Harrowing Of Hell
April 15, 2018

Being a Witness to the Resurrection

The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.

So I had a box.

It was as big as this box right here. And I went, and I sat it in the midst of our children. They were in circle. It was last Sunday’s children’s sermon. As you were in here listening to Ruth Anne’s reflection on spiders, stink bugs, and the resurrection. I set the box in the middle of the circle, and as I set it down I bent my knees…you lift something heavy with your legs, not your back, my mom always used to say.

As I set the box there in the middle of the circle I said, “Just pretend the it isn’t there. It’s just a box, and it probably doesn’t have anything cool in it, so just ignore it. Let’s just forget about the box because I want to talk to you today about doubting Thomas.”

That was the beginning of my message to the children last Sunday morning; and it is the beginning of my message to you today…but I’ll return to it later.

We don’t encounter Thomas in today’s Gospel. but we do run into the risen Jesus again. Jesus just appears in the upper room, and says: “Peace be with you.” And when he sees the disciples shock, he says: “Why are you frightened?” Why do you doubt? It’s me, Jesus. Do you have anything to eat… maybe some fish?”

“And in their joy the disciples were still disbelieving and wondering.” Which shouldn’t be a surprise: there is no precedent for resurrection. Jesus was dead. Now he is alive. This wasn’t like the dead and back to life scenarios the disciples had seen before. This wasn’t the young boy at Nain; or the daughter of the Synagogue leader; or even Lazarus four days in the tomb. Those folks were raised by Jesus, by his hands and his words, and they were going to die again.

Jesus’ resurrection was something different all together. Death was done. Jesus was alive, and yet, different, magnificent, eternal. There was disbelief because the disciples had no framework in which to set what they were witnessing. There were no words to articulate what it was like to meet a man who was dead, and now is alive, and will live forever. I mean, it would be easier for them to say they saw a ghost…more believable somehow. But Jesus wasn’t a ghost. He was a person, alive, who would never die again.

Imagine that! Imagine if that was the message you were to start spreading, because you yourself witnessed this resurrection and saw Jesus eating a piece of fish. Not the sales job I’m looking for, at least if I am going to be paid on commission. But here is the thing, the disciples were compelled to witness to what had happened because it happened!

That is the crazy thing, right? To my mind that is almost the best reason to believe in the resurrection. It was entirely beyond their comprehension, and yet, it provided a framework that changed the world. It brought to bear in the minds of humanity, the truth that God is here. God is near. God cares about us. God loves us. God wants to communicate with us and show us how beloved we are to God.

Now, that divine love has always been present, but, it just wasn’t always apparent. So, God came to clarify with the voice and actions of a man; and then mark the message uniquely and indelibly upon the world with resurrection.

Resurrection is what they witnessed, and that is what I want to explore today: what it means to be a witness to the resurrection.

Now witnesses, as we know, are not particularly reliable. It is not that they don’t believe what they saw, it is just that, and let me be frank, their minds are filled with
unacknowledged prejudices and context filters, that makes their capacity to clearly witness something skewed.

And while we know how unreliable eye witnesses can be, there are 2 billion people who believe that Jesus was resurrected, and that this resurrection, somehow, changed everything 2000 years ago and continues to change everything even to this very moment.

Here is an important thing to remember about witness; a legal witness is about facts. A resurrection witness is about relationship; it is about relationship with God as made known by a neighbor. At least that is what I learned when I asked the kids who sat around the circle last Sunday: “What makes a good witness?” One said: “Someone I love.” Another said: “Someone I know who tells me the truth over and over again.” Someone else said: “My brother and my sister.” And yet another said: “Someone who has nothing in it for them.” And finally, I heard something like: “Someone who makes themselves vulnerable by saying what they say.”

So you see, even the kids understand witness to be about more than imparting detailed information; they understand, it seems intuitively, that witness is about relationship, trust, and vulnerability; and I’ll add to their list transformation. Think about the Samaritan woman at the well. Think about the man born blind. Think about Lazarus raised from the dead. These were great witnesses of Jesus because they were in relationship with him, they trusted in him, they were made vulnerable by the news they witnessed about him, because they were transformed by him. And this transformation plugged them into the power of God.

It plugged them into a power greater than themselves…than their bodies, or communities, or resources; a power greater than the wildest storm, or nuclear energy, or the sun. Resurrection gave them personal, particular access to the power of God.

The Samaritan woman was an outcast, only able to get water from the well at noon, when no one else was there. She met Jesus, and, changed by that encounter, ran back to the village and said, “You must come meet this man.” Imagine, all of a sudden, the meekest outcast in the village has a resounding voice, and the glint of courage in her eye. She has seen and believes and bears witness, and by this witness others come to believe as well. She is plugged into the power of God.

The man born blind, labeled a sinner from birth, an outcast marked as despised by God with blindness. Suddenly he can see. Imagine, all of a sudden this stationary man, who for his entire life sat on a rug, not moving around, begging for food or money, suddenly has a resounding voice, and the glint of courage in his eye. He has seen and believes and bears witness. Now he stands up to the Pharisees and says to them: “Maybe you want to follow this guy Jesus as well.” He is plugged into the power of God.

Then there is Lazarus, the beloved disciple, who after he was raised from the dead never left Jesus’ side. He was the one leaning on Jesus at the last supper. He went with Jesus into the house of the high priest. He was there at the foot of the cross with Mary. He outran Peter to the tomb. And from the fishing boat in the Sea of Galilee he called out, “Look it is our Lord.” Now, suddenly the sickly little brother of Mary and Martha has a resounding voice, and the glint of courage in his eye. He has seen and believes and bears witness. He is plugged into the power of God.

“Do you know what I have in this box?” That is what I asked the children last Sunday as we talked about belief and witness. I told them I had a dog in the box, and it is standing up. A dog, and it is really a dog, and it is heavy…a heavy dog standing up in the box. “Would you like to see,” I asked them?

Everyone raised their hand. I picked four. And, without letting the others see, we opened the lid, lifted the dog out and each child held it. Then they went back and told the others what they had seen. And I asked the children to raise their hands if they believed these witnesses. A bunch of hands when went up, but some doubted. So I divided the room. On the one side were the believers and on the other side were the doubters.

Then I asked the believers to sit quietly, fold their legs, and set in their minds-eye a dog standing up in a box. You should have seen the serenity wash over those children as they sat as if in prayer. We are indeed teaching our children to pray here at Epiphany.

Then I took the doubters with me and showed them the dog, and when we returned they told the believers about the heavy dog standing up in the box, just like I have right here this morning. And the believing children nodded.

And before I showed them what was in the box, I reminded all of them of Jesus’ words: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29)

Resurrection is a massive, mind-bending idea that we believe,if we believe it at all, through the witness of others who, like the disciples, were plugged into the power of God. And because they were plugged into the power of God they were compelled to witness to this new way of life; this new framework; this resurrection orientation.

It was this resurrection orientation that drove those scared men from that upper room even though it made them vulnerable, and led, in every case, to their untimely deaths…The reality of the resurrection they witnessed gave them certainty that nothing could unplug them from the power of God…not even death!

And their witness opened the minds of millions who, in turn, opened the minds of millions more, right down to this very day, this very moment, this very room. You are plugged into the power of God. So you too, have a resounding voice and a glint of courage in your eyes. Did you know that? Do you live that way? Are you a witness?

The words of your witness will not convince because they are facts about the resurrection. In fact, resurrection facts are becoming less clear with time. No, resurrection witness is about relationship; it is about relationship with God that is shared with a neighbor. And what they witness in the life of the witness is a person plugged into the power of God.