The third Sunday of Easter pairs two passages with language about being witnesses. First, after appearing among them and eating a piece of broiled fish, Jesus says to the disciples, "You are witnesses of these things." (Luke 24:48) Then, after healing a lame man in the days following Pentecost, Peter says to an astonished crowd, "To this we are witnesses." (Acts 3:15b)
We've heard a lot about witnesses and from witnesses over the past several weeks in the Boston area. Two major trials have been covered extensively, with facial expressions cross-examined as closely as the actual testimony. The legal process of being a witness has been on display.
Is that what Jesus meant when he identified the disciples as witnesses? Was he telling them that their experiences, what they had seen and heard, were worthy of a trial by jury? In some ways, Peter's claiming of that identity, "we are witnesses," is in the context of a public trial, people wondering and questioning and trying to decipher what exactly was going on.
What is clear in both situations is that complex explanations aren't the point. Jesus isn't trying to coach the disciples on how to factually prove the resurrection of the body; he's simply showing them. Their witness is to what they have seen, what they have heard. Peter isn't interested in explaining how a lame man can now walk; his witness is to the saving grace of Jesus.
I think sometimes we refrain from talking about what we have seen and heard, how we have seen the body of Christ manifested in our lives and our churches, because we don't know how to explain it. I don't know how to explain my call to ministry or my conviction that I am where God intends me to be, but I know in my bones that is true. My faith is the point, not whether or not I can explain it.
In fact, I think it's how we are witnessed that is most important in these stories and in our own story. The disciples saw the risen Christ and, after days of prayer and preparation, received the Holy Spirit and spoke of what they had seen. The crowd that gathered that day witnessed a group of people who should have been demoralized, should have been terrified, should have run for their lives, instead creating a big enough scene that five thousand people believed because of what they saw and heard! What the crowd witnessed in the actions and words of the followers of Christ convinced them of the truth.
What if Peter had walked by the lame man? What if he had said, "I have no silver or gold, sorry. God bless you," and walked on? What if people had witnessed this man, supposedly following the one who said loving God and neighbor were the most important laws, ignore one of those very neighbors?
They didn't. They witnessed a joyful, leaping, suddenly walking man who pointed to Peter and John as the reason he was no longer prostrate on the street. And yet another five thousand men believed because of what they seen and what they heard.
How do we stand up to the world's witness of us? How do our communities witness our actions, or lack thereof, in caring for our neighbors? If someone was called to the witness stand and the point of the questioning was your visible action and audible speech as a Christian, what would that person be able to say?
The world is watching, the people in our communities are watching, and they are witnessing the ways we witness to Christ through our lives. Do we treat others with care and compassion, regardless of how they are different from ourselves? Do we protect the world that God created and called good, even when it's inconvenient and difficult? Do we strive after love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control, despite what the world says is important?
"You are witnesses of these things." What have we witnessed that calls us to live as followers of Christ? How are we witnessed in that living?