Dear St. Luke family:
Witnesses have been a big part of the news lately, with the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin and the recent impeachment hearing. There are all kinds of witnesses: eyewitnesses, expert witnesses, character witnesses, corroborating witnesses, and so on. In our passage in Luke’s gospel this Sunday, on the first Easter night Jesus tells the disciples that they are witnesses. He doesn’t ask them to be witnesses or give them a choice; the disciples do not volunteer. They are witnesses to “these things,” he says.
What are “these things”? Maybe it’s the real bodily resurrection of our Lord. Maybe “these things” is what Jesus has just shared with them: the suffering of the Messiah, rising on the third day, the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Or, perhaps “these things” is all of Jesus’ ministry: teaching, healing, eating with sinners, including outcasts, welcoming prodigals, explaining that the best way to love God is to love our neighbors as ourselves, overcoming death and calling us to new life.
Whatever “these things” are, it’s clear that Luke emphasizes the real, physical, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus. As one writer puts it, “We’re not Eastern-like mystics who believe that the key to spirituality is to find ways to transcend this world’s physicalness so as to drift into realms of pure thought and consciousness. No, our faith is gritty and fleshy and tangible and involves nothing short of the renewal of all things: lakes, mountains, tadpoles, tangerines, real human bodies.” And so Jesus invites the disciples to look, to touch, to see his wounds and feel that he’s really there; to use their senses. He even shares a meal with them. He knows they need reassurance. Of course they have doubts. And then he tells them they are witnesses. They are not only to sense God’s activity, but to tell others.
What does this story mean for us? Perhaps, first, we need practice at noticing God’s activity, what one writer calls “God sightings.” How can we help each other with this? And then, what might it look like for us, not to bludgeon people with our religious convictions, but simply to say, “Here’s what I saw. Here’s how it went. Make of it what you will”? What does it look like to live into the words of the song, “…and they’ll know we are Christians by our love….”?
Certainly, it looks like something human, physical, “gritty and fleshy and tangible.” It looks like something real, touching our real lives, our real stories, and other people’s real lives and stories. How do we, as a congregation, make it real?
Grace and peace,