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May 4, 2003

Witnesses of the Resurrection

(Luke 24:35-48)

We continue to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and today we hear the conclusion from Luke. This appearance of the risen Jesus offers three movements of the spiritual life.

First, the risen Lord appears to the disciples and how do they respond, according to Luke? They are startled and terrified, upset, troubled, and very afraid! Why? Well, if you think about it, this is scary stuff, a dead person appearing in front of us. The whole story is upsetting. They have all been through a terrible ordeal. Their friend was arrested. They ran away in fear. He was brutally tortured and executed. They went into hiding because they thought they too would be arrested and executed for hanging out with Jesus, and then all of a sudden, there he is, standing in front of us, saying "Peace be with you."

Any time we have an experience of God, our first natural reaction is to be afraid because we are not used to something so dramatic. When the angel appeared to Mary, she was terrified. The disciples are constantly afraid throughout the Gospels, and the one thing Jesus tells them over and over again is "Do not be afraid." So today the risen Jesus asks, "Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts? Touch me and see me. It's really me, I'm right here with you." Jesus does not want us to be afraid and troubled, full of questions in our hearts. He wants us to be at peace and trust in him, and he gives us his peace.

This leads to the second movement of the spiritual life, from fear to joy. Once they realize its him, and he's as kind and friendly as ever, and inviting them to be at peace, and he's saying, "Hey, I'm alive, it's me, everything's going to be ok," then they are filled with joy. The resurrection leads us from fear to joy. It transforms all our troubles and questions and everything that upsets us into joy. We move from being upset to peace, from doubt to faith, from despair to hope. Now they are incredulous with joy and totally amazed.

This leads to the third movement of the spiritual life, after we are afraid and upset, and move to joy and amazement, Jesus sends us forth into the world as his witnesses. As we read in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke says we are all supposed to be "witnesses of the resurrection." "You are witnesses of these things," Jesus says. "You are to go into the world and announce resurrection, forgiveness and peace to all the nations.

What is a witness? If you were standing out on the street and saw a car accident, you would be a witness and tell the police, "I saw this guy in this car hit that car." If you go into a court, you would take the stand as a witness, promise to tell the truth and say publicly, "I saw this guy crash into that guy's car."

This is the work that Jesus gives each one of us to do. We are witnesses of the resurrection. We testify to what we have seen and heard. I invite you to reflect on how you are moving from fear to joy, how Jesus is sending you into the world as a witness of the resurrection. How are you witnessing to the resurrection of the Lord?

We can do all kinds of things, from being loving and kind to one another, talk with one another about the spiritual life, Jesus and the scriptures, and serve the community and the church.

We can go farther like St. Peter and speak out to all the nations of the world and say, "We are not people of death, but people of resurrection; not people of war, but people of peace; not people of violence but people of nonviolence; not slaves to sin but forgiven called to forgive one another, love one another and love our enemies.

This, as you know, does not always go over well, but the point is not really to change people-- that's God's job. Our job according to this Gospel is to be his witnesses.

That's what we are, witnesses of the resurrection, who testify to the world what we have seen and heard, that Jesus is risen and alive, that we do not have to fear anything anymore, that we are filled with joy and are receiving his resurrection gift of peace, and that we are determined from now on to live in peace with one another and the whole world for the rest of our lives.

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