Easter, St. Dunstan’s, 2015
The Rev. Robert G Eaton
“We are witnesses”
Reflecting on this Easter day, for me personally as your Interim Rector, I realize this will more than likely be my first and last Easter with you here in St Dunstan’s.
What would I want to say then that would be very important to not be left unsaid?
What basis of the faith from the pulpit would I want to make sure is proclaimed, or preached or prophetically announced?
And, from the proclamation of the Ministry of the Word for today, I came to this word Witness. And to the Resurrection of Jesus. And to the constant detraction by the World who have not yet believed, and to the end of the Creed we say every Sunday, that we believe in a resurrection of the body for ourselves.
So I realized there were TWO important things to say to you all for this EASTER day.
Let’s start with the FIRST important thing, by looking at the word witness.
What does that mean “we are witnesses”?
In the context of that English word being used in the new testament, it might best be descrilbed or defined as
i. EYE witnesses.
ii. one who is a spectator of anything, e.g. of a contest
However, That same word from the greek, martur, in a different form, marturion, now means one who tells other people, as one who is giving a testimony, this is what and who the Lord is.
So this is what we have:
Those who commend (not coerce)
And those who can assert, those who can say, “This is what I saw..”
Both of these definitions from this same word are seen in the new testament lesson from the Acts of the Apostles which you heard today.
37 That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; 40 but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, 41 not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
That entire passage, don’t you see, is what the testimony is. This is the basis of the creeds. If you ever wanted to be one who is a witness for Jesus Christ, here is your message.
One part of that message is what I am bringing to you this morning.
And that is what Peter says he saw, or rather WHO he saw,
And in the same way, what or WHO the two Mary’s saw when they went to the grave of Jesus early this morning.
And even more people were eye-witnesses, too,
It is our evidence of this basic foundation of our faith:
Jesus is Alive.
Jesus is Risen.
And our side being removed from that moment is also to believe and receive this Risen Jesus into our own lives, eyes wide open, hearts filled with joy.
Now it is one thing from the world’s perspective to only hear from One witness, one person who is brave enough to say, I have seen the Lord.
[a parishioner who has been prompted prior to the service, stands up and says, I have seen the Lord]
That’s what Mary bravely said to the disciples that Easter morning. That’s why Peter and John ran to the tomb to verify. And they found an empty tomb
It is a little more difficult to set this witness aside when two people say they have seen the same thing.
[ two parishioners who have been prompted stand up and say, We have seen the Lord ]
And so, In another Gospel, there are two women who encounter the risen Jesus.
It is still such a small group of witnesses, that it is easy to set aside such incredible witness, but good enough for legal courts.
But that’s not the end to the witnesses. There will be a larger group, the apostles gathered.
[The choir members, prompted prior, stand up and say, We have seen the Lord]
And there is a louder witness of resurrection that is now getting more difficult to set aside, even if some would want to attribute the resurrection to mass hysteria, or group hallucination theory.
Peter in his preaching will intertwine the two messages of eye witness and those will commend the witness for themselves after the fact. He can say there were those few standing by the lake having breakfast with Jesus after he rose from the dead. And he can say to us now to believe based on the eyewitnesses, and the presence of the risen Christ in us.
But we’re not done with the commending of this faith by eyewitnesses and its impact.
So we turn to Paul, preaching and teaching as a COMMENDER, a witness in that way, who points to those who were the other kind of witness, the EYE-witness, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 15, where he says,
After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.
Would you all help out with my sermon and stand and on 3, we’ll all say, We have seen the Lord
[standing, counting, proclaiming]
This is the evidence of the rising of Jesus in body from the dead.
Not an apparition, not a mental embellishment from such a great emotional desire to see him one more time, as happens sometimes in grief and mourning.
But real, live, eat with him, touch his wounds, hold onto his feet, see, hear, smell, touch, him Jesus risen from the dead.
There have always been detractors to the testimony. Even immediately after the first witnesses, and the stone was found rolled away. But those people could hold on to WHO they saw in the face of detractors, and be bold. We can understand that.
What about those who weren’t though and have believed even though they did not witness the resurrection?
Tragic — even today in our modern civilized tolerant world, when there are those who for whatever reason, choose to deny the proclamation of witnessing the resurrection by murder. In our estimation, martyrdom, such as the 147 in Kenya. Imagine, being asked the question, “Do you believe you have seen Jesus Christ in your life? Do you believe in him? Are you a Christian?” And then being shot to death because your answer was Yes.
We pray for the witness to the world; we pray for our enemies; we pray for peace in our time, O Lord. We pray for the blessed souls of those killed. We pray for their families, and for a grieving community and nation.
Resurrection of Jesus suddenly becomes a life and death faith and witness.
I suppose if it had just been left to earthquakes, and tearing of temple curtains, and stones rolled away, you know those things, witnessed by others, That was pretty stupendous in and of itself.
[anecdote re: Joe not knowing we would be stomping feet during the reciting of St John Chrysostom’s sermon at every mention of the word death or died, an old Orthodox tradition, which in an old wooden floor church makes a lot of noise, and since he was in the sacristy tending the thurible and incense, thought there was an earthquake going on, or it was the furnace giving up the ghost. He didn’t “see it” but he heard about it later what had happened, and then he understood]
The resurrection of the body took place.
Jesus has risen from the dead.
There are witnesses.
I choose to be a witness to commend this faith, as well. And I am certain I have seen the risen Jesus in my life and in yours.
I wish I had been there to see. But I wasn’t. So I am left to hear the wirness and believe.
But we will say, nonetheless, because of the the witness of those before us
He is alive.
That’s the first Part of what I wanted to say to you if this is in fact my one and only Easter.
To hear the second part, you will have to come back next Sunday.
Alleluia, Christ is risen.