Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw Him, they worshipped Him but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Matthew 28: 16-20
Many of us are familiar with this passage, known as the Great Commission. We’ve reflected on it before. The Great Commission was Christ’s directive to His Apostles to spread the Gospel to all the nations. However, before the actual commissioning in Matthew 28: 18-20, there is a critical thing that takes place in verse 17.
We know in Matthew 28:16, that Jesus directed His disciples to go to a mountain in Galilee. If we stop reading at Matthew 28:16, all we know is that there is a directive to go to a mountain, not what is going to happen on that mountain. Now, let’s put ourselves in the position of the disciples. They are told to go to this mountain and they go, they show up as directed. Then in verse 28:17, it says that they saw Jesus, and “they worshipped Him, but some doubted.” They all showed up. They all worshipped. But some of them had some doubts. They weren’t all confident or gung ho about what they were doing. Some were there with doubts. But they were all there. And it is only after they were there, that Jesus commissioned them to go out and spread the Gospel to all nations, to go out and change the world. He didn’t commission only the confident ones. He commissioned all of them.
The point of today’s message is that we are very much like the Disciples in Matthew 28:16-17. Covid-19 has changed the way in which many of us worship. In some parts of our country, churches are still closed. In many parts of the country, they are open, but with social distancing, mask wearing and limited numbers who are allowed to attend. Many people still do not feel safe going out in large groups. Others are irritated that the restrictions are uncomfortable. Some people are worshipping virtually, on line. Others are going in person but can’t go every week because no everyone can be accommodated at every service.
Honestly, there are priests like me (and other with whom I’ve spoken) who are wondering how long this is all going to be like this, and what the state of the church will be when the Covid-19 crisis has passed. We wonder if people who are not coming to church now will stay away for good. We know that some people have moved to other churches because they think the restrictions are too strict.
This time of quarantine and disruption of normal life has created more doubt than confidence for many, in the church, in the decisions of the church, and even more seriously, it has created a crisis of faith in Christ for some. This is why I refer today to Matthew 28:17, that you are welcome, doubts and all. When we are able to all return to church, I hope everyone will come back. Please know that in the community I serve in Tampa, no one will be judged because they stayed away for a long time. In the meantime, those who feel comfortable are encouraged to come to church in person, even if you have some doubts about our faith or our practice of it, or in the protocols we are being asked to use temporarily. As we read in Matthew 28:17, not all of the disciples came to Christ on that day with confidence. Many of them had doubts. But they all came.
Many are taking advantage of live-streaming of services, as being safe and convenient. However, even this is creating doubts—whether live-stream is an appropriate thing, whether it is effective, or whether the experience of virtual worship accomplishes anything. If the live-stream is what you are comfortable with, or is all you have at your disposal, I encourage you to keep showing up there.
Please continue “showing up” in whatever fashion you are doing, especially during this time of crisis, and of course beyond it. It’s okay to have doubts, the disciples did, but they showed up. And in showing up, they were commissioned by Christ to change the world, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, they did just that. God does not impose Himself upon us. Whatever good we accomplish is in concert with God. Like with the blessing of the five loaves and two fish, we contribute and He multiplies. It is the same way with worship—we show up and in turn receive His grace.
Remember Lord, the city in which we live and every city and country and the faithful who live in them. Remember, Lord, the travelers, the sick, the suffering, and the captives, granting them protection and salvation. Remember, Lord, those who do charitable work, who serve in Your holy churches, and who care for the poor and send Your mercies on us all. And grant that with one voice and one heart we may glorify and praise Your most honorable and majestic name, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)
So comes, doubts and all, but keep coming. Keep showing up! Whether it is via live-stream or in person, please keep showing up! That is one of the keys to our faith journey—being present for it!