This morning the theme to our message was Resurrection Witness. I decided to go with it because I wasn’t willing to take the time to figure out the point of my message in time for the bulletin to go to print. I also was never very good at figuring out themes. I used to point my students at common themes like: survival of the fittest, overcoming adversities and other cliché sorts of things. I can’t even think of good examples now. I really thought my message was boring and over used and same old same old this morning. Then as Toni and Darlene were leaving they said they had been feeling that same blah that I mentioned in the “announcements” part of the service. They noted that the theme this morning was peace.
In the gospel scripture Jesus greets the disciples with the words of Peace being with them. He was not referring to world peace and end of all wars peace, but instead he was looking at the peace you get when you accept the world around you and resolve to do the best you can with what you have. Thanks to those two women, I get the story for today. I finally understand what the message was all about. It is about allowing yourself the peace to do what you need to do and be who you are. I think there is a Hall and Oats song that has that phrase, Be who you are. “Do what you wanna do girl, and be who you are…” I like that theme.
Below is the message or at least the printed version of the message of today. The scriptures used were: Acts 5:27-32, Revelation 1:4-8 and John 20:19-31. The title was, “Resurrection Witness.” The songs were: “Power in the Blood,” “Because He Lives” and “Jesus is Coming Again.” I think they were what tied it all together.
The theme of our message today is Resurrection witness. Note the noun, witness, is in the singular form instead of the plural. This message is not for us as a whole, though in some form it might be. Today’s title is really for us individually, for us alone, in private with our God. The adjective in the phrase is resurrection. For many of us that word is really just a form of the verb, resurrect. It should be listed as an action. It is something that Jesus did. For all points and purposes, it is just one more thing in our study of Lent of all the things that Jesus did. He did something that no one else has even been able to do and that is come back from the dead on their own.
Really that might sound so simple, or maybe the better word is so old, so historical. We talk about Jesus dying and coming back from the dead in historical context, but wouldn’t we be about as skeptical as those Jewish leaders were if such a thing were to happen here, today. Let’s stop and think of Jesus resurrection in today’s world. No one gave Jesus CPR. No one administered any oxygen to him. No one shouted charge the paddles and clear and then shocked his heart back into a rhythm, and no one performed any transfusions or surgeries to heal his wounds. Jesus died and three days later rose again to defeat death once and for all so that when we die to this human body, we will have the opportunity to join with him in the eternal, forever life. But historically, we’ve all heard this before. We all know this. Telling you these facts is only preaching to the proverbial choir on my part.
Today is not about the facts of the resurrection. It is about the aftermath. It is about the work of the ones left to carry on, the ones who were left behind. When my nephew was little he loved to play baseball, and he could usually coerce a few others, especially the slightly older neighbor kids to play with him. He seemed to always want to be the one batting, so he often gave orders about where people were to play in order that he could be the batter. I think as the story goes, he knew the words for some of the spots, but not all of them. He told someone to pitch and another to go out in to the field to catch what he hit, but he needed a catcher, and not knowing the term for catcher, he just told the one he chose for that spot to stand here and be the “behinder.”
The disciples ended up being the “behinders.” They were the ones left “behind” on this earth to go through “all-the-world” and witness to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and what that meant for them and for everyone else. What a task!
Our gospel lesson for today is actually the story of when Jesus gives them their assignment. It is evening of the day when Jesus rose. They aren’t totally sure what is going on. They know that the tomb is empty and they have heard the reports that Jesus is alive, but they aren’t certain, they don’t really dare to believe, and so they gather in the place where they were last together. They must have been scared stiff. What if the leaders find them and crucify them next. No wonder they are hiding out when Jesus comes to find them.
So many times we take this passage and concentrate on the part about Thomas and how he doubts, and how Jesus shows him the holes in his hands and feet to make him realize the truth of the resurrection. That part is important, especially for us because in the end Jesus tells him “Have you believed because you have seen? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” He said that for those of us who would come much later in time and not have the opportunity to be there to see the wounds. We are the ones who must believe from the scripture and because of faith.
The main part of this passage that is important today is the earlier section. It is the part where Jesus comes into their midst and says, Peace to you, He greets the disciples in a standard greeting for their time, yet it is such a perfect greeting for the circumstances, Peace. Here they were probably pacing or trembling in fear, and Jesus comes with the words of Peace. Next he shows them the scars and the wounds, not because the group questions, but because he wants them to know that he is real and what happened to him was real. He wants them to realize that there was no miracle of non-suffering. Jesus did endure the crucifixion and also overcame it. Any questions the disciples had about what exactly happened must be put to rest at this meeting.
And before Thomas can even show up to join them, Jesus let’s them know why he has come to see them. He has come to tell them what their next purpose on earth will be. Jesus is about to leave to return to be with God his father, and they must carry on sharing the good news of Jesus with everyone. It is up to them to do the work to start Christ’s church. The disciples’ task is to come after Jesus, be the behinders if you will, and spread the news about him. He tells them that he is sending them out just as God sent him out. Now they understand better that they each have the task of being the Resurrection witness to all nations. And so in fact do we, that is the message for us today.
The chapter in the book of Acts that we get our New Testament lesson from today gives us information on some of the things that happened to the disciples as they began their mission of spreading the news about Jesus. If we were to read the beginning of the chapter, we would learn that the disciples had been put in jail, but that they were released during the night by an angel who sent them to the temple to continue teaching. Later they were caught again and in this passage, we read, we learn that they were brought in front of the Sanhedrin.
These Jewish leaders really would have liked to get rid of all the disciples as soon as possible, but they help back in order to keep the people from ousting them. In this story the disciples are only warned and beaten after they are found outside of prison, and eventually they are sent on their way. Again, instead of obeying they go out rejoicing and sharing with everyone about what Jesus did, not just in his death and resurrection, but in his life. They couldn’t contain themselves; I think that is the beauty of the whole thing. They were so overcome by the facts that they couldn’t help but be a witness for Jesus. O if we could all have a shot of that enthusiasm sometimes. Again, I think of the phrase, “if they kept silent, the very stones would shout out.”
We today in this Sunday following Easter have the same charge as the disciples did, though fortunately for us a little different circumstance. We aren’t likely to be put in jail for sharing what we know or what we feel, though we might be ignored, and I don’t know about you, but every now and then I get that feeling that others would like to point me in the correct way since my way is not exactly right. Here in today’s gospel Jesus charged the disciples to go out and witness about him. Jesus also charges us to go out and be the witness, but not just to his life and death and resurrection. Yet for us it is more than that. We live in a world where many people know the story, they have heard of Jesus and the events surrounding his life. For us it isn’t just the simple telling, it is the living. For us it is the actions of love and caring and openness. For us it is the joy that should be in our lives because of the promises we have in being part of Jesus’ followers.
As I said in the beginning, this phrase is singular, so I really think the point is for us individually, though if we look at one of the quotes left with the background material on these lessons, it might just be about the church, too. I will leave you today with the words of
Clarence Jordan, 20th century “The proof that God raised Jesus from the dead is not the empty tomb, but the full hearts of his transformed disciples. The crowning evidence that he lives is not a vacant grave, but a spirit-filled fellowship. Not a rolled-away stone, but a carried-away church.” Let us continue to be that carried away church, not one that huddles away in silence knowing the truth, but one that shows it is every act we do and every event we host. Let’s all be that resurrection witness. Amen