The very first imperfect witnesses

The very first witnesses to the resurrection were afraid and joyful. If he could them, he can use me even if I'm a hot mess.

Our small group spent some time studying Matthew 28 last night: the dramatic account of Mary and Martha trembling before an angel dressed in lightning. They had been looking for Jesus’ body, and the angel comforted and redirected them: “He is not here. Come and see where they laid him. Go and tell the others and tell them to go to Galilee.”

Matthew tells us that the women ran: afraid yet filled with joy.

A few verses later, having heard the women’s account and traveled up to Galilee, Jesus appeared to the 11 disciples. Matthew tells us that when they saw him, they worshipped him, but some doubted.

Had you noticed this before: the very first witnesses to the resurrection were one hot mess of emotion: fearful and yet overjoyed. The inaugural words of the Great Commission were spoken to a group with decidedly mixed responses: some all-out worshipping, but others seriously questioning.

I am so struck by this thought – that from the very first, the gospel was entrusted to individuals and groups who were a bit of a tangled mess. They didn’t have it all together. They had mixed motives, lots of questions. The Lord’s angel didn’t say to the women: “now calm down and let’s be reasonable – and once you have it all figured out, then I’ll entrust you with this change-the-course-of-history message.” No, the angel, knowing they were still tangled and terrified, still entrusted the message to them.

Jesus knew that in his group of disciples, some of them were having a worshipful “aha!” moment, while others were still very much on the fence.. and yet he didn’t limit his commission and say “Now, those of you who are doubting – these words are not for you. Not yet, anyway.” I am struck that he commissioned them all anyway, knowing that they were not the first (not would they be the last) to feel both faith and uncertainty at the same time.

And it occurs to me that if He didn’t require the very first witnesses, and his very closest disciples to have it all together in order to be entrusted with the Most Important Message Of All…

… he doesn’t need me to have it all together in order to use me, either.

We can be both anxious and joyful, worshipful AND doubtful, – and still be witnesses.

“I do believe, help me in my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

“Not that we are competent in ourselves… but our competence comes from God.” (2 Corinthians 3:5)

The Verse I’d Never Seen Before

baptizing woman

Sometime in my 20’s, I started to cry. The transformation was astonishing: from being the Kid Who Didn’t Cry, I became the One Guaranteed To Blub. I cried during commercials, during Oprah, during weddings, and every-time-without-fail : I cried at baptisms. The beauty of seeing a believer washed new; brave and bold and dripping with the passion of one reborn undid me every time.

And so it was, a few months back, that I sat crying as I witnessed a baptism one Sunday morning: wiping tears as I corralled the toddler with one arm and a bribing snack, shushed the preschooler who was pretending to be a fighter pilot, and snuggled my 6-year old close. My tears dripped off my chin and onto her hair, and I wondered how bad the crying would be on the day when it was my own children in the baptismal font. If a stranger’s baptism undid me so, I would for sure be bawling when my own children’s day came. I wallowed in dramatic thought a moment longer: “do you know what would make me really ugly cry?” I thought. “If their dad were to baptize them.” I had seen some pastor friends baptize their kids. The mental image was exquisitely poignant.

Later that night, I broached the topic with my husband. “When the time comes, “ I asked, “do you think you would like to baptize our kids?” He mulled it over for a moment and shrugged: “not really.” I nodded, a little disappointed. Maybe he would be more excited about the idea in the future.

A few weeks later, I found myself sitting huddled at my dining table in the early morning dark, scrambling to finish reading Matthew’s gospel before my BSF small group. Even though I was in a hurry, something pulled me to a stop. Jesus’s words in Matthew 28:18-20 leapt off the page:

“(18) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  (19) Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. (20) And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

I read it again, and again. And I cried.

How was it that I had never seen verse 19b? As a woman – how had I never seen that?

I knew that the promises belonged to me: the One who has all authority in heaven and on earth (v18) is the one who is always with me, even to the end of the age (v20b).

I knew too that the Great Commission applied to me: I, too, was called to go and make disciples of all nations (v19a), and to teach them to obey all that Jesus commanded (v20). Surely this was my overarching goal as a Mom: to disciple my children as disciples of Christ.

And yet, I had never seen the permission – no, the mandate – to be one who baptized too (v19). For years I had lived, loved and served in a church where men did the preaching and the officiating of communion and all the baptizing (for these were pastoral, and therefore male, functions). And since I had never, ever seen a woman baptize, I had never, ever seen verse 19 commissioning me, as a woman, to one who is enjoined in the calling, reaching, baptizing and discipling work of the Great Commission.

Later that night, I settled down next to my husband on the couch. “Honey, remember I asked you whether you wanted to baptize our kids? Well, this morning I was reading in Matthew, and it occurred to me that if Jesus has called me in the Great Commission to disciple our kids and to teach our kids… don’t you think I should be able to do the middle bit too – and baptize them? Because I’d love to. I mean, if they wanted it, and it was okay with you. But I’d love to – and I just never even thought it was a possibility.”

He looked up and paused. “I don’t see why not,” he said, “if you want to.”

I do want to.

I do. And as it turns out, Matthew 28 says it is allowed: not just as a concession, but in fact as a command. For I, as a woman, am one of the beloved disciples he has called and commissioned.

And so, when the time comes, I would love to be able to baptize our children in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Even if I cry the whole way through. They would be tears of joy.

 

Photo credit: Rishi Bandopadhay (The Water Pours Freely), licensed with Flickr Creative Commons (edits by Bronwyn Lea)