As we continue living into Eastertide, I’ve been imagining what it might have been like to be a disciple during this time. It had to be both exciting and confusing. Various stories traveled swiftly through the community about encountering Jesus in the upper room in Jerusalem, on the road to Emmaus, and on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I can imagine everyone wondering who would meet up with him next, where—and if they would even recognize him.
Eventually, according to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus concluded his time with the disciples on a mountain in Galilee (perhaps one pictured above) by giving them marching orders:
“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 remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Today, we officially call this the “great commission.” It’s a stirring speech but a daunting task. Imagine for a moment what it would have felt like to be there, on the receiving end of this charge. What feelings rise in you as you listen? What questions go through your mind? Are you inspired or overwhelmed by the idea of carrying on Jesus’ legacy without him?
How would you actually make this massive project a reality? What would be involved—logistically, financially? To fulfill this great commission, Jesus’ followers had to figure out—as powerless, penniless Galileans—how to live into these lofty words. I imagine them spending a lot of time talking about practicalities (“Should we go out two by two, begging for food and places to stay, as Jesus had us do while he was alive?”) and addressing important questions like, “How do we coordinate with each other so we don’t duplicate our efforts and keep track of what’s working and not working?”
How would they even determine what’s included in “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”? How can each of them even remember everything Jesus taught? Ponder for a moment how much you remember of the important conversations you’ve had over the past three years—and you can keep notes because you know how to read and write! This, of course, gives us a window into how we ended up with a number of quite different Gospels!
All this is also about dwelling in liminal space—a recurring theme for me in Eastertide this year. Jesus’ followers were poised on the threshold of significant transformation. They had no idea what lay ahead. They could never have imagined that their stories would literally spread around the world and persist through millennia. I imagine they were thinking only of the eastern Mediterranean and the next year or two.
Yet, they trusted Jesus. They embraced his authority and that great commission—and there are millions of Christians who have heard about Jesus because of their work.
How are you called to live out the great commission in this time and place?
Thanks Shirin. This is my favorite time of year for the Scripture readings. The faith of the first disciples is stunning and a real testament to how grace and willingness come together. That is for me an example of liminal space – spirit and physical are working together for transition and transformation. You remind me not to rely too much on my ideas and will and to surrender to the unknown and mystery as the early disciples did way beyond what might have been expected. Peace. Tom
You’re welcome, Tom. I love the images you share here…joining grace and willingness, spirit and physical. Yes, there is so much we need to surrender—and then it’s amazing to us what God will do through us!
It’s impossible to imagine what they must’ve been going through! You give us great insight into the questions they must have been asking, especially the part about trying to remember what all Jesus taught them, and no way to write it all down. Truly mind-boggling. I can see why they needed Pentecost to happen. I feel called to wear my little Celtic cross as my attempt to wrest our symbol back from Christian Nationalists, and to live the way Jesus modeled for us. Much easier than what the disciples faced!
Thank you Aston. I’m grateful for your sharing and I cheer you on in reclaiming your heritage. It’s a challenge and takes courage in our current cultural climate. May you be blessed in living as Jesus modeled!