In Luke 24, Jesus appears alive to the disciples, showing them the wounds from his crucifixion and even eating fish to show that his body remains a physical entity. After reminding the disciples that the Messiah's life, death, and resurrection were foretold by the Hebrew Bible, Jesus says, quite simply, "you are witnesses of these things."
You are witnesses to these things as well. Yes, you. You’re witnesses, we’re witnesses. Witnesses of Jesus’ life, his death, and his resurrection. Witnesses of his miracles, his friendships, his teachings, and his forgiveness. We are witnesses to the holes in his hands and feet, witnesses to his resurrected body – so physical that he’s hungry for fish – and witnesses to presence with us still.
Unfortunately, the role of witnesses seems degraded in our culture. Nobody wants to be seen as a rat, especially in mobster movies or on the school playground. Witnesses are seen as tattle tales rather than truth tellers. Rather than come forward with a testimony, witnesses often must be subpoenaed in order to appear. If the question is, “Can I get a witness?” often the answer is simply, “No,” if anyone answers at all.
We need to reconsider the value of witnesses in our society, especially since Jesus tells us that we are witnesses, that central to our identity is the role of a witness. Isn’t there something good about being a witness? I mean, Jesus called us witnesses, so there must be some value to it. So what can we say about being a witness?
Witnesses always have a story to tell, and one of direct experience. They’ve lived an event and so have a testimony to share. No, really, that fish was THIS BIG. I was there when the USA Hockey Team beat the Russians. Jesus, who was once dead, is now alive. Of course, our story, the story of Jesus, carries ramifications far beyond the size of fish or Olympic hockey. When we share the story that we’ve witnessed, we invite people into a new life, into Jesus’ resurrected life, to live beyond the rule of death. We tell this from our own experience, from our own life lived as the Body of Christ. And so we are witnesses to these things, to this story.
Another interesting thing is that witnesses aren’t the primary actors within the stories they’re telling, but they’re necessary to the story. Think about Francis Scott Key, who wrote the Star Spangled Banner during the war of 1812. He wasn’t a part of the Battle for Boston or the defense of Fort McHenry, the events which led to the production of our national anthem, but he’s an essential witness to that piece of history. Without Key’s firsthand experience, we would not only lack the iconic musical symbol of America, but his unique historical perspective on that momentous event. As a witness, Key wasn’t the primary actor in the Battle for Boston, but he was absolutely necessary to that story, that the story might carry on and impact those who didn’t see it firsthand. It became his story, and as a witness, a story he must share.
Yet, our witness as Christians is not just about a single event in history a few hundred years ago, but about the fullness of God acting in the past and in the present. We are witness that Christ rose from the dead two thousand years ago precisely because we meet Jesus alive in the world today. In our sisters and brothers in this room, in the NRV, and across the world, we find the image of God alive and well. As the Holy Spirit brings new life within those bodies, we meet Jesus even in ourselves. We see that sin and death no longer rule us but instead, along with the resurrected Jesus, we live a resurrected life. Jesus’ story becomes our story, a story we must share. And so we are witnesses to these things, to this story, to your story.
Perhaps most importantly, witnesses are called upon to tell the truth. Witnesses aren't fiction writers. We’re not called to embellish. There are no innocent lies for witnesses. We are called to be witnesses to the truth above all else. And we are witnesses to these things, to this story, to your story, to God’s truth.
The difficulty of this, of course, is trusting that truth. As those who meet the resurrected Jesus in sacraments and in other people, the images of God around us, we don't see Jesus in the same way that the first apostles did. Yet, that makes Jesus no less real to us. Rather, Jesus comes to us continually bringing new life out of our death, continually inspiring hope out of despair. As witnesses, we have our stories to tell. We can (and should) point others to the Scriptural stories, the witnesses of Christ's disciples. But we also have very real stories to tell of God's truth, of God's activity in the world today.
So yes, you are witnesses. We all are. Let's share the story we've lived, so that we may share the grace by which we live.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.