The Great Sending
by William A. Decker, editor (September / October 2004 • Volume 20 • Number 5)
As the Father has sent me, so I send you. (John 20:21)
The disciples have locked the doors. They are afraid. The cruel crucifixion has shaken their hearts, minds, and imaginations. They are wondering if any reprisals against the followers of the crucified Jesus will occur. Their memories are burdened with guilt due to their less-than-glorious reaction to the arrest of Jesus.
On top of this, Simon Peter and the disciple Jesus loved both report that Jesus’ tomb is empty. But Mary Magdalene’s report goes beyond human comprehension. She said that she had seen, heard, and spoken with Jesus. Only he could speak her name with authenticity — “Mary.” This is the Good Shepherd who knows his own and whose own know him.
If only Mary’s words could be true — I hear the disciples wondering. What we would give to once again hear the words of life from the one who knows us and speaks our names.
But the barriers of fear and guilt and failure could not — would not — keep Jesus from them. He appears, shows them evidence of his marked, crucified body, and greets them with common words of peace. It’s just what shaken hearts and minds need to hear and see.
But peace is not the only reality that he promises them.
Jesus has a job for them — and us — to do. Incredibly, Jesus wants us to mirror the Father’s sending of the incarnate Son of God into the world. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. The Word made flesh, the incarnation of God into our human story, must “leave” (20:17) but the reality of God’s incarnation will continue. This time it will be through us — God’s renewed “sent ones” and God’s renewed church.
We are not left on our own though. Jesus promises us a source of energy which surpasses all of earth’s energy resources and will never be depleted. It’s the Holy Spirit, the very breath of the eternal God. Through the Spirit, we will speak a message of God’s forgiveness of all sins for all (20:23).We will tell of a God who sent Jesus to save and not condemn the world and of a kind of life which begins now but never ends to all who believe in him (3:16-17).
Perhaps we could call John 20:21 the “Great Sending” — just as Matthew has the “Great Commission.” Sending and commissioning lie behind three of the major features in this issue of Partners — our global and domestic mission issue. Tom Lyberg asks how one can work toward structuring the local congregation so it can better serve the gospel in “Transforming for Mission: Guiding Congregations into the 21st Century.” Don Brandt underscores one strategy for congregational renewal in “Growth or Decline in a Congregation: The Single Greatest Key.” Respondent Robin McCullough-Bade points us to an essential relational key of any strategy for discipleship — that of prayer.
In addition to our articles on mission, two professors, Susan Wilds McArver and Peter T. Nash, critique a new volume on the Lutheran experience in the United States — Lutherans Today: American Lutheran Identity in the 21st Century, edited by Richard Cimino (William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 2003). The book combines insights from 15 authors who reflect on many facets of the work of Lutheran churches in this country.
Finally, our columnists tackle subjects on weddings for nonmembers (Loci),what a survey on teachers working in Lutheran early-childhood centers reveals (Facets), and a science faith reflection on the rising cost of oil (Handiwork). Of course, book and video reviews and letters to the editor abound.
William A. Decker is editor of Lutheran Partners magazine, Chicago, Illinois.