Third Sunday of Easter
May 4, 2003
The Gospel: Luke 24:36b-48
Sermon: "You Are Witnesses of These Things"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you - that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
You Are Witnesses of These Things
Third Sunday of Easter - May 4, 2003
The senior seminary student was preparing to preach. The Gospel lesson had just been read. It was one of the appearance stories of Jesus to the disciples after the resurrection. In the story the disciples were called witnesses, much like the story this morning. She stepped into the pulpit with no manuscript, but holding a small flowerpot of pansies. She said a short prayer and then without another word she began to eat the pansies from the flowerpot one by one. She did not hurry. She did not pause. Very carefully she ate each flower. When she was finished she turned to the congregation and said these words. “The disciples were to go and to tell, to be witnesses of what they had seen and heard. You are also witnesses of an event. You have the task of telling your family and your friends about what happened here this morning and helping them believe it. Now, you and I might know how the disciples felt.” Without another word, she stepped down out of the pulpit and sat down.
I am not quite ready to eat pansies in the pulpit. However, her actions are very relevant to our Gospel lesson this morning. The lesson is actually broken into three parts. These parts are proofs of the resurrection, the interpretation of scripture and the commissioning of the disciples.
The proofs of the resurrection are very interesting. When Jesus appears to the disciples they are very afraid. I think I can understand why they might have been terrified. What would happen if someone just appeared on the top step beside me right now? One second no one is there, the next second someone is there. I am not exactly sure what I would do, but just in case, the people in the choir behind me better be moving fast toward the door. Look at this from the disciples’ point of view. They saw Jesus die on the cross. They knew he was dead. Now, he appears among them. I am certain the doors to the room were closed and they must have been locked. They had to be or within just a few seconds Jesus would have been standing there all by himself.
Jesus looks at the disciples and he knows they are afraid. So, he shows them the mark of the nails in his hands and feet. Then, he invites them to touch him. He calmly and deliberately tries to calm their fears. They are at once joyful and still unsure. I can imagine the thought running through their head, “Could it really be him? Could it be true? Is he really real?” Jesus asks them for something to eat. They gave him some fish and he ate it in front of them. Jesus ate the fish to show them he was alive. What would a ghost need with food? Look at how easily Jesus allays their fear. He shows them his hands and feet. He offers them an opportunity to touch him. He eats their food in their presence. Jesus slowly and carefully allays their fear and proves to them that he is alive.
After he shows them he is real and not some figment of their imagination or some mass hallucination, He teaches them once again. He interprets the scripture for them. All of the words he spoke to them from scripture have now been fulfilled. The words of the prophets have been fulfilled. The prophecies of Isaiah and Daniel have come to pass. The suffering servant has come. He has restored sight to the blind. He released the prisoners from their chains. He has taught about the coming of the kingdom of God. Jesus' words to the disciples are also complete. He told them he had to go to Jerusalem. He told them he would be arrested, tried and crucified. He told them he would rise again on the third day. Everything he told them is now complete. For Jesus stands among them, whole, alive and real. The glory of God stands among the disciples and they are witnesses to these facts. They are witnesses to the entire story. They have been with him through the entire journey. Several of them have been with him from his baptism to the present appearance. They have witnessed his entire ministry.
As witnesses to the incredible glory of God they now are called to share the story. Jesus prepares them for their task. He opens their minds to the scriptures, so they can understand. Then he commissions them. Their commission is to go to all the people and share with them the gospel. They are to share that the Messiah was to suffer and die, to rise from the dead and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is available to all. This message of hope and salvation is to go to all nations. Everyone is to hear the good news in Jesus Christ.
Obviously, the disciples carried out the mission. The disciples took the message to all the nations. They shared the Gospel with the people of Israel and with the nations of the Gentiles. If they had not, then we certainly would not be here. But we are here. We are here because we are a part of a great cloud of witnesses who have shared the Gospel story. We are here because of people who have lived and died for the Gospel. We are here because our parents, our grandparents and our great-grandparents made sure we knew the story of the Gospel. Now, we are called to share this story, too. We are the witnesses of these things. We are the people who know that Jesus came for us, suffered for us, died for us, and has risen for us. We are the people who know that everyone can repent and can be forgiven. We are the ones who know that salvation is possible for all. We know the gospel story is true.
Today, we are called to share that story. Like the people who witnessed the seminary student eat the flowers and then were challenged to go and tell what they had seen, we are called and challenged to tell the story of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I invite us to join together in the following hymn:
"I love to tell the story"
“I love to tell the story of unseen things above,
Of Jesus and His glory, Of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, Because I know it’s true;
It satisfies my longings As nothing else could do.
I love to tell the story, ‘Twill be my theme in glory
To tell the old, old story Of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story; ‘Tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it, More wonderfully sweet.
I love to tell the story, For some have never heard
The message of salvation From God’s own holy Word.
I love to tell the story; For those who know it best
Seem hungering and thirsting To hear it, like the rest;
And when, in scenes of glory, I sing the new, new song,
‘Twill be the old, old story That I have loved so long.”