The Sunday after Pentecost is called “Trinity Sunday” in the West.
If you frequent Orthodox churches you will know that pretty much every Sunday (really every single service in the year) is about the Holy Trinity.
In the West we tend to need the annual reminder of the nature of the God we worship — the God known from the call of Abraham and Sarah, incarnate in Jesus Christ, and now vividly present in the Holy Spirit.
We worship one and only one God, but our one God is eternally three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- In terms of math it seems confusing.
- In terms of the God revealed in the Bible it makes sense of a lot of things.
- And in terms of the theological understanding of our salvation, it actually is quite necessary.
As the great arguments of the Ecumenical Councils show, any other view of God embodies hidden problems that undercut the very possibility of salvation.
In Year A of the Revised Common Lectionary, the Gospel for Trinity Sunday takes one giant step backward, going before Pentecost to Easter day. In Matthew’s description Easter started with the Empty Tomb, followed by Mary and Mary encountering the risen Christ, and finally the eleven Apostles meeting with him on a mountain in Galilee.
The reason for the choice of this text on Trinity Sunday is clearly one line of the text. In the heart of the Great Commission we are told to baptize,
… in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
This is the text where Jesus himself named the Persons of the Trinity for us.
It happens in an important context, wouldn’t you say? Jesus’ last recorded words in the Gospel and his summary instructions to his disciples.
The Great Commission—in Two Parts
This scene is most famous for that “The Great Commission.” Each of the four evangelists has his own summary of Jesus’ final instructions to his followers, sending them forth in mission. However, it is Matthew’s that has stuck with us, especially in American Protestantism.
It is the larger part of this Sunday’s text. Let’s take a look at the whole of it:
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
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.”
(Matthew 20:18-20 NRSV)
The whole commission is grounded in Jesus claim of full and total authority—something no true Christian will ever cede to any earthly ruler.
But what I want to talk about is the imperatives of the commission. Once we move out from under Caesar’s authority and into Christ’s kingdom, Jesus has some things for us to attend to.
First Imperative: Make Disciples
I am struck by the fact that the fact that the commission is really two instructions, not one.
We tend to only think about the first of these:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”
That’s crucial, of course. It had to be surprising to the Apostles. It took them a good bit of the book of Acts to become genuinely convinced that when Jesus said their mission was to “all nations”, he didn’t mean just the Jews.
And we Christians have been a tad spotty about following up ever since. We’ve been rather complacent, sometimes for centuries, working only at Christianizing our own societies and forgetting that, as the hymn says, “We’ve a story to tell to the nations…”
(Lord knows we need to do a lot more here at home to behave as genuine Christians, where many claiming Christ’s name turn a deaf ear to the cries of the oppressed who happen to have a different skin color, where Christians support withholding food stamps from the poor, where followers of Jesus are in favor of turning away refugees at the border…but I digress.)
Second Imperative: Remember, I am with you
But what I’ve not heard emphasized is the second imperative of the commission:
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We are called to remember Christ’s presence among is, here and now.
Some find it easier to remember that Jesus will come again, in the future, at the end of the age.
But a disciple fulfilling the Great Commission must be constantly aware that Jesus is here now.
I commend the practice of prayer, especially modes that shift your focus to contemplation, as a way to obey this call.
To take just one, consider the Orthodox practice of repeating the “Jesus Prayer” unceasingly.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Son of God,
have mercy on me.”
Remember who Jesus is. Remember he is here, listening. Remember to ask for what you need.
Fulfilling the Great Commission is not some brave and bold labor we do, of our own power and courage, showing our heroic qualities as our discipleship.
No. The Great Commission is what you do side by side with Jesus, remembering that he is with you now, and ever, and even to the end of the age — and he’s going to lead you to make disciples.
I suspect that a Christian who remembers that Jesus is present is more likely to make disciples who are like Jesus.
Within the First Imperative
Inside that call to make disciples, it is worth noting in passing that the process has two parts.
- Baptize — and in a particular way.
- Teach — and with a particular agenda.
The act of baptism, as a primary portion of the task of making disciples, should not be underrated. To baptize someone, you need to get them to agree to live as a disciple, or in the case of a baby, to get the parents to agree to raise the child as a disciple.
Back in the early centuries, they took that really seriously: you would have three years of preparation and study prior to receiving baptism. And if you engaged in notable sin afterward, you might find yourself on the outside of the community and needing to sort of start over.
These words on how to baptize are also important. In this era many, especially in Protestantism, want to rethink the terms used for the Persons of the Trinity, and could be tempted to baptize in those rethought or revised names.
Jesus says here to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit — and at least in denominations like mine, you have to use those words for the baptism to be considered valid. That certainly has consequences when joining a church when you move, and spiritually would seem to be important as one considers whether one has actually begun the journey.
But we are not to stop with baptism. We are to teach the new disciple to obey all that Jesus commanded.
It seems to me that many churches would be challenged to hear that they need to teach at all. Actually teaching Jesus’ curriculum in full is a higher bar.
It isn’t enough to just have a Sunday school for the kiddos and a Bible study for the few interested grown-ups.
So let’s start. Let’s teach everyone, every age of disciple, Jesus’ full curriculum.
The Call to Doubters
I’ll close by noting my favorite line in this great text:
When they saw him,
they worshiped him;
but some doubted.”
Matthew 28:17 NRSV
All worshipped, it seems, even though some of the worshippers, some of the Apostles, mind you, doubted.
That’s a good word. Keep worshipping, whether you have a confident faith or a wavering one. If you are planning or leading worship, know that some are doubting — and they are still welcome. They need to be encouraged, built up, and taught.
Maybe more to the point, Jesus gave his Great Commission to both those with fully devoted hearts and those who doubted.
“Go!” in mission, says Jesus, even if you doubt.
“Make disciples!” says Jesus, even if you doubt.
“Remember, I am with you!” says Jesus, even if you doubt.
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