In today’s Gospel reading for Easter Thursday, we have the account of the famous “Great Commission.” (Matthew 28:16-20) Having returned to where it all began, their native Galilee, the eleven remaining disciples experience Jesus as alive, not dead, as a continuing presence among them, not as a failed messiah. According to the text, they are torn between faith in this experience and continuing doubt that it could actually be true.
But their final “takeaway” from a mountain-top encounter with the risen Christ was that they now knew that he spoke with the authority of God and that their mission (should they choose to accept it!) would be to:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” So, far from returning to their familiar work as fishermen, they are to become “apostles” (those who are sent) rather than simply “disciples” (those who learn). But they are sent to recruit more disciples of Jesus. How?
By “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” They are to initiate new followers in the same way Jesus had inaugurated his own ministry (the baptism of John), in the same way they themselves (presumably) had been initiated, and in the same way as they certainly initiated others during Jesus’ public ministry — by baptism.
But this baptism is not merely the baptism of John. It now presumes incorporation into the life of God, the love of Jesus, and the indwelling presence of the Divine Spirit to guide them. It will become known as “Christian” Baptism, Holy Baptism.
What should the apostles teach these newly baptized ones? “To obey everything I have commanded you.” To be a disciple of Jesus means to learn what it means to live a life of absolute commitment to God, a life of solidarity with all people ( particularly the poor and powerless), a life of healing and forgiveness, and a life of non-violent, peaceful resistance to anything that seeks to destroy the dignity of human beings.
Is this even possible? they must have asked. Yes, but only because they are to “remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Because, in the final analysis, the importance of the resurrection is not about empty tombs or dramatic appearances in rooms with locked doors.
The importance of the resurrection is that Jesus is not an historical figure the likes of Moses or Alexander the Great or Cicero or Abraham Lincoln. They lived, made their contributions, and died.
Jesus lived, made his contribution, and died too. But “the death that he died, he died to sin, once for all. But the life he lives, he lives to God.” (Romans 6:10)
That IS the resurrection!