Think for a moment about how you might respond; would you respond with; “Nah, I’m good. I don’t need to know.” “It’s okay, just keep it to yourself.” Of course not! your ears perk up; you know you’re going to hear about something extraordinary--maybe you’re even the first to hear it. So you’re all ears. Nobody says something like this and follows it up with something boring, like:
“You’re not going to believe what I just saw. There was a guy at that picnic table over there? You know the one under the tree? And you know what he was doing? He was EATING A SANDWICH. Right there. I saw it with my own eyes!”
Nobody says something boring after that phrase. It’s more like; “You’re not going to believe what I just saw; there was a dog riding a skateboard.” Whatever it is, you know that a person who says “You’re not going to believe what I just saw” has a story to tell. They are a witness to something extraordinary.
A witness is made when something extraordinary happens, they see it, and they tell the story.
It is a heavy thing to bear witness;
A witness is one who testifies to their presence and attention in a particular moment in time when something extraordinary happens. A witness stands up in a moment of uncertainty and says; “I was there. I saw it. This is what happened.”
This is the kind of moment that met the first visitors to the tomb of Jesus on that early Easter morning so long ago. Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and some other women who were with them had come to the tomb to finish the customary burial rituals they had begun to prepare before the sabbath. While surely this was a sad and difficult moment for them, it would not have been out of the ordinary. This ritual happened every time someone died; it was simply what the women always did.
But when they arrived at the tomb, we are told, something very out-of-the-ordinary happened. They found the tomb empty, and the stone rolled away from the entrance. Then they were met by two men in dazzling clothes, who told them the body wasn’t there; that Jesus had risen, just as he said he would. And at this moment; something fundamentally changed; these women became witness-bearers. They now carried with them the weight of a story only they could tell; for only they had seen it.
And what is characteristic about Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ resurrection, is that the stories keep coming in rapid succession, like an action film. In Luke’s telling, we are led from one scene to another as the resurrection story gets out; after he hears the women’s account, Peter runs to the tomb to find it empty just as they had said. He goes home amazed. Then Luke tells us that on that same day two of those who had been with the women and heard the story were talking about it on the way to Emmaus, when they were met by a man who asked them what they were talking about. So they bore witness to this man, they told the story, and the man turned out to be Jesus himself!
They broke bread together, and then Jesus disappeared from their presence. So immediately, “that very hour” the text says, they got up and went to the rest of Jesus’ followers and told them what had just happened. I can just imagine them rushing into the room and blurting out; “You’re not going to believe what just happened.”
Then in the very moment that they were discussing this together, Jesus himself appeared to them. He showed them the scars on his hands and feet, ate some fish, and then gave them the greatest commission of all. He told them;
As I read chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel, I am struck by the way Jesus appears to these disciples, these dear and beloved friends of his. It’s like he is giving them opportunities to articulate for themselves the wonder of what is happening, as it is happening. First, the women; then the two men on the road to Emmaus; then the disciples who can’t help but chatter amongst themselves in wonder Jesus could have appeared to everyone all at once; but he doesn’t. It’s like Jesus is giving them a chance to practice the art of bearing witness for themselves; so that the story is not just Jesus’ story--it is their story too.
Luke’s gospel concludes by telling us that these newly commissioned witnesses…
Friends, the message Jesus gave to his disciples is the same one that he gives us today; “we are witnesses to these things.”
We have a great story to tell! A story of one who patiently walked alongside us, sharing in the dust and grime of ordinary life, lifting up those who had been ignored and left behind, healing and restoring, bringing new life into dead places and finally conquering death himself so that we might have eternal life. This is the story of Easter.
So what is your story?
Perhaps today is a day when you have found it hard to be joyful.
Challenge after challenge seem to come your way. You try to do all the right things and make good choices, and yet, you find yourself empty, like the men on the road to Emmaus who said; “But we had hoped he was the one.” We had hoped things would be different. Maybe you’re there today; confused that things have not turned out the way you expected. Allow Jesus to reveal himself to you in these moments of worship. Trust that the risen Lord is bringing new life to you.
Perhaps you have been through a recent devastating loss;
like the women rising on that first Easter morning you are going through the motions, doing what is expected, all the while carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders. May you find in the resurrection story the hope that reminds you that God brings life out of death in ways you might find hard to believe at first; but that are nonetheless real and true.
Maybe, like Peter you’ve heard the story and you’ve come to see for yourself. I hope that like Peter you might be surprised to find an empty tomb bereft of its prize; I pray you find in this blessed sanctuary a room crammed with joyful witnesses, an invitation to believe, and the courage to tell your very own resurrection story.
As we approach the table of the Lord on this Resurrection Day, hear this, beloved of God; Christ invites all to come to his table who love him, who earnestly repent of their sin and seek to live in peace with one another. In the United Methodist church we practice an open table; we do not put limits on whom God invites to God’s table. And so, all are welcome to come, be nourished, and be made new as we share in this outward sign of God’s inward redeeming grace. Do you love him? Do you seek forgiveness? Do you seek peace with your neighbor? Come and be fed.