The Promise of Hope
Trinity Sunday. Fr Denis Geraghty finds in the baptismal formula the revelation of Christian hope.
When the eleven disciples were summoned by Jesus to the mountain in Galilee to meet him, in Galilee where he had begun his public ministry, they were acting under obedience. The Jesus they met was the glorified Jesus eternally in the presence of God. The passage of Matthew’s Gospel (28:16-20) has been described as the climax to the entire Gospel — a majestic pronouncement and commissioning. And rightly so because it comes from the risen Lord to whom ‘all authority’ has been given.
The prayer, or formula, in which they were to baptize comes from Jesus’s self-understanding as Risen Lord. It is a revelation to us from him of the inner life of the Godhead about which we would know nothing except through his utterly gratuitous gift to us. It expresses a dynamic life understood in John’s Gospel as a ‘movement’, a ‘procession’.
The Father has sent his Son and, through the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit which is given to us at baptism. We are literally ‘marked’, sealed in the Trinitarian life of God.
Through the Spirit we can ‘return’ with Jesus to the Father. Through the Spirit we are intimately united in Christ and with him can call God our Father. In today’s Gospel we are to baptize, teach and observe. The Church has received its credentials from the Risen Jesus. Because he is risen and glorified all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him and has been given to us through him.
This is simply a delegated power. Having been baptized in the name of the Trinity, we become a new creation, carrying within ourselves the word of God to transform our world. The authority which Jesus has received in heaven has been given to us on earth to make disciples of all nations.
Matthew seems to recognise that this is an awesome task and gives us the reaction of the disciples to the commission which has been given to them. First they worshipped him and then they doubted. Do doubt and worship taken together seem an odd reaction in these circumstances? Is it not natural that the disciples would be in a state of shock and confusion at all the events that they had been through?
Shock and confusion express very well the ambivalence of human response in time of crisis. They hardly knew what was going to happen next and they needed reassurance. This reassurance was given to them by Jesus in the form of a promise, ‘and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age’.
This promise addressed to the disciples is also addressed to the whole Church, for what is the Church commissioned to teach other than the Resurrection which has such consequences for humanity and for the world. It points to the triumph over death. The Ascension in which Jesus is glorified (and our glorification which will follow), and the sending of the Holy Spirit which forms the Church in the mystical Body of Christ, make us one people in the one Spirit of Christ. In the words of 1 Peter, we become living stones and a temple of the Holy Spirit. These are difficult truths to express and live in a society that is not simply hostile, but worse, indifferent to the Gospel as an irrelevance.
Jesus has anticipated all this when he tells his disciples to ‘teach’ them and to ‘observe’ everything. The Gospel message has to be preached in its entirety and not watered down. We are perhaps to reflect here on the compromises we can make and the failures in truth because of human respect and sometimes even cowardice.
But the promise of Jesus to be with us until the end of time is a promise of hope. In a shattered and fragmented world who could not fail to be ‘tried’ by what is happening in our world? When we think of Israel and Palestine and of Iraq — suffering caused by human pride and folly — and when we think of natural disasters that have ravaged whole peoples, we need the hope of the promise of Christ to be present with us.
The virtue of hope is not some vague idea that everything will be all right in the long run. It is the theological virtue that comes to us direct from God at baptism which tells us that God will bring to fulfilment everything he has promised. This promise of hope was made to a handful of ‘doubting’ and frightened disciples. It is made also to us, as well often doubting and frightened, to teach us that the Church can only continue as a consequence of the presence of Christ and of our dependence upon him.