Sunday, 18 April 2021

'Witnesses of these things' - A homily for the Third Sunday of Easter

 Preached at Croydon Minster on the Third Sunday of Easter 2021. Acts of the Apostles 3.12-19; Luke 24.36b-48

‘You are witnesses to these things’

 

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Do you ever wonder what you are being asked to do when, at the end of the Eucharist, the deacon or priest declares, ‘Go in the peace of Christ’ or ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’ (to which in Eastertide we add the joyful ‘alleluia’)?

 

These closing words are profoundly important and they are not just an afterthought to the Eucharist. Just as the tide of the sea washes in and washes out so the Holy Spirit leads us into the church and washes us back out.

 

We are drawn in to ‘taste and see’, to immerse ourselves in the scriptures, in the life-giving power of the sacraments, to know Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, recognising him in the breaking of bread.

 

And then we are washed back out into the world in which Christ rose from the dead. And this morning’s gospel points us to the task: ‘you are witnesses to these things’.

 

In other words, when you go in peace from here you are implicated as a witness to what you have heard, seen and tasted.

 

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A witness is really important in relating the veracity of events. We are all familiar with the witness in a court of law. As the trial of the policeman accused of the killing of George Floyd is showing at the moment witnesses are called for both the prosecution and the defence of the accused.

 

Some witnesses will say contradictory things; the jury must decide.

 

Some witnesses will have a genuinely different account of the same event. The important thing is that the witness does not violate the 8th Commandment: ‘thou shalt not bear false witness’.

 

That demands truthfulness and integrity. After all, the Greek word for witness is μάρτυς, from which comes the word ‘martyr’. A true witness can be costly.

 

When it comes to their testimony, the witness must be convinced and convincing.

 

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So when we leave the church on a Sunday morning we go out as witnesses to what we have met and encountered here in this holy place, meeting Christ in word and sacrament. And this is some task in a world that is not readily open to the Christian gospel. ‘Twas ever thus: yet the witness to Christ has filled the world!

 

The first disciples were convinced and convincing witnesses that Jesus Christ had died on the cross and was now alive and risen and eating and drinking. Theirs is an ‘in person’ encounter.

 

It would not be world changing to testify as witnesses that they had seen a ghost, or that they had seen a disembodied spiritual hologram, or that they were inspired by a memory of a charismatic leader.

 

What convinced and convinces the world is that God leads us from death to life in Christ. That is the apostolic message. The disciples had met ‘that message’ in person! That living, breathing, risen body they met now – Jesus Christ, crucified and risen - lives on in his church, in the sacraments, in you and me.

 

We have received that testimony from witnesses who have gone before us: the saints, our parents, godparents, Sunday school teachers, priests. And we see, hear and taste Christ’s body in the Eucharist.

 

That is what we are witnesses to, real and ‘in person’, in our lives. The challenge, the question to leave hanging for you this week is how will you do that? How will you be a witness?

 

Here’s a thought as you answer that:

 

Our world needs now, more than ever: the example of lives flowing with faith, hope and love; pledged to simple and generous living; not caught up in worldly achievement; sustained by the ‘lively life that deathless shall persevere’ drawn from sacramental grace; nourished by a life of prayer; all shaped by Jesus Christ.

 

That might just be the beginning of the life of the witness.

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