You are Witnesses of these Things
Peter’s speech in our reading from Acts begins by addressing a misunderstanding. Peter and John, in the Name of Jesus Christ, have just healed a crippled beggar. In frustration, Peter exclaims, “Why do you wonder at this?” How can these onlookers be filled with wonder and astonishment at this relatively minor miracle? Peter recalls all that he has experienced while following Jesus. He connects God’s action in Jesus to God’s saving action through all of Israel’s history. Jesus is the servant the prophet Isaiah writes about. Jesus is the “Holy and Righteous One” that the people handed over to death and God raised. Jesus still lives, and by faith in his name, the power and glory of God is present among us. This is the new normal. God has kept his promises. How is it that all of you do not understand?
For many, it is easier to cling to the rules of the world that we have come to know and rely on. It is easier to explain our experience of the world with rules and laws and science. God’s presence complicates the limits of our understanding. When we come face-to-face with a miracle, something that just doesn’t fit, we search for ways to explain it away. What if instead, we searched for God’s presence and explained away all the unstable, deceitful constructs of the world that give us false security? Peter is frustrated with those who still have a world view of humans in control, and a distant, perhaps disinterested God. For those of us who seek out and recognize God’s loving, caring presence in the world, Peter’s frustration is understandable. But it wasn’t that long ago that Peter was dealing with his own misunderstandings.
Two disciples had just encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, and ran back to Jerusalem to tell the others. They found Peter among the 11 and other companions gathered together. While they were telling incredible stories of encountering the risen Christ, there is Jesus standing among them, offering a traditional Jewish greeting, “Peace be with you.” Peter and the others are probably experiencing all sorts of feelings and emotions, but peace is not one of them. They think they might be seeing a ghost! All of them, Peter included, are startled and terrified. The text describes their bewildered state, “While in their joy, they were disbelieving and still wondering.”
Jesus wonders why they doubt all that he said would come to pass. Rather than admonish, Jesus offers proof ... see and touch. Jesus tells them, “I have flesh and bones” ... more than a physical body, but sharing with the disciples in common humanity, the kinship of the human family. Then Jesus asks what we have all come to expect of our community gatherings ... “Have you anything here to eat?” Was Jesus hungry? Perhaps. The very human Jesus who has risen in his body might still require nourishment. Or, perhaps this is further proof than seeing and touching. Jesus invites them to use their intellect and reason to inform their faith. Ghosts don’t eat. But Jesus eats in front of them. Against some Jews arguing the resurrection didn’t happen, and against Christians who suggested the appearances where simply a spirit, or ghost, Luke makes it clear. Jesus was resurrected as a living, breathing, walking, talking, hungry and eating human being, alive as you and me. The appearances of Jesus in Luke combine matter of factness with mystery, and stress the reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. After Jesus’ body had been used up in his life and ministry, God did not cast it aside, but saw fit to glorify God’s own self in Jesus, both human and divine. The resurrection of Christ’s humanity is essential to humanity’s salvation. In the salvation of humanity, we are all transformed into the body of Christ.
As Jesus feeds his body, he also feeds the souls of his people. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Jesus opens their minds to all of scripture fulfilled. More than the words, Jesus reveals their meaning, and recounts what they have seen and experienced. “You are witnesses of these things.” The role of the disciples is to be witnesses, and to witness is to share what one has seen. Like the old shampoo commercial, they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on, and so on. As we encounter God’s presence in our lives, we are also called to seek understanding, and grow in the knowledge and love of God. We are called to be witnesses of these things.
As we await Jesus’ return in great glory, the reality of the Church is not a period of Christ’s absence, but an experience his presence in a new and more powerful way. The resurrection is not an erasure of all that is past. Christ presents the scars of suffering and rejection for us to confirm. But something new has happened. God has applied the salve of grace to transform suffering and oppression, and to close the divide we have created ourselves between humanity and the divine. We are witnesses of these things. We are disciples. As followers this is our work.
What have we witnessed? What are we to share? What in our community needs the presence of the risen Christ? What kind of experiences and understandings are needed so that we might be credible witnesses to God’s aims in the world? How are we living as the Body of Christ? How do we participate in God’s work on earth?
It is our work to explore and answer these questions. Jesus commissions us to declare the presence and power of God in the midst of tragedy, despair, and even death. These trials do not have the last word. They are not ultimate. God is. And God aims to recreate and redeem and reconcile us as God’s family. Our transformation as children of God is to become like Jesus. This means a real and effectual love, which stands in contrast to the hatred so characteristic of the world. We are called to abide one another, our human family, with love and understanding, care and compassion, fellowship and forgiveness.
The risen Christ makes himself known to each of us in large and small ways. As people of faith, we are called to recognize, point to, and be witnesses to Christ’s presence among us in words and deeds. We are called to imitate Jesus. Our faith demands nothing less. Amen.