comfort us in every situation, In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.