Acts 3:13-15, 17-19; 1John 2:1-5a; Luke 24:35-48
Today’s homily is intentionally brief because anything I say will just get in the way of the clear message of the gospel. All of today’s readings are a bit long, but we’re going to strip everything away because the final words in the gospel are the key and should stand alone. If you’ve ever wondered what it means to be a Christian, Jesus tells us today in a very clear way.
You are the witnesses of all these things.
These are the last words of substance that Luke records Jesus saying, so I think it’s fair to say that they are of profound importance. You are the witnesses of all these things.
I can’t get over the idea that Jesus is reaching through time and space with these words. It almost seems like he’s jumping through the page and pointing his finger at each of us as he speaks these words. You are the witnesses of all these things. Can you feel him tapping on your chest as the words are spoken?
Today’s gospel isn’t a historical record of events that happened once upon a time. It isn’t a quaint story of Jesus trying to reassure his disciples. Today is one of those thin places - not where God is somewhere out there far away, but where God somehow crosses boundaries to engage us in an intimate and time-stopping way. You are the witnesses of all these things. Those words should be a place of encounter for us. They should define us as Christians.
A witness is someone who sees what happened. They are a person who knows the truth. But it goes beyond that. Most importantly, a witness is someone who doesn’t just know the truth - it’s someone who is willing to testify to it. They are an advocate for truth. Someone who is willing to tell the world what happened, sometimes at great personal risk.
This, above all, is who we are as Christians. And in today’s gospel, Jesus reaches out to each of us to ask two simple questions. Do we believe what we’ve seen? And … are we willing to testify to it?
There is no wiggle room. Unless we are willing to tell the story, unless we are willing to share the truth that has been revealed to us - the story will die, and the world will be less because of our failure. To be witnesses is our great privilege and our great burden.
This is the reality of the gospel. We play a vital part in the creation of the kingdom. It is through us that the message spreads. This is, above all, who God calls us to be and is part of the ultimate mystery of the Easter story - taking our rightful place as witnesses to it. Are we willing? This is no easy task that Jesus asks of us.
Witness is a hard thing, and in the gospel people react differently. Mary Magdalene, who in my eyes was perhaps the greatest of apostles, was with Jesus every step of the way, and when she sees what happened at the tomb, she believes and she becomes the first witness of the completed Paschal story, proclaiming the message, “He is Risen!” to the world.
Peter, my namesake, not so much. He has to go back to the tomb to see for himself. And even then he still has trouble believing. He can’t get out of his own way. And yet, eventually he figures it out and becomes the witness Jesus needs him to be.
Other disciples needed to walk with him before they believed and became witnesses, like those on the road to Emmaus. Others needed to eat with him and touch him. Each story of encounter, believing and becoming witness is unique. Some straight lines, others knotted balls of string. Ours is no different.
Do we believe what we’ve heard and what we’ve seen? The truth of the Easter story? Do we believe in this God who loves us so much that he was willing to sacrifice himself to restore us to the fullness of life with him? If so, are we willing to make our lives a testament to that truth?
Heavy questions and hopefully food for thought. This is the challenge of today’s gospel. This week I ask all of us to take some time in prayer to consider what Jesus says in the gospel today. Heck, it may take even longer than just this week. But we need to keep at it because this call to become witnesses is fundamental to our Christian identity.
And as we discern our vocation as witnesses - as we figure out how God is calling us to be a witness to the Easter story, I leave you with the same blessing that Jesus offered that first Easter - Shalom aleichem, Peace be with you. Amen.