By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today is the third Sunday of Easter. And yes, even though you will no longer find chocolate bunnies for sale at Safeway, it’s still Easter! And it will continue to be Easter till we reach the feast of Pentecost on May 20. As you may have noticed, there are various ways that we mark this joyous season in our worship. We use vestments of white, which in Western culture are considered festive. We burn a very large white candle. We read the Acts of the Apostles in place of the Hebrew scriptures for the first reading. We include extra Alleluias at various places in the service. And finally, the Confession of Sin is optionally omitted. During this joyous season, we pause for 50 days to ponder a single day, the Day of Resurrection, and to consider its consequences for us as disciples of Jesus.
That explains why, for the third Sunday in a row, we hear a story from that first Easter Day. It’s kind of like the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray’s character experiences the same day over and over again till he learns his lesson. Likewise, we will move on from Easter Day only when we have learned all that we need to learn from that eventful day.
The Gospel story we just heard from Luke takes place late in the evening of the Day of Resurrection. The tomb has been found empty. The women have conversed with angels. Two disciples on the road to Emmaus have met the Risen Lord and broken bread with him. And Saint Peter has had some encounter with the Lord (although, for some reason, Luke doesn’t give any details). The two men who encountered Jesus in Emmaus have just returned to Jerusalem to report to the disciples that the Lord is risen. And at that very moment, the Risen Lord makes yet another appearance, this time to all eleven of the disciples at once. (For obvious reasons, Judas Iscariot is absent from the gathering.)
Luke’s account is basically the same story we heard last week from John’s Gospel, but with some noticeable differences in detail. For example, Luke spares Thomas the embarrassment of being the only doubting disciple. In today’s account, all the disciples display doubt (as well as joy) at Jesus’ appearance in their midst. And so Jesus invites them all to touch him, so as to verify that he is not a ghost. Then, as the final proof of his physicality, he asks for some food, something no ghost would do.
Now as both a vegetarian and a preacher, I devoutly wish that the disciples had given Jesus a loaf of bread. But what they gave him was a piece of broiled fish. Now, if he had shared bread with them, as he did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, I could expound at great length on the eucharistic symbolism of the broken bread. As it stands, I am at a loss to explain the spiritual significance of the broiled fish. So I won’t even try!
Jesus proceeds to teach the disciples, opening their minds to understand the scriptures, with a particular focus on the prophesied fate of the Messiah. Jesus ends the lecture with a homework assignment of sorts, saying, “…repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be proclaimed in the Messiah’s name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
And what exactly is expected of a witness? To testify! And clearly the disciples did testify to what they had experienced during their time with Jesus of Nazareth, from the day that he called them to leave their old life behind to the day that he rose from the dead and commissioned them to proclaim the Good News to the whole world. They passed on their stories of Jesus to later generations, lest they be forgotten.
But what about now? Who is there to witness to the world that God walked among us as a man, died on a cross, and rose from the dead, so that our sins might be forgiven and we might know eternal life? The eleven disciples commissioned by Jesus in that room in Jerusalem are long gone. Who is left to give testimony then? I’m guessing you already know the answer! But just in case you don’t, I’ll answer my own question. “You are witnesses of these things.” You were commissioned at your baptism to proclaim the Good News of God’s forgiveness to the world. People think that it’s my job as a priest to proclaim the Gospel. And so it is. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t your job as well, because it most certainly is your job!
So when the final Alleluias are shouted out at the end of today’s service, I expect you, and the Risen Lord expects you, to share your experiences with Jesus Christ and your take on his life-saving message to your family, your friends, and even the occasional stranger. For like those eleven disciples, “you are witnesses of these things.” And it is your duty as witnesses to tell the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth, so help you God. And with God’s help and a smidgen of courage, you’ll do just fine.
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.