Rev. George Miller
June 11, 2017
Here we have the triumphant ending to the triumphant telling of Matthew’s gospel.
Jesus Christ has been raised from the grave and the disciples gather around him while he generously makes the promise “Remember- I am with you always, until the end of time.”
Upon the mountain Jesus meets them. With all authority he asks them to teach, and to baptize.
“Go!” he says, recalling the words of God to Abraham and Sarah. “Go!” he commands, copying the call of Moses.
“Go!” the Resurrected Christ says to the 11 men before him, those who were worshipping and those draped in doubt.
“Go, do the work of the kingdom and know that day by day, you will never walk alone.”
This is supposed to be a story of celebration, and yet…yet it is a story steeped in sadness.
Because there are eleven disciples that met Christ on the mountaintop. Not twelve, but eleven- a sobering reminder that one of them is missing.
Judas- a friend who unfortunately took his own life; a peer who fell victim to an act of violence, even if it was self directed.
The shadow of this senseless death hovers over the holy proceedings, reminding us that as fantastical as these stories seem to be, they are rooted in reality.
The reality that friends die, people make flawed decisions, bad things happen, and any group of people, anywhere, at anytime will have to deal with the reality of loss and the mystery of suffering.
I have always felt sympathy for Judas. Yes: he betrayed his friend Jesus. Yes: he connived his life away for a few coins. I like to think he had his own legitimate reason for selling Jesus out.
I also wish that he had not committed suicide, that he had stayed alive to experience the Resurrection, to have Jesus breath upon him and say “Peace be with you.”
I like to believe that if Judas had not killed himself that Christ would’ve said to him “I forgive you and I set you free from the guilt of whatever you have done.”
But Judas does not allow that to happen, and through his actions he affects not just himself, but he affects his friends, his co-worshippers…and he affects us.
Today’s tale is a timeless one, and always will be. Scholars will say that the Gospel of Matthew was written for the church in mind, a telling of the Good News in which the disciples become a microcosm of what every congregation is like.
What the disciples say and do represents what church members say and do; what the disciples experience, many church members will also.
So here we have the disciples meeting Christ. They are called to do the tasks of ministry. Some of them worship with joy; some have their doubts based in the reality of the world.
Just like any given Sunday.
Some folk come here ready to get their praise on; some wonder why they’re here at all and if it’s even worth it.
11 people gather, but in the past there used to be 12; just like any congregation- there is always someone who is missing, someone who is away, someone who has died, someone who has turned their back on their faith, someone you will never see again.
11 disciples are there with the resurrected Christ, and it should be a totally joyful time, but a hint of sorrow is still there, as it is in any church.
If we are honest, every one of us here today has entered these doors with a bit of heaviness. Someone we have lost, guilt over something we did, worry over the woes of the world, uncertainty about the future.
We could waste our energy and pretend these truths don’t exist, but why? The Bible doesn’t hide from these realities.
Christ triumphs over the grave and yet the reality of real world pain cannot be erased.
So what is the Good News?
First, we can look at Christ’s closing words to his disciples. “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Note- he does not say “All your problems will go away.” He does not say “There will never be an act of violence again.” Nor does he state “Your life from here on in will be easy-peasy.”
No. He says “I will be with you.”
This is a promise of presence; a promise of relationship. A promise that regardless if you are in a dark valley or besides still waters, Jesus will be with you.
He says “I will be with you to the end of the age.”
This is a promise for all time, a promise that is renewed day after day after day; a promise that means even after the clocks stop working, we will never be alone.
He says “Remember.” Ah- remember; what a powerful, potent word.
Remember is one way to say “Recall the generosity of God who gave you the gifts of creation, and who gave you the gifts of new life.”
But there is something else going on. Matthew makes it clear to us who’s there with Jesus, but he also makes it clear where they are- a mountain.
It is upon a mountain that the disciples meet Jesus and are empowered to do ministry and mission.
It’s not in the Temple; it’s not in a synagogue. It’s at the mountain.
Why does it matter? Because in Matthew good things happen upon mountains.
It is upon a mountain that Jesus defeats the devil (4:8-11).
It is upon a mountain that Jesus gives his inaugural speech. It is upon a mountain that he calls the merciful blessed and says that we are the spice of life (5:1-11).
It is upon the mountain that Jesus cures the crowd and feeds the thousands (15:29-39).
It is upon the mountain in which Jesus is transfigured (17:1-13). It’s to the mountain that Jesus goes when he wants to pray and spend time with God. (14:23).
Mountains are meaningful to Matthew. Mountains are a metaphor for where we most meet the Magnificent.
With today’s reading, I think we are given a gift, a gift meant to transcend any situation we are in, any darkness we may confront.
I like to think that each of us have our own “mountain”, meaning that each of us has a place or a time in which we most experience the Holy and we feel the most connected to God.
If each of you were asked “Where do you feel the presence of Christ the most?”, I’d hope that you’d all be able to say a place, a time, a moment in which the Sacred is most real, the Spirit is most present.
For me, it’s the Atlantic Ocean where I’ve spent so much time with folks I love.
It’s also this pulpit in which I get to look out upon your faces.
If Matthew was writing today’s reading just for me, I’d be meeting Jesus at Ft. Pierce or under our stained glass window.
If you were asked, what would you say?
Have you had a place, a time in which you knew, you just knew that you were taught, you were fed, you were healed, you were loved by Jesus Christ?
That’s your mountain. That’s your go-to place. That’s where the resurrected Christ is calling you.
That’s where we spiritually go when the bad things happen in the world. That’s what gives us hope when things seem hopeless. That’s what helps to make sense when things are senseless.
That’s the memory we hold onto that empowers us to remember, that calls us to be brave, even if we can no longer physically go to that mountain anymore.
Our metaphorical mountain is where we get to meet Jesus again and again and again.
In our world there is so much to worry about, there is so much to mourn, and so much to fear. But there is so much to be thankful for, so much to celebrate, and so much to enjoy.
Because of Christ, even in the face of death, there is life. Even in dark times, there is light.
Even in the face of loss, there are new things to discover. Even though others may leave, we are never left alone.
And though our days do eventually end, the love of Christ does not.
Amen and amen.