Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Say it with me: Christ is Risen! Alleluia.
One of our post-Communion prayers reads, in part, “And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witness of Christ our Lord.” I kept going back to this little sliver of the prayer, as I continue to be reminded that Easter Sunday, Resurrection Day, is not merely about the confounding Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Resurrection means that we are witnesses to that Resurrection of Christ AND what it means to us and for us in our continuing life, as well as our eternal life. The readings today are about being Jesus’ witnesses in the world and that Resurrection is for us, not for Jesus. Jesus was raised to break, once and for all, Death’s hold on us in every way. We are not meant to live in death in this world, or in eternal Death, in the next life. So, we are witnesses not only to Christ’s resurrection but all its implications for us in the world in which we live.
So, being a witness to Jesus means that we know something that everyone can potentially know: the truth and power of Jesus’ love realized in Resurrection.
And today, we are surrounded by, as Hebrews says, a great cloud of witnesses. We have Peter, trying to communicate to Gentiles, or non-Jews, about the reality of Christs’ resurrection. Peter, who had abandoned Jesus, denied Jesus, was now, because of Christ’s Resurrection, convinced that Jesus was the way, the truth, and the life; the pathway to God. Saul, another witness, was once a notorious and violent persecutor of the early Christian movement in Jerusalem. But on the way to Damascus, he had a run in with the Risen Christ who called out to him. That encounter shattered Saul’s life, and he became Paul. And he was largely responsible for the growth of the Christian movement beyond Jerusalem because of His willingness to witness to the love, grace, and hope he had found in the reality of Jesus in His life.
Then we have the women at the tomb. These faithful witnesses had followed Jesus to the Cross, then to see where he was buried, and now, on Sunday, after Passover, they had lovingly come to care for his body according to custom. Their biggest worry was how to roll the massive stone away from the entrance to the tomb. Suddenly, they have bigger worries as the stone is rolled away already and a man in dazzling white tells them, “He is not here! He is risen!” And they flee in terror and amazement. More like they are testifying against the mob than for Jesus, right? But terror and amazement are often the things that keep us silent, when it comes to our witnessing to the Resurrection, in fact to the life of Jesus. We are afraid we might make waves, be found out, and the idea of the Resurrection is unthinkable.
But the Resurrection is much more about us than it is about Jesus. We are witnesses to what the Resurrection continues to do in us. Because Jesus lives, He continues in the world, continues to offer Himself to us and for us, offers us the promise and hope of relationship with Him. The Christian movement was and is relational. Jesus of Nazareth was real, accessible, He touched and healed people. The living Christ, who would not be bound by death, continues to touch us, love us, and bless us. Knowing that He is present to us can be the hope that sustains us in times of challenge and plenty … that is what we are witnessing to. And like a good witness who wants to tell the truth about the reality of Jesus’ continuing promise for us, we don’t want to keep that to ourselves but to share it, in every possible way, with a world where hope sometimes seems in short supply.
I know I have told this story once before in this church, but it is really perfect for today and I know that many of you will be hearing it for the first time– and maybe some have conveniently forgotten. Has anyone ever seen the English program The Rev? It was only on for three very short seasons but followed the life of The Rev. Adam Smallbone, a priest in the Church of England. He is a bit hapless sometimes, but with a very big heart and a strong love of Jesus, he gets into many adventures in a dying church in a challenged part of urban London. In the final episode, he has really had it. His church is closing, all of his friends and parishioners blame him, and so he quits and decides he is not going to be a priest anymore. He takes to his bed, literally covers pulled over himself, quietly reciting the Beatitudes, You know, Blessed are the poor in Spirit … etc. And he has been in a funk for many weeks. So, early on Easter morning, his long-suffering wife (this is starting to sound familiar, isn’t it?) comes into his room, pulls off the covers, tells him to get dressed, they are going to church. As they walk up toward St. Savior’s, the church he served that is now all boarded up and on the auction block, he sees six people standing on the steps. They are the six people he feels most betrayed by. And he turns and walks away. His wife pursues him, asks him to sit, and tells him that he is a priest, that is who he is, and he needs to do this last service, before they all say goodbye and go their separate ways.
So, he relents and they all begin the Easter Vigil and go into the church. Oh, and they are going to baptize, finally, his young daughter who is six or seven months old. And as his wife helps him to dress in his vestments, we, the audience, here his voiceover, saying, “Well Lord, here I am. In a cassock again. I guess you aren’t done with me yet ... Is this what resurrection is?” And I have to admit I have watched just this little snippet of that last episode on YouTube dozens of times. It gets to me every time, because it goes to the heart of what we are really witnessing to on this Easter Sunday. With the Resurrection of Jesus, and His overturning of death, and His continuing presence in our lives, we are constantly called back from the darkness by our Lord and Savior. We are resurrected, brought back from the dead places in our lives, over and over again. Our baptism represents this promise that Jesus will call to us from the isolated places and remind us that we are His; He has bought us with His own life and returned us to God. He has done that for me; He has done that for you.
We are faithful witness of Jesus when we live out the resurrection in our lives. We are faithful witnesses to the good news when we share that resurrection with another person, in ways great and small. When has God called you back from the darkness? Where were you when it happened? Are you in a place of darkness that resembles a living death now? Can the goodness, the promise, the hope and love of Jesus bring you back from that place? Absolutely but it will take our good work, good intentions, prayer, and love of each other, too. We are, as the Book of Common Prayer says, an Easter people. That means we are a people who bear witness to the Resurrection of Jesus, and all that means to us not only in the life to come but in our continuing life with God. Happy Easter. Alleluia!!