An Unbroken Chain of Shared Ministry
Laura Nyro wrote a song in the mid-1960s titled “And When I Die.” Peter, Paul and Mary recorded it in 1966, and Nyro in 1967. It probably is best known in its third recording by the jazzy-rock group Blood, Sweat and Tears in 1968. While the song has no Christian theological foundation, it presents somewhat of a positive outlook on death as indicated in the chorus: “And when I die and when I’m dead, dead and gone, there’ll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on.” Those words can be transformed into an understanding of life, including Christian life.
As long as the second coming of Christ is delayed, births and deaths will occur. Many of those who die are Jesus people. Many of those who are born will become Jesus people. The church will continue, as well. The text for this Sunday after the Ascension of the Lord and the Sunday before the Day of Pentecost affirms this.
Sometime between the ascension and Pentecost, Peter made mention to the crowd of about 120 believers that Judas Iscariot, in accordance with Scripture, is “dead, dead and gone” and another needs to take his place as an apostle and be allotted “a share in this ministry” (v. 17). Matthias was chosen and became the first in an unbroken chain of shared ministry.
Christ taught a shared ministry. He shared life with a group of 12 men who were disciples and apostles, but He also shared life with men and women who were disciples only. He not only empowered 12 men, but as Luke 10 notes, 70 others—men and women—with whom He shared His ministry.
Perhaps we could say the 12 represent those who are professional clergy while the 70 represent all believers, thus affirming the priesthood of all Christians. Both are necessary for the church to continue in an unbroken chain of shared ministry.
Believers Eventually Die
Peter pointed out that Judas died. Judas sold out Jesus. Peter observed that “he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry” (v. 17). He was one of them. One could argue ceaselessly whether Judas was a true disciple. While that may be a valid point, it may not be the totality of Peter’s point. Someone had died, and a replacement was needed.
Think of the various parish pastors through the centuries and other faithful servants whose faith turned to sight. Recently, I thought about all my childhood Sunday School teachers. I called each by name and realized not one of them was living. All are resting from their labor on earth. There is a greater lesson in Peter’s observation. Eventually all believers will die. We’ll be dead, dead and gone. As Markus Zusak has Death saying in his novel The Book Thief, “No one lives forever."
It can be said of those before us, “They shared in an unbroken chain of ministry,” and I hope that will be said of us.
Others Are and Will Be Selected for Ministry
Using Psalm 109:8, Peter urged the believers to select one to replace Judas. The Spirit guided them, and two good men were proposed: Justus and Matthias. They select Matthias. Justus, by the way, continued to serve. The Holy Spirit was fine with either.
Someone will be there to replace you and me when we are dead and gone. A parish pastor retires and/or dies and will be replaced by another. Sunday School teachers, choir leaders, deacons and other servants will be selected for shared ministry. In theory, the chain could be broken; but after 2,000 years, it hasn’t been broken, and Christ is still sharing His ministry. He will continue to do so.
Give thanks for the heritage of an unbroken chain of shared ministry, which will continue. Thank God. When I’m dead, dead and gone, another believer will be born again, and a church will continue!