Saturday, March 26, 2016

Bearing Credible Witness: Reflections on Luke 24.1-12 (RCL Easter C, 27 March 2016)

Bearing Credible Witness
Reflections on Luke 24.1-12

RCL Easter C
27 March 2016

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
         This past week a courtroom in Toronto was the focus of considerable media attention, both nationally and internationally.  Reporters, media watchers and everyday folk were waiting for the verdict in the trial of Jian Ghomesi, former CBC radio personality, on charges of sexual assault.  After an hour of listening to the trial judge’s ruling, those who were waiting heard two words:  ‘Not guilty’.

         The judge’s ruling centred on his evaluation of the credibility of the Crown’s three witnesses who were also the complainants in this action.  I will not recount all that the judge said, but he ruled that they had not been fully truthful to the police and to the Crown.  There were discrepancies between their written submissions and their oral testimony.  The result was enough to cause the judge to believe that there was reasonable doubt and hence a ‘not guilty’ verdict.

         Reaction to the verdict was swift and, I think, predictably diverse.  It is not my job to take any side in the controversy.  But this recent event is relevant to what we celebrate today.  We are here because a small group of women dared to bear witness to their experience of an extraordinary event:  the empty tomb and their vision of heavenly messengers proclaiming Christ’s resurrection.  Over the millennia since their experience, uncounted numbers of people have found the testimony of these women and the other witnesses to the resurrection credible; further uncounted numbers of people have found more than enough reasonable doubt to question their stories.

         It is remarkable that all four gospels, written in a time when the testimony of women was considered either inadmissible or irrelevant, put so much weight on the story told by the women.  True, their testimony is later corroborated by other witnesses, but it is the story of the women that we tell each year at this time, whether from Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.

         You and I are here because, in one way or another, we believe these women and those who shared their experience of Christ’s resurrection.  Each one of us has had our own experiences of the power of Christ’s resurrection over the course of our lives.  But in today’s climate of religious conflict and widespread distrust of religious faith, we are each called to be credible witnesses to the resurrection we have experienced.

         Our credibility as witnesses to the resurrection faces a particular challenge.  We cannot prove the resurrection with a body of forensic data or with the impartial testimony of third parties.  We can only bear witness to the resurrection as a life-giving revelation that

Goodness is stronger than evil;
love is stronger than hate;
light is stronger than darkness;
life is stronger than death;
victory is ours through Jesus who loved us.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu

But our witness to this revelation and to the new life of Christ that is already among us must be credible.

         Christian witness to the resurrection is credible when others see us raising up what has been cast down.  When Archbishop Peers ignored his legal advisors and offered an apology to the indigenous peoples of Canada for the church’s involvement in residential schools, he bore witness to the resurrection.  When Anglicans and other Christians across this country raise money and offer their time to bring refugees into Canada, we bear witness to the resurrection.  When we reach out to our neighbours, rich and poor, people of faith and people of no faith, through the agency of the Pastoral Resource Centre, we bear witness to the resurrection.  When we take the risk of restoring broken relationships among our families and friends, we bear witness to the resurrection.

         Christian witness to the resurrection is credible when others see us making new things that had grown old.  Our care for the physical plant of our parish so that our community partners may enjoy the best facilities we are able to provide is not about nostalgia but about the future of our neighbourhood.  Our hospitality extended to a small worshipping community called Saint Hildegard’s Sanctuary this Lent provided a place where people for whom traditional worship may be a barrier to find a space where they could encounter the risen Christ.  Our decision to build vegetable gardens on the east side of the church shows our willingness to do the unexpected, just as our re-location of the playground to the front of our building did.

         Christian witness to the resurrection is credible when others see us working with God to bring all things to their perfection.  Perfection does not mean flawlessness; it means working with God to enable all living things to become who they are created to be.  When we gather to study the Scriptures, we are working towards perfection.  When we collaborate with others towards creating a more livable community around us, we are working towards perfection.  When we welcome others into the worshipping life of our community, we are working towards perfection.

         What convinced people that the witness of the women and the others was credible was the life of the first Christian communities.  These communities struggled to embody God’s all-embracing love made known in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.  They cared for widows and orphans; they visited the sick and the prisoners, bringing comfort and food.  They had a bad habit of reaching out to all sorts and conditions of humanity.  Their credibility lay in what they did more than in what they said.  ‘If belief in the resurrection of Jesus can do this,’ some people said, ‘then there must be something to it.  Count me in.’

         To believe in the resurrection of Jesus is not about adhering to dogma; it’s about finding the hope to raise up what has fallen, the courage to make new what has grown old and the love to bring all things to their perfection.  Bearing witness such as this is not only credible; it’s down right compelling.

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