Sunday, April 26, 2009

You Are Witnesses: A Homily for Easter III

Homily for Easter 3, Year B, 2009
Sunday, April 26th, 2009
Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Thornhill, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Luke 24:36b-48

“You are witnesses of these things.”
-- Luke 24:48

He called them witnesses -- a group of frightened, doubting former followers. These are the ones he sent into the world to share the Good News of God. If we think that it is difficult for us to witness to our Christian faith in this world, in this age, then consider how difficult it would have been for them. The world and the powers to which they were called to witness were the same world and same powers that crucified their master; a difficult, if not dangerous audience indeed. More to the point, beyond the improbability of the audience to whom they were to witness was the improbability of the witnesses, themselves. They were a broken community possessed by fear, gripped by betrayal, and riddled with doubt. It was an improbable call, to an improbable people, to witness to an improbable audience. And yet, the call was made, it was answered, and a group of improbable witnesses told the story against all odds. The call goes out still.

It can be intimidating for Anglicans to think about witnessing because we may inadvertently compare ourselves (and find ourselves wanting) with those of our brothers and sisters of other Christian communities who witness with astonishing polemical certainty. We may wonder when we hear the preaching, evangelizing, and witnessing of certain Christian groups how we, in the face of such outward shows of devotion and zeal, how we, with our heritage of Victorian reservation, can even consider ourselves disciples of the Risen Lord, much less his witnesses. When we examine ourselves, we find ourselves (especially in contrast to so many others who bear the name Christian) to be improbable witnesses. Improbable though we are, we are witnesses indeed.

Do you not know that all you who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into his death? Death is not something embraced with certainty. Even those amongst us with the deepest, most certain faith will, in our silent, lonely moments find death a frightening mystery. Each of us will have our doubts and fears about our ultimate fate. Yet, when that moment comes, whether it be swift and unannounced or with much preparation, it is the ultimate moment of vulnerability and authenticity, when all else is eclipsed by the reality of who we are and have been in the eyes of God. In that moment of complete vulnerability it matters not how successful I have been nor how broken I am, for I am completely in the hands of God. And our brokenness is no obstacle to a loving, gracious God.

If, therefore, our brokenness is no obstacle to God in death, can it be an obstacle for him in life? Thus, our honesty and authenticity about our brokenness may indeed be a tool used by God as he calls us, his improbable witnesses, to the task of sharing the Good News. Jesus himself was an improbable saviour. We know of course, from the hosannas of a gathered crowd, hosannas that were followed by shouts of derision and denial, that the people of his day expected something else, another kind of messiah. Yet, the saviour given to this world was one that was broken and covered in wounds, who facing his death offered up his own doubts and fears, and ultimately bore his vulnerability before the eyes of the whole world. Yet, God transformed his brokenness, vindicated his fear, and defeated his doubt in a triumphant victory over the grave. Jesus is the man of ultimate authenticity. Even the resurrection body of Jesus still displays the wounds of his passion. His wounds are part of who he is. But the good news is that his wounds have been transformed gloriously for the healing of the nations.

Thus, we should never forget that our wounds are part of who we are. However, we are not our wounds. What is more, as God has transformed the wounds of Jesus for the healing of the nations, so too does the Risen Jesus transform our wounds that we might join him in his work of bringing healing and reconciliation to a broken world, that its wounds, too, might be healed. The wounds of Jesus are no longer crippling wounds but a glorious sign of his victory over all that would enslave us, even death. Each of us carries wounds that would cripple us were it not for the power of the Risen Christ.

There may be those who seem to be perfect, and yes, many of them may fly the Christian flag as a sign of their perfection. Perfect health, abundant wealth, ideal relationships, and a morally exemplary life will be the hallmarks of such a person. Perhaps, too, they share their faith with undying zeal. Yet, which of us finds comfort in the friendship of such a one? When we experience pain, or loss, or poverty, or the unexpected compromising of our own moral code, can we turn to such a one in comfort? Will their witness be of any assistance to us? It is likely that in the presence of such a one we will only feel inadequacy, alienation, an even condemnation. Is this the witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ? The truth is that a person such as these bears wounds, too, but they are afraid to share them.

Remember that Jesus commissioned a broken body to be his disciples. It was a broken body because those who were once twelve were now eleven because one of his own betrayed him. It was a broken body because Judas betrayed him and Peter denied him. It was a broken body because the women at the tomb ran away in fear. It was a broken body because the disciples believed the witness of these women to be “idle talk.” It was a broken body because even as he appeared to them, happy though they were, they still doubted. It was a body, a community, with gaping wounds. And yet he said to them, “You are my witnesses.” He did not go searching for others. He returned, with his own wounds openly and authentically displayed to the same ones who were so wounded, themselves, and called them his witnesses. But in offering them his transformed wounds, in opening the Scriptures to them they learned how God was transforming the world through his wounds, and yes, through theirs. In returning to them, a broken, wounded people, he transformed their wounds and entrusted them with his gospel.

Each new Christian who passes through the font, young or old, will bear many wounds through the course of their lives. Each of us will experience wound of doubt. Each of us will experience the wound of fear. Each of us will experience wounded bodies, and be they great wounds or small, each of us will know pain. We may be tempted to hide the wounds that make us human beings, but then we would also be hiding the truth of the Gospel, that even as each of us walks with pain, we walk also with a God who transforms our pain into healing, our fear into hope, and our doubt into faith. What makes us witnesses is not that we are perfect, without fear, without doubt, but that we, too, experience these things. The difference is that we do not experience these things alone, but in the company of the one whose body was also broken, who also bore the wounds of pain, and fear, and doubt. But the good tidings of great joy for all people is the truth to which we also witnesses that as his wounds are transformed for the healing of the nations, so too are ours. When we witness, or walk with someone who has journeyed through pain and has come through it transformed, our wounds are transformed as well. We recognize that their wounds, while they do not disappear, are not the story of their destruction, nor are ours the story of our destruction, but rather they are for the healing of the nations.

Our wounds are not left gaping but made to be a sign of hope that as we journey together in our brokenness we journey together in our healing. For our story does not end with one who hung wounded on a cross, but begins with one who stood before them with his wounds transformed. Our story does not end with a broken community of disciples dispersed, doubting and afraid, but begins with the wounds of that community healed in common purpose to witness to his healing wounds. Our story does not end with our wounds, but begins with a witness of authenticity in which our healing wounds are not a sign of shame but a beacon of hope, that even in our shared pain God can and will transform our wounds. Even we, with all our wounds, are his witnesses.

c. 2009 by the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

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