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"I am with you always" (Mt 28: 20)

Pope Shenouda III | 15 May 2011

He promised His disciples to be with them always, even to the end of the age, and He fulfilled His promise. He presented Himself alive for forty days after His resurrection, speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1: 3). He gave them peace and joy as He had promised (Jn 16: 22; 20: 20) and comforted them after the crucifixion they witnessed.

He appeared to them and removed away all the doubts they had.
   To Thomas who said, "Unless I see … and put my finger into the print of the nails, and … into His side, I will not believe" (Jn 20: 25), He condescended to fulfill his desire and remove away his doubts.
 
   The Lord appeared to him and made him put his hand into the place of the nails and into His side, saying, "Do not be unbelieving, but believing." (Jn 20: 27, 28).
 
   The Lord did the same to the other disciples, who could not believe that the body could arise, so when He appeared to them they supposed they had seen a spirit! He said to them, "Why are you troubled? And why do doubts arise in your hearts? Behold My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself. Handle Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see I have." (Lk 24: 37- 39, 43) He even ate in their presence to assure them of His resurrection.
 
   He appeared to Mary Magdalene, who said thrice, "They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him." (Jn 20: 2, 13, 15) She knew Him only when He called her by her name (Jn 20: 16).
   It was necessary that His disciples have the faith and trust of His resurrection before going to preach about it. He furthermore sent them and gave them priesthood. He came in their midst when they were assembled in the upper room with the doors shut, and said to them, "Peace be with you … Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you." He breathed on them, and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (Jn 20: 19- 23) That was a confirmation of what He had said to them before, "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Mt 18: 18)
 
   In those forty days, He provided them with all necessary teaching, and opened their understanding to comprehend the Scriptures.
   He said, "All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me." "Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day." (Lk 24: 44- 46) Again, to the disciples of Emmaus, He began at Moses and all the Prophets, and expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself (Lk 24: 27). He was speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God (Acts 1: 3), and He delivered to them all dogmas, rituals, and symbols. Not only in those days was He with them, but "Always" (Mt 28: 20). He also added to them another apostle who became a great power in the church afterwards, St. Paul, to whom He appeared on the way to Damascus and blamed for persecuting the church. He called him to be an apostle, a chosen vessel to bear His name before Gentiles and kings, showing him how many things he must suffer for His name’s sake, sent him to Ananias who baptized him and gave him the Holy Spirit (Acts 9: 3- 18). 
 
   The Lord gave His disciples the power to work miracles. 
   Peter healed the man who was lame from his mother's womb, who was asking alms at the temple's gate called Beautiful (Acts 3: 2- 8), and through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done. Many of the sick were healed when the shadow of Peter passing by fell on them (Acts 5: 12- 16), and by the handkerchiefs and aprons of Paul God worked unusual miracles and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out (Acts 19: 11, 12).
 
   The Lord fulfilled His promise and sent them the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.
   The Holy Spirit descended upon them as tongues of fire, giving them fervency and gift of speaking in tongues for ministry among the nations. The work of the Holy Spirit continued in them and through them.
 
   The Lord guided them where and how to minister.
   He said to hem, "You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." "Preach the gospel to every creature." "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." (Mk 16: 15; Acts 1: 8; Mt 28: 19, 20) 
 
   The apostles obeyed and went out preaching everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs (Mk 16: 20).
 
   In Corinth the Lord spoke to St. Paul in the night by a vision, saying, "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city." St. Paul continued there teaching the word among them for a year and six months (Acts 18: 9- 11). In Jerusalem, the Lord sent him to the Gentiles, and another time to bear witness to Him at Rome (Acts 22: 17, 21; 23: 11).
 
   The Lord guided them where to go, and strengthened them with His grace.
   St. Paul therefore said, "Last of all He was seen by me … one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles … But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain … the grace of God which was with me." "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." (1 Cor 15: 8- 10; Phil 4: 13; Gal 2: 20)
 
   The Lord was with them, and rather more within them.
   The Lord said to the Father, not only about the apostles, but also about all believers, "I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them." (Jn 17: 26) St. Paul therefore said, "… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." (Eph 2: 17)
 
   The Lord Christ promised to be in our midst with us whenever we gather together anywhere in His name (Mt 18: 20).
   He is in our midst all the time, in the church, in the Sacraments, as we say in the Eucharist, [Behold He is in our midst on this table, Emmanuel our God.] The Lord kept the same promise in His messages to the angels of the seven churches in Asia. He kept guiding them, visiting them, and warning them. To one He said, "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent." To another, "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer … Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." To a third, "I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam … you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." (Rev 2: 14, 15) To the fourth, "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead … hold fast and repent … He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." (Rev 2: 4- 15; 3: 1- 6)
 
   The Lord is present with the believers in and after their departure.
   He appeared to St. Stephen in a vision at his martyrdom. so St. Stephen said, "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" As they stoned him he called on the Lord to receive his spirit (Acts 7: 56, 59). The Lord was with the thief on His right, and promised him to be with him in Paradise that same day (Lk 23: 43). He promised His holy apostles, "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (Jn 14: 3) He will be with us in heavenly Jerusalem, "the tabernacle of God with men" (Rev 21: 2, 3).
 
   His words "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" are addressed to every soul in all generations.    
   He appeared to St. Bishoy who washed His feet, and to St. Paul of Tammoh, He said, 'Enough for you this labor, My beloved Paul'. He appeared to St. Peter the Patriarch and Seal of Martyrs warning him against Arius the heretic, and the Patriarch conveyed this vision to his two disciples Archedos and Alexandros who succeeded him to St. Mark See. 
 
   We need therefore to be aware of His presence, and be with Him.
   The disciples of Emmaus were not aware of His presence, but when their eyes at last opened and they knew Him, they said to one another, "Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?" (Lk 24: 31, 33)
 
   He appeared to Mary Magdalene, who likewise did not know him at the beginning and thought him the gardener. She only knew Him when He called her by her name (Jn 20: 14- 16).
 
   He may be with us but we are not with Him, as St. Augustine said in his Confessions: 
   [You were with me, O Lord, but for my great misery I was not with You!]
   Let us be with Him always as He is with us. Let us put before us the words of St. Paul the Apostle, "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (Heb 3: 7, 8, 15).
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