We are Witnesses [Easter Sunday B]

The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson
John 20:1-18 

We are Witnesses

We are witnesses.  This is our story to tell.  It is at once an old, old story that happened long ago and yet it is still happening– still unfolding in the lives of those who have come to believe in the Risen Christ.

When St. Peter stood before the gentiles, he did not explain the mechanics of bodily reanimation; he did explicate his doctrine of Jesus' ascension in the context of a three-tiered universe.  He told his story.  He said, “We are witnesses.” 

When Mary Magdalene left the empty tomb, after experiencing the Risen Christ, she did not present a paper on the changed appearance of a resurrected corpus.  She did not race to meet the disciples with a collection of theories or a bulleted list of historical proofs of the resurrection.  She told her story.  She simply witnessed: I have seen the Lord.    

Eugene Peterson writes, “It is critical that we get inside this and make it our own, critical that we realize not just that the resurrection happened but that it happens.  Too often we make the resurrection a matter of apologetics and melt the resurrection accounts down to an ingot of doctrine.”[1]  But resurrection is not a problem we solve.  Resurrection is not a theory in search of a proof.  Resurrection is not just an event that happened 2000 years ago.  Resurrection is a reality we experience; it is still happening.  We are witnesses.

The first believers were not convinced by the physical evidence; there was none – the tomb was empty, Jesus was gone.  They were not convinced by a History Channel special on the first Easter.  They were not convinced by the latest acclaimed theological treatise.  They believed in resurrection because they experienced the Risen Christ in their lives.  And because they experienced the Risen Christ in their lives, they told the story.  They shared their experience.  They spread the same Good News we are here to celebrate today.  They became the witnesses.

They saw Jesus die on a Roman cross.  And yet, he was alive.  And he kept showing up – when they were together, when they sat down to share a meal.  When the bread was broken, he was there.  When they remembered him, he was there – with them and in them and all around them.  “Christ's resurrection was not an event in isolation from those who shared his love.  His human relationships continued in his resurrection, revealing a love stronger than death.”[2]  Jesus was alive.  They were the witnesses.

They found Jesus outside the tomb.  They found Jesus in their locked room.  They found Jesus with them on the street.  They found Jesus eating with them on the beach.  They found Jesus on Pentecost.  And Jesus found them when they were lost. 

And so they shared their stories.  They wrote them down in Gospels.  They carried their Good News everywhere they went.  They were the witnesses. 

And the witness did not die with that first generation.  Generation after generation of Christians continued to experience the Risen Christ.  In the Apostles' teaching and in their fellowship and in the breaking of bread and in their prayers: when they gathered in Jesus' name, he was there.  He was alive and he was making them alive too. 

The Easter event is on-going.  Signs of the resurrection continue to pop up in our lives.  We continue to meet Jesus – often in ways impossible to explain, and yet undeniably real.  Christians still gather in churches all over the world to testify to the life-changing power and grace of the Risen Christ.  And we shout, Alleluia!  And we proclaim, “The Lord is Risen indeed!”  Christ has marked us; we are his forever.  We are witnesses.

I am a witness.

Jesus found me at the baptismal waters.  And he marked me as his own.  Forever.  

And he spoke to me through grandparents and parents, who, even in their most difficult times – through pain and poverty and struggle – never let me forget that Jesus loves me, never let me forget that Jesus is with me – in my life and in my heart. 

And Jesus saw me through the loneliest days of my teenage years.  I felt his presence in my most anxious nights.  When no one else was around, Jesus was there.

I see him in my wife.  In the sacrifices she made to bring new life into the world, in the sacrifices she makes to love and care for our family.

I experience the Living Christ in the Bread and in the Wine.  At the altar Jesus saves me over and over again.  He prepares for me a feast for which I could never pay.  He feeds me with his most precious Body and Blood so that I can dwell in him and he in me.

I see him in the waters of Baptism.  When I dip my hand into those dangerous waters, I feel his power.  When I pour them over the head of a new Christian, I feel his love.  I meet there the One who died and rose again.  And I remember that in those waters I was baptized into his death, but also into resurrection.      

I find Risen Christ at the grave.  And because he is even there, I can shout Alleluias through my grief.  And I can walk with the dead in hope.  Because resurrection is still happening.  Because Easter shows me that life triumphs over death.

And I see Jesus in you: my sisters and my brothers in Christ.  I see the ways in which the Risen Christ is making you alive, is changing your lives.  I see him in how you love and serve each other.  I see Jesus in our moments of peace and in reconciliation.  The Risen Christ is in our midst.

Jesus is alive.  I am a witness.

And I am not alone.  This story does not belong to me.  It is our story.  And “it is critical that we get inside this and make it our own, critical that we realize not just that the resurrection happened but that it happens.”

The world is not looking for another argument.  The world is not looking for another doctrinal statement.  The world is looking for Jesus.  And we have seen him.  Jesus is alive.  We are witnesses.


[1]   Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, 231.

[2]   Slocum, Robert Boak, Light in a Burning-Glass, 32.