Having reached the ‘end of the road,’ so to speak, in the gospel according to Mark, this week we’re picking up the story post-resurrection in the gospel according to Luke. If we back up to the beginning of chapter 24, we see Mary Magdalene and her companions running to the disciples when they find Jesus’ tomb empty. Jesus later appears to two disciples on their way home to a city called Emmaus, though they don’t recognize him at first, and when they figure out what happened, they immediately run back to Jerusalem to talk with the Eleven. That’s where we pick up the story.
Scripture: Luke 24:36-48
While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.
While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
Jesus spends half of this story convincing his friends and disciples that he is not a ghost. They are finally, mostly convinced when he eats a piece of fish—after all, ghosts don’t have taste buds and stomachs. There is a word of comfort here for those of us who struggle to believe in a bodily resurrection: even the Eleven, who saw Jesus with their own two eyes and touched the wounds in his hands, needed some convincing.
But proving a bodily resurrection via some blackened tilapia is not Luke’s primary point here.
When Jesus appears among them, he says “peace be with you.”
Obviously, everyone panics.
I am of the firm belief that any time a messenger from God says “peace be with you,” or “do not be afraid,” there is something pretty terrifying going on. Jesus offers them his own peace not just because they’re startled—but because he knows that what comes next will require a clear mind and a steady heart.
And he explains everything. He goes from beginning to end, explaining every reference he ever made to the law and the prophets, to the psalms and songs. He points out the messianic themes in even the smallest bits and pieces of the Hebrew Bible, and he tells them the end game: that repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name, beginning in that moment and going to the ends of the earth—even as far as Hanover, Ohio, some 2000 years later.
After the most intense Bible study ever, though, Jesus turns to them and says “and you are witnesses to all of this.”
And you can almost see the enthusiastic nodding stop, and eyes get wide, as Jesus says “but you’re not going this alone. I will send what God has promised—power and hope and sustenance from on high.”
It’s still Easter, but Pentecost is coming.
Jesus doesn’t say “you will be witnesses to these things.”
Jesus doesn’t say “you can witness these things, if you want to or if you try hard enough.”
You are witnesses, he says. You are the ones who have seen the Lord.
As I sat down to write this week, I wondered what else we are witnesses to.
My week this week was a bit of a roller coaster:
I’ve witnessed beauty, as daffodils and tulips wrestle their way through the snow and storms to bloom with their brilliant spring colors.
I’ve seen anxiety, as families struggled to figure out where and how they could find the simplest of basic necessities—food, clothing, shelter.
I’ve seen joy, as warm weather has brought people and animals out of their winter hiding places.
I’ve witnessed grief, because even as we remember Bea Smith and celebrate her life, we also mourn her absence from us.
I’ve seen horror and destruction, as Puerto Rico was plunged into darkness and blackouts again and Syrian families still struggle to survive the war that ravages their homes.
What is it that you see, day in and day out? To what joy, anxiety, beauty and destruction are you a witness?
I’m willing to bet that it’s not all new life and hope and power. I’m willing to bet that you, too, have witnessed sadness and grief and horror and anxiety and fear.
Because we are witnesses to the resurrection, we are even more aware of the ways our world is obsessed with death—all the ways our communities and our lives are not as they should be.
Children should not have to wonder where their clothes or food are going to come from, or if they’re going to have a place to sleep and shower tomorrow.
Parents should not have to shelter their children from chemical weapons or surface-to-air missiles.
No one should have to live with chronic loneliness, with addictions they cannot control, with despair or hopelessness. No one should live in fear for their safety or their lives.
And yet, here we are. Whether we choose to see them or not, those are very present realities—and not just in far-off places, but here. Right outside these walls.
As tempting as it is to be sunshine and rainbows people, where everything is great all the time, that is not what God asks of us.
We are the in-between people. We can sit in the tension between the world that is and the world that’s coming. We can see the horrors and say “that is absolutely not okay,” and at the same time tell this story of resurrection and grace not just with words, but with our whole lives.
We are the ones who are called to live and work and speak as though the kingdom of God is coming into existence right here and now, in this place with these people.
Because if we don’t, who else is going to?
You don’t need to be a preacher. You don’t have to walk around with a sermon or a systematic theology textbook in your back pocket. Each and every person in this room has unique gifts given from God, and a unique call to show and tell this good news in your world.
I’m a preacher, not a teacher or engineer or farmer or anything else—but you are.
It was Fred Rogers, the host of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood and a Presbyterian minister, who told an audience at Marquette University in 2001: “nobody else can live the life you live. And even though no human being is perfect, we always have the chance to bring what’s unique about us to live in a redeeming way.”
Peace be with you, because you are witnesses to these things—to turning around, to forgiveness and grace, to resurrection and new life, to the power of God. You are the ones sent to tell this story, to proclaim release to the captives and freedom for the oppressed.
Jesus, when he wanted to spread the word, did not write a book and hire a marketing team. He did not start with the most powerful and well-connected people he knew.
He created a community—he entrusted his friends, the ones he called brothers and sisters and siblings, with this new message of grace.
Peace be with you, because you have seen the Lord, and now it’s your turn to tell the story.