3d Sunday of Easter
Acts 3: 13-15, 17-19
Ursulines, Willow Dr., New Rochelle
April 19, 2015
“God raised him from the dead; of this we are witnesses” (Acts 3: 15).
Collegiate Church of St. Waltrude
In the Acts of the Apostles, the apostles repeatedly make this twofold claim: Jesus has been raised from the dead, and they are witnesses to this fact. That very commission is given them in the last line of today’s gospel: “You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:48).
Being a “witness” to Jesus’ resurrection and its implications takes on special meaning when we use that term, in Greek, martyr, to describe people thruout the ages like Stephen the Deacon; those being beheaded, crucified, and burned alive by ISIS and other fanatics; those being “re-educated” in Chinese prisons and labor camps; those being assassinated in Latin America for defending the poor or opposing the cartels.
To be a witness to Jesus, you know well, doesn’t mean only to die for him, be imprisoned for him, or go into exile for him. We’re all supposed to be his witnesses—to witness by our lives that Jesus lives.
How do we do that? Today’s Scriptures propose to us at least 6 ways.
1. We repent of our sins. We admit that we have sinned and we pursue conversion (Acts 3:19). If we’re not at the point where we need a dramatic conversion a la Augustine or Ignatius or Merton, we may need one from mediocrity; at the least, we need to turn away from our peccadillos, our gossip, our snide remarks, our loose adherence to truth, etc., and recommit ourselves to Jesus as our Risen Lord every day.
2. We seek knowledge; we foster learning. Peter laments that his countrymen “acted out of ignorance” (3:17) when they demanded “the release of a murderer” (3:14), i.e., Barabbas in place of “the author of life” (3:15). Knowledge and learning are goods in themselves: knowledge of the created world, of the sciences and math; learning about people and cultures: the arts and humanities; knowledge of the Scriptures, theology, and philosophy. Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:25) so that they might know him and might know what God is doing in their own lives. All these branches of learning enable us to be more and more what God created us to be, images of himself; and better and better to love and serve one another.
3. Related to knowledge and learning is pursuit of the truth. We pursue it, preach it, stick to it. Knowledge and learning ultimately are in service to the truth; they are supposed to lead us to God. Peter upbraids his audience for “denying the Holy and Righteous One” (Acts 3:14), denying plain facts evidenced by Jesus’ life and ministry. We all know people whose motto seems to be “don’t confuse me with the facts.” If that’s serious in an academic setting—which as teachers you all can appreciate—or in matters of public policy, it’s still more important in matters theological and spiritual. We adhere to the Word of God (both the Scriptures in general and the Person of God’s Son), to the Creed that we profess at least weekly, to the inalienable truth of human dignity.
4. We are witnesses to Jesus by keeping the commandments. “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3): not only the Decalog but also the beatitudes and the 2 great commandments; and the commandment to serve one another. “Whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him” (2:5).
5. We witness to Jesus thru our worship. “The two disciples” who’d met Jesus at Emmaus “recounted … how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread” (Luke 24:35). We come to the sacred liturgy to meet Jesus to testify publicly that we belong to him. We proclaim the wonderful things that God has done for humanity in Jesus—for us personally too; and we go from our worship into the world recharged with his grace to be his agents in the world, his witnesses, by our actions and words.
6. We witness to Jesus by our joy. In the Collect today we prayed that we might “exult forever in renewed youthfulness of spirit”; that we might “rejoice now in the restored glory of our adoption” as we anticipate the future joy “of the day of resurrection.” How can we not be happy when our sins have been forgiven and Jesus has embraced us and made himself our companion and friend and savior?