Great Commission (Second Sunday of Easter) – April 12, 2015

Sunday’s Readings:
Complementary Text: Psalm 40:9-10
Preaching Text: Matthew 28:16-20

+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +

If you’ve ever wondered if God is capable of making miracles happen, I’ve got the proof you need: just look around! Look around at the gathering that’s taking place this morning here at St. Paul’s, and then listen again to this verse from today’s reading: When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Think about what’s happening here. Last Sunday, we heard the story of Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary walking in the early morning hours to visit the grave of their teacher and Lord, who had been brutally killed by a contingent of Roman soldiers after a sham of a trial. When they arrived, they felt the earth shake, saw a messenger from God roll away the massive stone blocking the entrance to the tomb, and then heard the unbelievable news: Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him!” The Marys left immediately, and on the way home encountered Jesus himself, who repeated the message and urged the disciples to meet him in Galilee.

Now, those other followers, the remaining eleven disciples chosen by Jesus, had made the trek up a steep hill in the Galilean countryside in the hopes of seeing Jesus for themselves. When he finally appeared, they bowed down to worship him, although some of them still weren’t sure that they were really seeing what they thought they were seeing. With that hesitation hanging in the air, the risen Jesus gives his final command to the eleven men standing on that hillside: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And then they did it. Those eleven disciples traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem and Damascus and Antioch and Alexandria and Athens and Rome and Spain and beyond. They worshiped, and – yes – they doubted, but they went, and, because they went, the gospel of Jesus Christ survived and spread and was handed down from generation to generation, over decades and centuries and millennia, so that we could continue to hear it and trust it and be transformed by it today.

It’s truly amazing that this message, entrusted to eleven uncertain, unlettered, unremarkable men, has found its way here. The journey of the good news of Jesus to this time and place has sometimes been marked with hardship and struggle. At other times, it spread in brutal and oppressive ways that have done a disservice to both the message and the messenger who first sent those disciples out. In countless other circumstances, it has provided hope and dignity and value and worth to those who received it. On the whole, that message has been a great gift to humanity and to this world.

We who gather today are part of the community who has found grace and renewal and life in the Word of God that comes to us in Scripture, in the proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for our sake and for the sake of the world, and in the sacraments that have been given to the community of Christ as a sign and seal of God’s love. This morning, we especially rejoice in the gift of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, commanded by Christ in his final instructions to his disciples and preserved by the Church in remembrance of God’s promise – I am with you always, to the end of the age.  As Cooper is brought to the font to receive this gift of grace, the good news of Jesus will wash over him, and he will become a part of the unfolding story of Christ’s Church, an heir of both the responsibilities of discipleship and the rewards of God’s faithfulness. In Holy Baptism, God promises to claim Cooper as a beloved child, to join him to the death and resurrection of Jesus, and to give him a part to play in the expansion of God’s righteous reign of justice and peace for the whole world. As Cooper learns to worship God – and, at various times in his life, hesitates in the face of hardship and struggle – he can draw strength from the knowledge that God’s promise is trustworthy and true, that he has been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ, come what may. In the same way, we who have already received this precious gift can be encouraged by the knowledge that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, each of whom in their own way trusted in that promise and advanced the cause of Christ in the world.

Brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the command and the promise of God, who calls us to remember what Jesus has taught us, and who sends us out to make the good news of Jesus known in thought, word, and deed. As followers of the risen Christ, we have the responsibility to participate in God’s mission for the life of the world, in the midst of our doubts, so that others might receive the word of truth that has been handed down to us. As we continue through this season of Easter, may we be inspired by the stories of those who heeded that call and who, by their obedience, helped the gospel to survive so that we might hear it and be transformed once again. May we hold fast the lessons we have learned through the Scriptures over these past seven months, so that our witness might be enriched by the many examples of God’s love, faithfulness, and commitment to the whole world communicated by this Holy Word. Finally, may we remember with joy God’s gift of baptism, freely given so that we might be joined to Christ and live as his people today and every day, and so that God might be glorified by all that we say and do. Thanks be to God! Amen.

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