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"Bearing Witness"

Updated: 6 days ago

It is necessary. Why? Because some people will not read the scriptures; some will not hear the sermons; some will not sing along with the songs. They will need someone to bring the good news to them


[1] “Christ Ascending”, El Picacho City Park, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN
[1] “Christ Ascending”, El Picacho City Park, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN

Luke 24:44-53

May 12, 2024

Dr. Todd R. Wright


For three days the disciples were like widows or orphans or whatever you call the people who grieve the death of someone who was the center of their world. For three days they slept-walked through ordinary tasks; for three days they had little appetite and an abundance of tears.


Some, like Martha, bustled around feeding everyone.

Some, like Mary, spent a lot of time reflecting on Jesus’ words.

Some, like Joseph of Arimathea, took care of the burial and wondered what to do next.

Some, like Peter, beat themselves up for deeds that would never be forgiven or forgotten.

It was a long three days.


And then, Luke tells us, Jesus began appearing – first to the women, and then to some believers on the road to Emmaus, and then to the disciples still gathered in Jerusalem!


Can you imagine?


The next 40 days were like living in a dream.


40 days of dinners filled with laughter; 40 days of lessons reviewed and deepened; 40 days of love and grace poured out, enough to heal the most broken of hearts!


Can you imagine what it would be like to have the one you loved back for 40 days?

Time to say the things you wished you’d said.

Time to apologize.

Time to do the things you loved doing together one more time.

Time to drink in their face, their smell, their voice, their laughter.

Time for another hug. And another. And another!


 

Still, I wonder what those 40 days were like for Jesus.


He knew the plan; knew this was only temporary; knew he was leaving.

Clearly there was still so much to explain, to teach, to prepare them for.

Did a few days turn into a week? A week into a month? And still that wasn’t enough.


Isaac Villegas puts it this way:

“I wonder if his resurrection appearances were part of Jesus’ reluctant departure — as if he couldn’t quite leave for good, so he came back, again and again, extending Easter for as long as possible … each meal a last chance to linger in the kingdom of God and postpone his final ascension.” Villegas continues, “I wonder if Jesus’ departure is one more trial for him, another misery of his long ordeal. I wonder if it is part of the agony begun on the Mount of Olives when he prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours’ — as if everything from crucifixion to ascension was in that cup. [I wonder if Jesus prayed] to the Father for another way, an alternate route … for anything that would keep him on earth with his beloved community, the kingdom of God in the flesh, a new creation, friendships alive with divine love and grace, a people [being] readied for the work of mercy and justice and prepared for the struggle for peace.”[2]


 

So that begs the question: why did he leave?


If his disciples were delighted to have him back and he was enjoying being with them;

if there was still so much to explain, interpret, reinforce;

if the food was good and the fellowship better;

if there were still people to be healed and sins to be forgiven … why leave?


Why abandon them a second time? Why break their hearts again?


 

Buried in the text is the answer.


Jesus reminds them that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.

It was necessary.


Next he says, repentance and forgiveness of sins needs to be proclaimed to all nations.

It is necessary.


And then, looking them in the eyes, he said, “You are witnesses.”


The message needs to get out; it needs to be repeated; it needs to start in Jerusalem and cross borders; it needs to be told in a thousand voices, in a thousand languages, in a thousand places!


It is necessary. Why? Because some people will not read the scriptures; some will not hear the sermons; some will not sing along with the songs.


They will need someone to bring the good news to them.


Someone they know; someone they trust; someone who will persist when the traveling tent show has moved on to the next city; someone who will put the good news into action.


They will need witnesses … like you and me.


Why? As long as Jesus is among them, his followers will defer to him. They will not find their own voice. They will not be witnesses. Why bother when the star of the show is right there?


But if he goes, someone will have to fill the silence; someone will have to answer the questions; someone will have to tell the stories that give people hope that their sins can be forgiven and their broken places healed.    


 

So Jesus led his disciples out of Jerusalem. Together they walked the two miles to Bethany – the place where they had eaten meals with Mary and Martha and Lazarus; the place where Lazarus had been raised from the dead; the spot that had been their launching place for the Palm Sunday procession – and while Jesus was blessing them, he ascended into heaven.


He brought them back to the place where they had seen the kingdom of heaven displayed, in hospitality and healing and hope, and left them to witness to all they had seen and experienced!


I wonder where your Bethany is located. Is it here?


Anna Quindlen tells the story of “The Nurturing Place” – a day care center in Jersey City, run by Roman Catholic sisters, a place that welcomed children whose families were homeless.


“One day the sisters took the children to the Jersey shore. The 3 and 4 year olds scrambled up the sandy dunes, falling and giggling their way to the top of what must have seemed like mountains to their little legs. When they got to the top, they could hardly believe their eyes: water as far as they could see — more water than they had ever seen. They slid down the dunes and ran to the ocean’s edge. They chased the waves that teased their toes. Then they went off for a picnic in a nearby park. After lunch they begged to go back to the dunes. One little boy named Freddie outran the rest and climbed his way to the top. He looked out, then turned to the others and shouted, ‘It’s still there!’”[3]


For those who follow Jesus, the kingdom of God is like the ocean!


We can hardly believe what our eyes have seen! It is so much bigger and more beautiful than anything we’d ever experienced before. It has captivated our imagination and filled us with wonder. And it hasn’t just been second-hand stories or lists of things religious authorities say we should believe. No, the kingdom of God that we have witnessed breaking into our world is as real as a wedding dress changing hands at Pay-it-Forward; or a circle of elders laying hands on John Wolfe as he fought cancer; or a little one being baptized in the park; or a mound of TP being collected for our neighbors. It is as if the good news can be captured in small, holy, moments.


No one else can tell these stories the way we can. We are witnesses! Amen


[1] “Christ Ascending”, El Picacho City Park, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN
[2] From his reflection on the text for Christian Century, 4/25/18
[3] From her article in the NY Times, “Public & Private; Social Conscience”, 4/4/91

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