Luke 24 v 36b – 48
The Easter Octave, or the first week after Easter Sunday has now passed, but we continue to celebrate Easter for fifty days after the resurrection. So this is still Easter!
We are living in an age when the news media picks up all sorts of stories and flashes them round the World in seconds. We have Facebook, Youtube, WhatsApp, Signal, Instagram, blogs, Slack, Snapchat, you name it, as well as all the websites of the big newspapers, the BBC and so many other sources of information. I wonder how the resurrection would have been reported if these resources had been available in first century Palestine. The story “Son of God rises from the dead” would certainly have made headlines across the World.
But they did not have such things and we have only had them ourselves in recent years. The message of the Resurrection therefore had to be spread by the disciples and the people who came after them. We would not be here in the Barn today if they had not spread the Word, if they had not followed Jesus’s instructions right at the end of the reading today. We are here because we believe that Jesus rose from the dead and by his cross and passion, he has redeemed us, gained for us forgiveness of our sins and set us right with God. And we only know about all that and believe it because countless others before us have born witness to it, right back to the disciples.
And we are here because the disciples, terrified though they were when they first saw the risen Christ; then had fellowship with him and followed his instructions.
I have no doubt that nothing short of an encounter with the risen Christ and the realisation that he was not a ghost, not a figment of their imaginations, but a living being, could have transformed such a broken, befuddled, frightened band of brothers and sisters into enthusiastic missionaries. Nothing else could have done that. Only their encounter with the risen Christ could have made that happen. They had been scared and frightened of what might happen to them. This was not a group who could try and dream up a falsehood, which they could all adhere to and stick to. They would not have so enthusiastically spread the Word of the resurrection so far and so quickly if they did not believe it themselves. They would not have devoted their lives so fully and, indeed, some of them given up their lives, if they did not believe what they had seen with their own eyes.
But it is not just their witness, it is the witness of two thousand years of followers of the Man from Galilee and, indeed, our own faith to which we too must witness. He calls us too – the message at the end of today’s reading is that the message of love and hope and forgiveness must continue to be spread, particularly in these unbelieving times. The wording of our Lord “You are witnesses of these things” applies to us as much as it did to the disciples.
This is clear and firm language, words that expect that the listeners will do something. To be a witness means you have seen something, know something but it also should mean that you are determined to share what you have seen and know. The disciples had encountered Jesus, but now Jesus tells them that they are to do something about it for the sake of the world. The Disciples must become do-ers, to tell others about him so that the church could establish itself, to grow, to spread the good news across every land and every people.
We sometimes think that Christianity is declining, perhaps not doing very well, even in our own land, especially in our own land, but it is still very rightly the biggest most flourishing religion in the World. People witness to Christ throughout the World and in some places they do it at considerable cost to themselves and their families – being imprisoned, persecuted and even martyred for their faith in this Man from Galilee, the Son of God. They perhaps understand more intensely than we may, that it is only in the act of telling others about Jesus that the World has meaning and our lives have purpose.
This is precisely the reason why the torch is transferred from the First Century disciples to each of us. We are called to continue the enterprise of witnessing to Jesus Christ … that the World may believe and be saved. Hallelujah!!
Just as an aside before finishing, something on which one could do a full sermon, but here just a few words. A further challenge of Easter is to appreciate the importance of Jesus asking his disciples for something to eat and being given a piece of fish. I think the symbolism of this has three parts – the proof that Jesus’ resurrection was physical. It was a tangible human being in front of them, not a spirit or some sort of phantom. Secondly, sharing food, resources and fellowship has always been fundamental to the Christian life and on this occasion the sharing of food perhaps recalls the last supper. And thirdly, the fact that it was fish that Jesus ate with them reminds us and them that Jesus called them to be fishers of men and women.
And finally, we as Christians associate Easter with the empty tomb. But Easter now has sadly become for so many people just an excuse for four days off and indulgence in chocolate. But even Easter bunnies and Easter eggs have very old origins – long before Cadbury’s and Lindt and Hotel Chocolat came onto the scene. Their origins may be pagan symbols of new life in the Spring, but they are symbols of new life. It is our duty as Christians to witness to people at Easter about our risen Lord, the true meaning of new life. Joy to the World! Christ is Risen!