Go and Drench the World in God’s Love

April 16, 2023

The Lord is Risen! Hallelujah! The Lord is risen indeed.

Today is Easter Sunday for millions of Orthodox Christians around the world.
Orthodox Easter takes place between April 4 and May 8, following the first full moon after Passover. Orthodox Easter always falls after the celebration of Passover because the biblical accounts say the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

For Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and other western Christians, Easter is determined by the Gregorian calendar established in 1582 by edict of Pope Gregory XIII. Orthodox Christians use the Julian calendar which means we celebrate the same holidays on different days.

The last time western and eastern Easters were on the same day was in 2017, and the next time will be 2025.

As you might suspect, many people think it is a bad witness to the non-Christian world that Christians cannot agree on the day to celebrate the most important event in the Christian year.

When I was on the staff of the World Council of Churches there were occasional quixotic efforts to get both traditions to celebrate Easter on the same date every year. But I’m not going out on a limb to predict this will never happen. Orthodox Christians are convinced that their formula of placing Easter on the first full moon after Passover is the correct one. And who is to say they aren’t right?

So today, on Orthodox Easter, we read of Jesus’ great commission to all the church – and note the repetition of the word “all:”

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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” – all – “that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

There’s no room for misunderstanding these orders.

And yet here we are on an Easter Sunday that exposes the divisions that exist among all the disciples of all the nations.

Ain’t that a shame?
You broke my heart
When you said we’re apart
Ain’t that a shame?

Given that Jesus gave us all the same commission, it’s a shame we are all apart.
There’s not enough time to trace the history of the early church to see how we ended up this way.

But perhaps we should take a closer look at how all of us Christians lost track of Jesus’ real message in his great commission.

And perhaps the first question to ask, is, who and where are the nations we are seeking to make disciples?

In the very early years of the church, Saint Paul interpreted the Great Commission as a call make disciples of all outposts of the Roman Empire, including Rome itself.

Simeon Bachos the Eunuch, who was baptized by Saint Philip in Acts 8, is thought to have carried the message of the resurrected Lord to Ethiopia.

Saint Thomas, who we call “Doubter,” traveled to India and established churches. Today the Mar Thoma and Malankara Orthodox churches trace their origins to his missionary efforts.

All of these churches are different from one another because of cultural differences, but all of them and many more were faithful baptizers and teachers of Christ’s commandments.

But as the shadow of medievalism darkened across Europe, the idea of disciple-making took a sinister turn.

Alarmed by the presence of Islam in Jerusalem, Christian popes and monarchs sent eight murderous crusades to the Holy Land between 1096 and 1291. Thousands of Muslims were slaughtered in the name of Christ.

In 1597, Martin Luther’s Ninety-five theses led to badly needed reforms in the church. But they also led to violent divisions between Catholics and Protestants that erupted into holy wars. For decades, Catholics burned Protestants at the stake, and Protestants burned Catholics. It was a far cry from creating disciples who would follow Christ’s commandments.

In the late fifteenth century, when Europeans discovered other lands across the sea, the scramble to accumulate fruitful real estate began. To simplify matters for European Christian sailors who found themselves in strange lands, the Doctrine of Discovery had been proclaimed by Pope Nicholas V in 1452.

The doctrine allowed sovereigns to claim territories that were uninhabited by Christians. The doctrine proclaimed that indigenous peoples in the Americas were not human so any land conquered by Europeans was considered uninhabited.

When Columbus arrived in 1492, it is estimated that the Americas were inhabited by 100 million people, about one-fifth of all humans on the planet. (www.ictinc.ca) These human beings were slaughtered, conscripted into slavery, exposed to fatal European diseases, and forced to witness the purging of their ancient cultures.

A mere eighteen days ago, on March 30, 2023, the Vatican press office announced “in no uncertain terms” the repudiation of the doctrine of discovery.

But of course the damage had been done. And you and I no doubt know individuals who continue to be affected by the fall-out of the doctrine.

I have a friend, a professor of theology at Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Chicago, who is a member of the Kiowa nation in Oklahoma. Tom is also a drummer in his own band, and he handles those sticks with rhythm and an energy that makes your heart pump faster.

“It’s kind of a revenge,” Tom once told me. “The missionaries who came to us thought drums were of the devil and they took them away from us.”

Missionaries also discouraged their charges from holding on to their customs, speaking their languages, and expressing their beliefs in a God the missionaries didn’t recognize.

Too often, it seems, we have responded to the Great Commission by going forth to teach peoples we think of as “other” – people who we think are different from us. Years ago, Martha and I were stunned at a commissioning ceremony at a local Baptist church to send a young man into the mission field. The field? Ireland. He was being sent to convert Christians to

For years the foreign mission arm of the United Methodist Church sent missionaries to Russia, no doubt with the aim of bringing Jesus to godless communists. But these good intentions raised the ire of Christians who remained active, namely the Russian Orthodox Church. Life in the Soviet Union was difficult enough, the Patriarch said, without Christians sending missionaries to convert Christians to Christianity.

“Go therefore 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 that I have commanded you.”

What is the essence of Jesus’ message to us?

It is this:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33-36)

The Great Commission of Jesus is to go throughout the world to proclaim the message that God’s love is for all people.

And let the Holy Spirit take it from there.

In the late 1990’s, I received a powerful lesson on what trust in the Holy Spirit can do.

The World Council of Churches organized in San José, Costa Rica, a gathering of Orthodox Christians and Latin American Pentecostal Christians. The theological and cultural differences between these groups could not be more vast, but Orthodox and Pentecostal Christians place great reliance on the Holy Spirit. The gathering was called to explore their similarities.
Somewhat to my surprise, Nicaraguan Pentecostals said they do not re-baptize the Roman Catholics they have converted.

“We know the Holy Spirit was present during their Catholic baptism,” they explained, “and we respect the Holy Spirit.”

But more than that.

The Pentecostals said they also reject the notion that their non-Christian neighbors, as well as their indigenous ancestors going back thousands of years, are irredeemably lost souls because they never accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.

“God’s love is for all God’s creation,” the Pentecostal pastor said. “God was present in the lives of our pagan ancestors, and the Holy Spirit dwelled within them. Their religious practices were different, but the Holy Spirit led them to an understanding that a great and loving power presides over the world.”

Today we have the full story of Who that power is, and the love the Father has for God’s creation.

God’s love is the message we are commissioned to spread throughout the world.

And the Holy Spirit will bring that love to fruition in God’s own time.

About Philip E Jenks

Philip, a synodical deacon in the ELCA Metropolitan New York synod, is a retired communicator for American Baptist Churches USA, the U.S. Conference for the World Council of Churches, the U.S. National Council of Churches, and two Philadelphia area daily newspapers. He and his spouse, the Rev. Dr. Martha M. Cruz, are the parents of six adults and are members of St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rye Brook, N.Y. They live in Port Chester, N.Y.
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2 Responses to Go and Drench the World in God’s Love

  1. anfearfaire says:

    Let us set the record straight. Jesus was slain on Passover. He celebrated the Passover Seder with his disciples and then was crucified the same day. It is imperative that the Crucifixion ought to be celebrated on the same dates that our Jewish brethren observe Passover, on the 15th of Nisan according to the Hebrew calendar.
    God ordained seven Feast to be observed by his people.
    1. Passover
    2. Unleavened Bread
    3. First Fruits
    4. Shavuot
    5. Rosh Hashana/Trumpets
    6. Yom Kippur
    These Feasts were prophetic, some being fulfilled during Jesus’ earthly ministry and the rest yet to be fulfilled in the Second Coming of Christ.
    It is unfortunate that Christianity, once it became “Romanized,” saw fit to discard and distance itself from the rich Jewish foundation on which it was built. Most Christian doctrine of today does much to place barriers for our Jewish friends from believing that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah.
    We observe Sunday as the Lord’s Day instead of Friday evening to Saturday sunset as the Sabbath.
    The church has replaced the Jewish “Holy Days” with its own “Holidays” rooted in Paganism.
    1. December 25 Sol Invictus (Christmas)
    2. 1st full moon after vernal equinox Eostre (Easter). the church has even kept
    the name of this pagan celebration.
    Rather than observing the word of Our Lord to preach the Gospel to all corners of the world, the church took on the belligerent nature of its pagan Roman heritage to conquer, maim, rape, and kill “infidels” in far-away lands. They plundered the gold, silver, and riches of the indigenous peoples, taking away their lands…all in the name of nice sounding words of spreading “christianity,” “freedom,” and civilizing these sub-human brute savages.
    Let me remind you, Mr. Jenks, that going to Elementary School on King St. in the 1950’s, a stone’s throw from St. Paul’s Church, we were taught a version of the Doctrine of Discovery…it was called “Manifest Destiny.”

    Jesus rightly stated in Mark 7:8-9 You have disregarded the commandment of God to keep the tradition of men. He went on to say, “You neatly set aside the command of God to maintain your own tradition.

    Mr. Jenks, if there is to be any real “ecumenism” among the Christian Church denominations of today, each must divest itself of traditions, doctrines, and beliefs not rooted in Scripture.

    La voz de la razón

  2. anfearfaire says:

    The Seventh Feast ordained by God in the Torah is Sukkot.
    It was inadvertently omitted in my reply above.

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