Rev. Nick Reed
"You Are Witnesses"
In all the joy of Easter it might be easy to forget the fear, the doubt, and the grief the disciples were feeling before the moment arrives in today’s gospel reading when a resurrected Jesus appears before them. Almost a week earlier it seemed they were living their normal life, joyfully following in the footsteps of Jesus. Now grief consumes them because Jesus, the one who brought them purpose and joy, was gone.
But his death meant more than grief for those who loved him, it also meant fear. Fear that the same broken and sinful nature of the world would do the same thing to them. Fear they would be arrested and killed. When we read this, knowing the ending, we might forget the significance of the fear they were feeling in the moment.
Then there is the doubt in what this all means. The common theme of all of chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke is the followers of Christ struggling with believing in a resurrected Jesus, and struggling with all that is happening around them. From the moment the women find the stone rolled away from the tomb it might all seem black and white to us because we know the whole story, but in that moment it is all very grey for everyone. There is almost a sense the 11 eleven disciples want to believe what Mary and the other women tell them, but they seem to want to see it for themselves to truly believe it. They want everything clearly explained to them so they can believe it themselves. You can’t blame them. I imagine we have had similar moments when we wanted to clear answers to the questions of our faith. Clear answers to how we navigate our grief; we want clear answers to how we navigate our fears; clear answers from God when we are dealing with life’s most difficult moments.
Today’s text is not about shaming those who doubt, or brushing aside your grief, or proclaiming to you not to have any fears. The good news that is being proclaimed in today’s text is that God’s love for us through Christ will always meet us right where we are, especially in those moments and times in our life when we are overwhelmed with doubt, fear, and grief.
The empty tomb is the significant event we celebrate and proclaim on Easter Sunday. It is the stories after this significant event, like this one, that help us believe and understand what it all means.
As Christ appears to his disciples who are consumed with fear, grief, and doubt, he reveals to them what his resurrection means for them and for the world. His first words offer comfort for their fears, doubts, and grief, “Peace be with you.” Then knowing they are still confused and thinking they are seeing a ghost he shows them his hands and feet. The same hands that healed people, the same feet that they faithfully followed throughout his ministry. The same hands and feet that were nailed to the cross. This was a holy moment that validated to the world what the empty tomb means, God’s love will endure all things. Jesus resurrected and standing before them proclaims that God’s love will endure all pain, suffering, and death.
This moment in today’s text is a source of hope, and it also an amazing source of comfort in our vulnerable and uncertain moments of life and faith. Our faith journey can be difficult some times. It can be comforting to read this story and hear that even in this extraordinary holy moment the disciples still are not sure what to think of it all. It is verse 41 that might describe how we feel as Easter people who believe the good news even in the midst of difficult times in our life, “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” Our hearts may be filled with joy of the good news of God’s love for us Christ, our hearts may be filled with joy because of the Good News that we proclaim on Easter, that He is risen, but we still might have lots of questions about our fears, our grief, and our faith.
Jesus’ response to the disciples as they attempt to navigate joy in the midst of disbelieving and wondering is an extraordinary moment of comfort for the faithful. Instead of ridiculing their disbelief and wondering he simply asks, “have you anything here to eat?” Some might argue he did this to ease their minds that he was not a ghost, but we can find comfort in this response because Jesus is reminding them once again that he will always be present in their everyday things of life. By Jesus sharing a meal with them one more time, it offers the disciples a powerful reminder that God’s transforming nature will be revealed to them in life’s extraordinary moments and in life’s ordinary moments.
The disciples are witnessing a holy moment that is revealing to them God’s plan for the world through Christ. Not only is the tomb empty, but Jesus is in their presence standing before them and eating with them. Pain, suffering, and death can not contain the depth and power of God’s love. Jesus is risen! God’s love reigns forever!
What makes this holy moment so special is it is a gift for their journey ahead. This holy moment is a gift to remind them that they will always be able to place their grief, their fears, and their doubt in the hope and assurance of God’s plan to love the world through Christ. This holy moment is a gift for us Easter people to give us hope that God’s love endures all things.
Then Jesus gives the faithful a charge and calling, “You are witnesses of these things.” This is an important reminder for Christ’s faithful. From now on they are called to keep their eyes and ears open to God’s grand plan. If the past, present, and future is all about God, then we will continually experience the transforming nature of God’s love in our own holy moments. These holy moments will be our source of hope and joy and remind us that we can place our fears, doubts, and grief in the midst of God’s plan to love the world through Christ.
Sometimes we realize it after the fact that a holy moment has happened. Maybe we were distracted or overwhelmed at the time to realize the holy moment of God’s transforming love. Sometimes it is obvious we are witnessing a holy moment in what we are seeing and hearing.
We witness the holy transforming nature of God in our experiences in our daily living, but of course it seems we experience most in worship, prayer, and fellowship with one another. These holy moments shape us and shape our faith. They point us to hope and they point us to love.
One the ways the church witnesses holy moments that shape us and shape our faith is witnessing together the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is holy moment that reminds us what God’s love through Christ means for us. Baptism is an outward sign of everything that is being proclaimed in today’s text, in life and in death we belong to God. When we are baptized, we are made one with Christ, with one another, and with the church in every time and place.
Baptism is also a wonderful reminder of our calling to be witnesses to all that we have seen and heard in regards to God’s love for us through Christ. During the sacrament of baptism we remember our commitment to be witnesses of God’s transforming love in the world. As a church we are asked during the sacrament of baptism if we “promise to guide and nurture the one being baptized by our words and deeds, with our love and with our prayers, and we promise to encourage them to know and follow Christ”.
This is a significant promise we make towards one another. It is a promise to be a witness of the Gospel for each other. I found the words of Dr. Tom Long, retired preaching professor at Chandler School of Theology, as a helpful reminder for the significance of our promise to each other to be witnesses for each other of God’s transforming love in the world, especially as we navigate the difficult and uncertain moments of life.
He writes, “The church has no weapons, no credentials, no powerful allies, no fancy remedies or quick fixes; it has to offer only what it has seen and heard in Jesus. However, that of course is what the world most needs: honest, courageous disciples who will get on the witness stand and tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
In a world full of fear, brokenness, and doubt we have a calling to keep sharing with each other the ways we have seen and heard God’s transforming love through Christ. We have a calling and responsibility to be witnesses of hope for each other.
So today may we remember of our promises to each other to be a witness of the truth of God’s love through Christ. Today may we remember our promises to each other to point out those holy moments to one another that reveal God’s transforming love. Today may we remember our promises to each other that in the midst our fears, our grief, and our doubt that we will faithfully point each other towards the hope we have in Christ.
“You are witnesses of these things.” May we remember are calling to be witnesses to the hope of the good news that through Christ, God’s love endures forever. Amen