Homily for Easter Sunday - April 8, 2012
Acts 10:34, 37-43 / John 20:1-9
By Deacon Rick Fisher
"We are to be witnesses ... "
What comes to your mind when you hear the word "witness?" "Witness" usually elicits a courtroom scene because that is where a witness can be found. A witness is one who testifies; one who is to tell the truth as he or she saw it.
For example, a person who saw John Doe draw and fire a gun at Jane Doe is a witness to the murder of Jane Doe. Likewise, the individual who watched Mary drive through a red light and hit Joe at the corner of Main and 26th Streets is a witness to the accident. I'm sure that we have seen enough courtroom scenes played on TV to understand all this.
People, who are eye-witnesses to an event, see things differently. No two people see the same thing in exactly the same way. One will remember a detail which someone else will overlook. A lawyer once stated that when the witnesses report the same story in the exact same words, he starts to panic and the jury begins to doubt.
Therefore, a lawyer will seek out many witnesses, because each of them comes with a different perspective after having seen the same event. And at the trial, when one is giving testimony, the others are not allowed to hear so they will not mix up their stories.
Jewish custom demanded that two adult males be present in order to make the witnessing of an event reliable. Women and slaves were excluded from such testimony in Jewish courts; they could not be witnesses.
This is why the author of this Gospel portrays Mary Magdalene as, after going to the tomb, running off to Simon Peter and the other disciples. As is presented in this Gospel, Mary had seen an empty tomb, but she was a woman, and her witnessing would be no good. The author also portrays her as somewhat hysterical, though we might think it as she being excited. She ran in her proclamation that the body of Jesus had been taken from the tomb and no one knew where they had put Him. Thus the emphases of the importance of two adult male witnesses.
But what are they to witness? What is interesting about this Gospel story is that those who witness - Peter and the other disciple, and of course Mary - witness nothing except an empty tomb.
So, to what are Peter, the disciple, and Mary Magdalene witnesses? Certainly, they are not witnesses to the actual resurrection of Jesus. The fact of the matter is this ... there were no eye-witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus - at least none have come forward in almost 2000 years! Even the guards described in the Gospel of Matthew did not see the actual event, but felt the earth quake and the stone roll back and the flash of light, but no actual person.
So here is where we get stuck. We have the required two adult male witnesses, along with a woman, but they have nothing to witness - except their faith! Remember how the story goes ... "The disciple who had arrived first at the tomb went in. He saw and believed." This nameless disciple sees and believes ... though he did not see Jesus ... he does not actually see the resurrection ... he sees an empty tomb. He sees, that is, he witnesses, to what no one else is able to see.
On Easter Sunday there is no appearance by Jesus because we are to be witnesses to His presence by our faith. We are to be witnesses to His presence in His Word, even when there is no mention of Him in that Word.
as He eats and drinks with us. If we open our inner eyes, we will see Him. He is risen and with us. We can witness His presence by our faith.
This nameless, beloved disciple is set before us as an example. Not a single one of us is an eye-witness to the resurrection of Jesus. Not one of us has seen Jesus. But we do believe in Him. We are like the nameless disciple in the Gospel.
Witnessing means more than seeing with just our outer sight. It means seeing with inner vision - faith. The author of the Acts of the Apostles attests to this kind of witnessing in Peter's speech. Peter begins with a fact: "I take it you know what has been reported about Jesus of Nazareth." Then he moves to witnessing - "We are witnesses to all that He did."
The question for us on this Easter, this Resurrection Sunday, is this: To what are we witnesses? What is it that we have seen?
Some of us have probably seen an empty tomb. Maybe this whole season of Lent was an empty tomb. It may have slipped by with no fasting, no prayer, and no almsgiving. We may have just continued our regular style of living and kept up with the rat-race world and the consumer market. Now all we are witnesses to is an empty tomb, hollow lives devoid of meaning.
Yet others come like unleavened bread. We, like Paul described it to the Corinthians, are waiting for the fullness of resurrection, when we will rise. We are filled with faith. Having fasted, prayed, given of ourselves, and become renewed, we are ready to celebrate our new life. We have purged ourselves of the old yeast of corruption and wickedness; we are ready to celebrate the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
We come to bear witness, like Peter. Jesus eats and drinks with us and we with Him. We see Him, and we believe. "We bear witness that He is the one set apart by God as judge of the living and the dead."
This is the day of witnessing. Easter is the day to witness that which cannot be seen. Easter is about faith. And there is no eye-witness to faith, just as there was no eye-witness to the resurrection. We see inside, and we believe.
There is another strange aspect to this resurrection Gospel. On this Easter Sunday, our Gospel says nothing about Jesus' presence - Jesus made no appearance in this verse.
We stood to hear the Gospel and witnessed that Jesus did not appear in the passage at all. Yet at the beginning we said, "Glory to you, Lord." And at the end we said, "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ."