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?