I am thrilled that in the tens of millions of dollars it took to build the Chapel for the Ages (I hope they aren’t still calling it that) at my alma mater, Virginia Theological Seminary, they made sure to give a few nods to the old Immanuel Chapel, especially this one.
Jesus’ Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel is the unofficial motto of VTS, which has always seen itself as a seminary called to equip missionaries. For many years, the men who graduated from VTS (when they were only men) took that call quite seriously and spent their first few years of ministry in far off lands. More often these days, the women and men who graduate find themselves in the missionary territory that is post-Christendom America. Whether it is in a downtown metropolitan area or a yoked ministry of three or more tiny rural congregations, ordained life these days is much less comfy than it was 60 years ago, but it certainly is a rich vocation.
Of course, Matthew’s version seems fairly safe, sugar-coated even, when compared with Luke’s account of Jesus commissioning his disciples. Luke’s Great Commission isn’t the stuff of former mainline seminary chapels. Jesus instructed his disciples that “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” There seems to be a reluctance on both sides of the theological spectrum to live into the fullness of Luke’s Great Commission. The right focuses its attention on the repentance piece, while the left is much more comfortable with forgiveness.
There cannot be grace without conviction, and conviction isn’t redeemed without grace. In our hesitancy to live into this less oft quoted Commission, we’ve cut off half the Gospel message, and half a gospel is no good news at all. As we approach the final resurrection encounter in Eastertide Year B, it would behoove us to remember that Good Friday and Easter Day are one in the same event. Neither makes sense without the other, and both are necessary for God’s salvific work to be accomplished. As we leave our congregations on Sunday, called to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord” we would do well to remember that that service includes both the call to repentance and the proclamation of forgiveness, no matter how uncomfortable one or the other of those might make us feel.