Text: Luke 24:36-49
Can I have a witness? No, I’m not going to break into the Marvin Gaye song, but I want to ask you a couple questions before we read this morning’s resurrection story. Since we have several legal types in our congregation, I think this will be a fun conversation. What is a witness? What is a witness supposed to know? Have you ever been a witness to an event that you just had to share? What’s the problem with witnesses?
One of the definitions I like for witness is “A witness is someone who has, who claims to have, or is thought, by someone with authority to compel testimony, to have knowledge relevant to an event or other matter of interest.” That sums things up pretty good, I think. Now, keep that definition in the back of your mind as we read this morning’s text. This text comes right on the heels of the road to Emmaus story, when Cleopas and his companion have rushed back to Jerusalem to share their encounter with the risen Lord, an encounter that took place over the breaking of the bread. Hear these words of our Lord…
The disciples were gathered in fear and confusion the evening we find them. That is understandable, their leader was dead and his body was missing. But reports were swirling that people had seen him. The women at the tomb claimed they spoke with an angel that said Jesus had been raised from the dead! He had been in the home of two of their own in Emmaus. What did all this mean? In the midst of this chaos and confusion, out of nowhere, Jesus himself appeared! “Peace be with you!” Followed by, “Now, don’t freak! Let’s eat!” It was the same Jesus that they knew and had followed, but he was different. He seemed normal, natural, the way they had come to know him from before.
But his appearance was anything but normal or expected. Jesus had been laid in the tomb, dead. Earthly powers seemed to have triumphed over him and his message. The religious leaders had charged him with blasphemy and won. The Roman governor ordered him to the cross and the soldiers had treated him as a common criminal. Even God seemed silent that day. Where were the angels or the surprise witness coming in at the last moment to change the verdict? Per the powers that be, Jesus got what he deserved, end of story.
But it wasn’t the end of the story. God did have something to say to the religious leaders, the Roman Empire, and even sin and death. None of them will have the final word in this story. Truth be told, the story wasn’t even about them. It was and is about God and will always be about God and God’s love for humanity and creation. As Barbara Essex says it, “The ugliness of crucifixion gave way to the power of resurrection.”
When he was back with his disciples, Jesus didn’t go into the facts of the resurrection nor did he provide the play-by-play of his whereabouts those three days. But what he did go into brought his entire ministry full circle. Since the beginning of Luke, we learn that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s plan for all of creation. And from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus taught about God’s plan for creation and commissioned his followers to live into that plan. Jesus’ whole life, death, and resurrection were about what God is doing in the world. And Jesus points this out in scripture. From the beginning, through the prophets and the Psalms, God’s history has always been about God and God’s purposes, aim, and agenda for creation. God is reconciling people and creation to himself and each other so forgiveness and wholeness can be experienced. And in Christ, God’s reconciling act has been fulfilled and continues to be fulfilled with those who witness him.
Jesus opens the scriptures for the disciples, to teach them to put their fears and doubts in the context of what God is doing. And then he commissions them as witnesses of all that God is doing in the world. They are now ready to be credible, reliable witnesses in Jerusalem and the world because of what they know and what they have seen. They have a pretty good authority who sends them and compels them to testify on behalf of God’s love for the world: The Risen Lord! They can point to God’s love by pointing to the one God raised from the dead. They can be witnesses to God’s reconciliation in the world by witnessing to the one who triumphed over the tomb. God’s work begins and continues in the resurrection.
Friends, when we witness the Risen Lord, when we have an encounter with him, he calls us to be a witness with and for him to the world. But to be a witness, you have to know what you are witnessing, you have to see what is going on around you! There was an experiment done where people was asked to be involved in an experiment. But the actual research was happening before anyone realized they were involved. People who said yes to being part of this experiment entered a room, went to a desk, and were given a release form to sign by a man standing behind the desk. This man explained what to do, took the signed release form and bent over to file it, out of sight for just a second. But the man who stood back up was a totally different person, an obviously different man. He had a different hair cut, different colored shirt, different height. When asked about what they did and saw when they entered the room, over 75% of the people involved never realized the man at the desk changed. They were too caught up in their own stuff to even notice the person in front of them.
When we are caught up in our own stuff, we won’t notice the Risen Lord in front of us. Jesus wants us to take our own fears and doubts and put them in the context of what God is doing. He doesn’t say to forget about them, but he wants you to realize that something bigger is going on, that God is at work, that God is redeeming, healing and reconciling. That’s when we will recognize the Risen Lord in our midst. When we open scripture, we will witness him and his reconciling love. When we gather as a community of faith, we will see him and experience his saving grace. When a hand is stretched out to stranger in need, we will see Christ in their eyes. Because wherever inhumanity and hopelessness exists, Jesus shows up to offer comfort, assurance, and reconciliation. And it is there that the Risen Lord invites us to be his witnesses in our actions as well as our words to all that is about God and God’s intention for peace, love, compassion, justice and mercy to a world that is broken and sinful.
Friends, where is it in our community that needs the presence of the risen Christ? What is our response as a church to Christ’s presence with us? What is our response to God’s reconciling work in the world? No matter how we answer those questions, Christ commissions us. By his authority, he sends us out as his witnesses to declare the presence and power of God in the midst of tragedy and death. And tragedy and death have not triumphed over God. God aims to redeem creation and us in light of the resurrection, and it is in Christ that we become part of God’s plan of redemption.
“Can I have a witness?” Christ says yes; and here we are.