You Are Witnesses

We’re moving on, and we’re moving fast. After Easter, there are so many things to do. Gardens and flowerbeds need to be planted, graduation invitations need to be mailed, and with camps, vacation, summer internships, General Assembly, and the family reunion coming up, summer plans need to be made. It’s two weeks after Easter, and we’re moving on – it’s almost May; and we know, before we’ll be finished saying, “Happy Mothers Day!” it’ll be Memorial Day.

But a big boulder is sitting in the rapids of time. The church’s lectionary – quietly, yet stubbornly – resists the rush.

The ‘lectionary’ is a set of recommendations that has evolved over the centuries, recommendations for how we read Scripture when we gather for worship, and what portions we read and when. The lectionary is also the church’s calendar where every Sunday and every holiday is given a name, and today, perhaps to your surprise, is not the Second Sunday after Easter, but the Third Sunday of Easter.

Spring is rushing toward summer with bright-green speed, the schoolyear is rushing toward graduation with flying gowns, and the lectionary – quietly, yet stubbornly – resists the rush. Easter lingers, and today is only the third Sunday of it.

We open the Bible for the gospel reading, and in Luke it’s still the first day of the week. The entire chapter 24, his final chapter, walks us through the day that began with the women coming to the tomb. They returned with a story, but their words seemed to the others an idle tale.

Then Luke tells us about two of the disciples going to a village called Emmaus and talking with each other about all the things that had happened. They shared their story with a stranger who came near and went with them, told him about Jesus and what a prophet he was and how they had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel; told him about how he had been condemned and crucified and how the women had astounded them with their words. You know the story, how the stranger interpreted to them the scriptures, how he accepted their urgent invitation to stay with them for the night, and how they recognized Jesus in the stranger in the breaking of the bread.

That same day, they returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven and their companions gathered together – and now everybody had a tale about the risen Lord! And while they were sharing resurrection stories, Jesus himself stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”

No one had let him in; he just showed up, startling them. Now perhaps you think that this was the third time, after all, that the resurrection disrupted the flow of their day, and that by now they should have been able to deal with the fact that Jesus was not dead but risen. But they were still startled and terrified, then disbelieving and wondering.

Perhaps you think it was time for them to get it and move on – but move on where to? What did it mean for them that Jesus was not dead but powerfully present? What does it mean for us?

In the gospel according to Luke that first day begins at early dawn, but it never ends. There’s not a single word indicating that eventually everybody got tired and went to bed. Jesus ate a piece of broiled fish, and then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. How long do you think he taught them? Until the next morning?

Until their imagination was unlocked; until a few closed doors in the hallways of their minds swung open. Jesus interpreted for them the witness of scripture until they understood that his rejection and his death were part of God’s work to redeem humanity and renew creation.

Jesus opened to them the witness of scripture until they could hear the call: Now that Christ is risen, repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem.

Jesus is neither a dead man, nor a ghost, but the risen Lord who teaches, sends, and blesses us for ministry. “You are witnesses,” he said to them, he says to us. You have a story to tell. You have a story to embody and live.

In the gospel according to Luke, the entire final chapter is dedicated to the first day when Jesus rose from the dead; and the sun doesn’t go down on that day, night doesn’t fall.

The chapter ends with Jesus leading them out as far as Bethany, and, blessing them, being carried up into heaven. The sun doesn’t go down, night doesn’t fall. The gospel concludes with the disciples worshiping him and returning to Jerusalem with great joy.

The first day doesn’t end; it culminates in the disciples’ return to the city, and the way I see it, they are not alone. Returning with them in an unending procession of great joy are the nations who have heard the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins.

On Easter Sunday, the children sang,

“Every morning is Easter morning from now on, every day’s resurrection day, the past is over and gone.”

What they are telling us is not that our days are an endless repetition of a day that began and ended two-thousand years ago. They are telling us that we are living in a new day. A day that is not defined by sunrise and sunset, but by the Lord Jesus, crucified and risen. This day is defined not by humanity’s sinful past, but solely by God’s power to create and redeem. Easter lingers because this day does not end.

Jesus is neither a dead man, nor a ghost, but the risen Lord who teaches, sends, and blesses us for ministry. “You are witnesses,” he says to us. You have a story to tell. You have a story to embody and live.

Like every generation of disciples before us, we move on not to leave Easter behind, but to live in it more fully every day of our lives.

We move on – from words that seem an idle tale to moments of recognition.

We move on – from the burial of hope to the table where our eyes are opened.

We move on – from having our vision impaired by fear and doubt to having our minds opened to understand the scriptures.

We move on – from being slow of heart to believe, to hearing the call of Christ in any kind of circumstance.

“You are witnesses of these things,” he says to us. And we want to respond, “Who – us?” because the world has a way of robbing us of our hope, filling us with fear, closing our minds, and colonizing our imagination.

But he continues to break into that reality saying, “Yes – you.” We have a story to tell. We have a story to embody and live, a story the world cannot be without.

In the spring of last year we got into a little boat, big enough for all of us, yet small enough to remind everybody that this is no cruise ship where some are crew and the rest are passengers. We set sails, allowing the Spirit of God to blow freely and pull us forward. We called our adventure ‘The Journey.’

We were very intentional about listening to each other. We gathered in groups of various sizes, heard presentations and shared comments, and then we met in groups of three for a hundred days. One hundred days of prayer – obviously some of us were more reluctant than others to participate in that part of the journey, but it turned out to be the most rewarding.

We talked and listened, we prayed, we watched in wonder how trust and friendship grew among us; we had our hearts and minds opened. We moved from the safe surface to the secret places, and were not our hearts burning within us again and again?

No idle tales; we were free to share our hopes and fears, our frustrations and our dreams. Insights emerged and visions, discoveries were jotted down, ideas refined.
The summer of prayer turned into a harvest season of gathering and rejoicing. And like wheat becomes bread to strengthen the human heart, and the grapes gathered in the vineyard become wine to gladden the human heart, the harvest of our conversations and prayers has become a story to nourish the heart and kindle the imagination.

It is not just any story, it is our future story, Vine Street 2019. I’m not spilling a secret when I tell you that we will watch a video presentation of that story during lunch today – the 30-second trailer was released online on Thursday afternoon, and it had over 70 views already by Friday.

We will watch a video premiere, but this little film is more than the play of light on a screen and sound waves on the air – although it is that. It is more than the product of the creativity of a writer, a director, a photographer, and an editor – although it is that. It is more than the faces and voices of several of our members – although it is that.

It is the embodiment of our work and prayer of an entire year. It is the call we have heard and the beginning of our response. It is the shape we will give to our witness over the next 5-7 years, beginning in Nashville and extending to all nations around the world. Yes, it is that big.

This is how we intend to live in the day that began with the women coming to the tomb and finding the stone rolled away.

This is how we intend to live as witnesses of our crucified and risen Lord.

This is how we intend to live as God’s Easter people in the world.

Audio of this post is available.

And here's the video: