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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 3, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 22, 2012

Luke 24:36–48

Can I Get a Witness?’

Mourning the missing and the dead … Whatever we say about today’s Gospel we must say it in the context of this grieving world—a world steeped in violence and confusion. It’s right that we feel the pain of the world—we’re part of it. It’s right for us to be careful, respectful, even as we share the hope of the resurrection. God be with you

Two formerly dejected disciples of Jesus crucified, Cleopas and his companion, have returned to Jerusalem after meeting, on the road to Emmaus, a stranger in whom they recognised that same Jesus! They are filled now with excited emotions, jittery expectations … The story they knew, the world they knew, the God they thought they knew—all this has been subjected to critique, and reconfigured, transfigured in the light of Easter …

I feel myself caught up in all of this. This is a mighty Gospel text!

Luke 24 is structured like a traditional liturgy. Gathering, journey, meeting Jesus who interprets the scriptures in relation to himself, then breaks the bread, then sends disciples out into the world. The text, it would seem, emerges in a context of worship—prayers, songs, rituals in the Spirit of the Saviour …

We are in a similar setting, then. A gathering of lost and excited souls, talking and wondering, then Jesus making himself known as the One who brings peace, the risen One who is present in, through, and beyond the physical (no Gnostic saviour, but a crucified and risen Saviour)—and, again, the food is shared (some scholars think that the early Christians celebrated a bread-and-fish Eucharist)—again, Jesus interprets the scriptures in relation to himself, and disciples are sent out with a mission: now clearly a mission that focuses on repentance and forgiveness for all peoples (nations/cultures/ethnicities).

Believers at worship, in communion with the Saviour, bearing witness to an excitement—a new hope and life in the midst of confusion and grief … Disciples, now as then, are called/enabled to be witnesses (literally, martyrs) to “these things”. You and I. Not necessarily expert witnesses, but people who tell the truth about what they have experienced.

We have heard some of the earliest of these testimonies: “I touched him, and he was not a ghost”; “I saw the marks in his hands and feet; he was the crucified one”; “I broke bread with him, and he ate” … More than two thousand years later, we can still give evidence of how the risen Jesus has come into our lives and retold the story of our lives in a way that opens our minds …

We might consider, then, what kind of witnesses we are—witnesses to what? To whom? For what? For whom?

We have gathered, talked, wondered, read the papers; we seek to understand the scriptures in relation to the crucified and risen Jesus—indeed, without him, without the key that is his passionate love, that is, his suffering and rising to new life, our minds are closed (the meaning of the scriptures—in spite of what some fundamentalists would have us think—is not self-evident, is not obvious) … It’s worth dwelling on this a while …

On Jesus as the Word of God … on this Jesus who tells the story of God’s plan to restore all of creation, from the covenant with Abraham to the exodus from Egypt, from Ezekiel’s valley of the dry bones to Isaiah’s suffering servant. On this Jesus who calls to mind, makes central, that which is marginal: the subversive and counter-intuitive claims in the Bible—ethnic minorities chosen; foreigners, younger brothers, youngest sons appointed leaders; sex workers, persecuted prophets, humble peasants, shepherds, lepers, Samaritans lauded as exemplars of faith …

He’s told them all this before, of course, but this time, in the presence of the risen Saviour, the doors in the minds of the disciples are unlocked. The rejection, the suffering, the crucifixion (tragedies)—they weren’t a detour from God’s plan after all, but the final steps of God’s long journey down into the plight of broken humanity. Now they are witnesses to the first steps on the other side. Not a dead man, not a ghost, but the victory of God …

Can we affirm this in our world—amid (our) grieving and confusion—we who will, regularly in this place, share food, break bread, and be sent out into the world with a mission of repentance and forgiveness?

How will you bear witness—with words, with singing, with actions, with strength of character …? To what will you bear witness today, this coming week?

—The sharing of his peace? Note that Jesus is not at all interested in retribution—not at all interested in appearing to those who persecuted him and/or abandoned him and chastising them or exacting compensation.

—His spiritual presence in, through, and beyond the physical—reaching out to embrace the lost and the forsaken—allowing the lost and forsaken to reach out to him? Is our faith a mere spiritualism, or might we bear witness to the spirit in, through, and beyond the physical? Is our faith merely an intellectual affair—ideas, abstractions—or might our very bodies bear witness to the Spirit—in the way we move, touch, look, listen, eat, speak, work, play … model life and draw from life? (I want to acknowledge this morning the witness of our courageous and talented models and artists whose images celebrate human beings made in the image of God … the Word made flesh in the vulnerability, creativity and faithfulness of Jesus.)

—His encouraging the sharing of food? It’s striking that, for Luke’s community, appearances of the risen Jesus are always related closely to the sharing of food—those for whom the risen Christ is real are learning to share that which is most necessary …

—His making possible a joy (even amid grief and confusion—by his very patient respect for grief and confusion—by his inspiring a wonder that overcomes cruelty and bitterness), and his inspiring a repentance that leads to forgiveness (you might note that there is nothing moralistic about this text … It is imperative that the church offer moral and ethical guidance, yes, but that this not overwhelm or contradict its central task—mercy, compassion)—the art of translating the good news of repentance that leads to forgiveness—translating this from culture to culture, nation to nation …?

Or, you might find this helpful. Says Kristen Bargeron Grant of Cedar United Methodist Church in Ham Lake, Minnesota: “We are witnesses when we can invite someone to look into our homes, our families, our friendships, our work, our checkbook, our daytimer—and find Jesus there. We are witnesses when we allow ourselves to be touched by folks who are lost and afraid. We are witnesses when we live in a way that defies any explanation other than the presence of the risen Christ within us. Look, touch, see, believe! It isn’t a ghost. It’s the living God.”

In silence, we attend to what the Spirit brings … How will you bear witness? … Amen.