Sunday 4 April 2021: Easter Day
Living as witnesses of the resurrection
Isaiah 25:6-9; Acts 10:34-43; Mark 16:1-8
Context: preaching in an inner-city parish in North London, with a diverse, multi-cultural congregation
Aim: to encourage people to follow the example of the first witnesses to the resurrection
I wonder what you think of when you hear the word ‘witness’? Does your mind immediately jump to the witness box in a courtroom; the verifying of signatures on important documents; or having observed a particular event? These iterations of the word’s meaning are also all grounded in the need for truth. ‘I do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ is the oath sworn by those giving evidence in court. Accepting the word or signature of a witness requires a belief that they are being truthful.
Unfortunately, we live in a cynical age. We know that many people lie. We understand the prevalence of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts.’ So, what weight does being a witness really carry in these times?
The credibility of witnesses has been an issue throughout history. In many patriarchal societies, men were considered more reliable witnesses than women. It is therefore incredible that women were the ones chosen to be the first witnesses to Christ’s resurrection.
Mary, Mary, and Salome visit Jesus’ tomb out of their deep love for him. They know it is a risk – soldiers will be present, and the disciples are in hiding out of fear of retribution. The women are not even sure how they will access the tomb owing to the large stone in front of its entrance. Their act of love is rewarded by words they never expected to hear: ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.’
They are instructed to be witnesses. To go on and give the message to Peter and the disciples. They were terrified and amazed, which I imagine, did not make for a very coherent message when they finally reached the disciples! The disciples do not believe the women at first. It takes multiple messages and encounters – according to the rest of Mark 16 – for them to finally believe. But once they understand, they too become witnesses to the resurrection and its meaning for the world.
Every Easter, the church is a witness, following the footsteps of the women in the garden – the apostles to the apostles.
We proclaim: ‘Alleluia! Christ is risen’
‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’
The story that the women told the disciples is the one that we celebrate every Easter. It is the story of Jesus, the Son of God, anointed by the power of the Holy Spirit, who taught, healed, called, and was put to death on the cross. Jesus – who on the third day, defeated death and rose again.
This is the story, in Acts 10, that Peter tells the Gentiles Cornelius has gathered people together to hear the good news. Peter emphasises the importance of witnesses – the disciples who observed Jesus’ ministry on earth and who were chosen by God to witness his son’s resurrection. The apostles have been commanded ‘to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead.’
We too are called as witnesses to the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. It is not a calling reserved for Easter Sunday – it is a calling upon every day – lived as a disciple of Christ.
It is not an easy calling. It is risky, with much disbelief encountered along the way. A great cloud of witnesses has gone ahead of us. Some sacrificed a great deal – even their lives – to be a witness to the resurrection.
As we rejoice in the power of the resurrection today, let us not forget the consequences many have faced for their witnessing. May we draw encouragement and inspiration from their courage. Let us also pray for those in our world who still suffer because of their witness.
This Easter Day may our witness to the glory of Jesus’ resurrection ring out loudly and proudly. Alleluia!
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