“Almighty God and Father….in mercy cleanse our hearts and lips, that, free from all doubt and fear, we may ever worship you, one true immortal God, with your Son and the Holy Spirit.” So we will pray in the Prayer of the Day for Trinity Sunday.
And we do well to pray that every day! It’s a sad reality that such a prayer will need to be part of our lives until the day we die. Doubts and fears rush from our natural hearts like bats from a cave!
Evidence of that troubling reality is starkly on display in Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20). “When they [the Eleven] saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). The end of that sentence seems to be out of place surrounded by another glorious appearance of the resurrected Jesus.
But don’t be surprised. Even after Easter Jesus’ first disciples seemed to be an endless fountain of doubts and fears. We see it on a journey on the road to Emmaus, here on a mountain in Galilee, and shortly afterwards on the mount of Ascension (where they ask that curious and confused question about restoring the kingdom to Israel).
But don’t be surprised. I’ve been a child of God for 57 years, yet spiritually childish doubts and fears rise in my heart that you would think I’d put away long ago with my teddy bears. For three decades I’ve had the privilege of preaching the crucified and risen Savior, yet I am capable of returning to the same old doubts as if Good Friday and Easter had never happened – as if that risen Son had not ascended to rule all things from his position of power and authority at the Father’s right hand – as if the Spirit had not been poured out on Pentecost (as if he had not been poured out on me ever since my baptism)!
And so sadly, when all there should be is worship of heart and lip of a gloriously risen Savior, doubts and fears are still present!
Don’t be surprised by that.
But do be surprised by this: Jesus doesn’t wait for our doubts to cease before he presses us into duty in his kingdom. (He would be waiting a long time!)
What does he do instead? He answers our fearful doubts with his gracious reality. What truly is there to be afraid of? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” What is he telling us? “My dear brothers, of what is there need to be afraid? Everything is under my rule and command. Yes, everything! I even hold the keys of death and hell!”
Then, having drawn our heart’s attention from our doubts to his absolute ruling authority, he adds: “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.” What is he saying to us here? “My brothers, that same saving gracious power that is at work to calm your fears and quiet your doubts is going to be at work on hearts just like yours as you baptize and teach – and commune and preach – and absolve and beseech. By all that I who calm your doubts and fears will be simultaneously calming through you the doubts and fears of people all around you.”
And since even then doubts and fears rather than worship of heart and lip will want to rise again, what else would he have us remember? “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” What’s our dear Lord saying to us here? “I hate to tell you this, but the temptations to doubt and fear are not going away this side of heaven. But fortunately for you, neither am I! I will be there all the days, until your doubts and fears disappear forever in me as this present age ends!”
So where does that leave us? Each day, we confess doubts and fears for the wickedness they are. Each day in the water of our baptism we who are marked as his own by his Triune name drown that unbelieving heart anew and rise to live washed from such guilt. The doubts you confess do not drive him away. It is, in fact, to conquer just such doubts and fears that he took you as his own and promises to be with you until the end so as to fill your hearts and lips with the worship of his saving name.
And so, this Sunday, in confidence in your baptismal grace – and theirs – you will wisely lead God’s people to pray these words: “Almighty God and Father….in mercy cleanse our hearts and lips, that, free from all doubt and fear, we may ever worship you, one true immortal God, with your Son and the Holy Spirit.”
And by that, you will thank God yet again for this: your doubts do not drive your Savior away!