Rev. Dr. Martha ter Kuile
Third Sunday of Easter
April 18, 2021
To the leader: with stringed instruments. A Psalm of David.
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
How long, you people, shall my honour suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
There are many who say, ‘O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!’
You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
While they were talking about this, 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.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
As people try to find their way through this difficult long wilderness of a worldwide pandemic, there are many different coping strategies. Through the locked-down months some people have sought relief from boredom and dread with new hobbies and untried activities. Others, after having experimented with breadmaking or TikTok video production or online courses are now just trying to combat fatigue by simplifying their daily lives. Some have developed strict new routines to organize the day, while others have learned to drift along adapting to whatever the day brings – actually, just trying to remember what day it is. Still others are working flat out. A lot of people are finding that after a year, there is a new level of clutter in homes that have had to serve as workplaces, schoolrooms, restaurants, movie theatres, concert halls and holiday destinations all at once, so tidying up is another big one right now. As spring became summer, then fall and winter and now spring again, I’d say I’ve tried all those strategies, and lately in what feels like a new low, I have begun to escape by watching reruns of Law and Order.
For both the police and the lawyers in each episode, the key to their success is the testimony of witnesses. The police interview witnesses to figure out what happened, and once the story has been pieced together, the lawyers rely on them to make their case credible. I am always amazed by how much the witnesses can remember. How tall was he? When did she arrive? What colour were her eyes? What was he drinking? Was there a car parked across the street? One witness notices dark nail polish and a particular broach. Another remembers an out-of-state license plate. The police sketch artists chat with the witnesses and work miracles.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus notes in his very last words to his disciples, that they are the witnesses. We see that he gives them concrete details to remember – he shows them his wounded hands and feet, and eats a piece of fish in front of them. Then he talks to them about the scriptures so that they have new insights. It will be their ability to give testimony about this day that allows the Christian faith to flourish.
With those words of Jesus, the Gospel writer addresses the readers too, and reminds us that every Christian should serve as a witness to the saving truth of God’s love for the world. A witness to the risen life that Easter proclaims. We are exhorted to testify, to put our hands on our hearts and say, ‘I have seen something that persuades me of a goodness in the world that will reconcile and renew everything. You can kill it but it will not stay dead. That whatever painful realities surround us, they are met and held in a deeper reality whose vitality is decisive.’
Of course, it’s not easy to be a good witness. And despite the remarkable abilities of the witnesses we see on Law and Order, the sad truth is that in real life eyewitnesses often, very often make terrible mistakes. Now that DNA evidence is available, many convictions based on eyewitness testimony are overturned. (https://sites.psu.edu/aspsy/2020/03/08/eyewitness-testimony-reliable-or-unreliable/)
To be a good witness, you have to be willing to look honestly and carefully at what is before you. You can’t flinch away from the parts you don’t like. To be a good witness of Easter you have to look hard at poverty in our society, and the way it is racialized and genderized and able-ized. You have to look at the relentless attack on the environment, at the pain of illness and broken hearts, at the persistence of violence in homes, and in so many places in the world. With the Psalm that Michael read, we ask ‘Does good even exist any more?’ As a witness, you have to be willing to report truthfully on all that, and also on what it is you have seen that makes you whisper Alleluia.
That is the task of Easter. To identify what it is that persuades you that your hope is well founded. To spell it out. Is it the simple sight of a daffodil bending in the sunshine? A moment of caring compassion that you have experienced? Some mysterious singing deep inside? A sense of consolation in the long darkness of night? The laugh of a child? What have you witnessed? What would you say to a sketch artist?
The disciples wished Jesus would stay with them on that strange night of wounded hands and broiled fish. They were sorry when he disappeared again. And yet we also know that in some mysterious way he did remain and stays with us still.
They were the witnesses, and so are we. Amen.