“Witness” can be a scary word to some church people. Even apart from church contexts, it can be scary to be a witness. Your name is now associated with a case, situation, or incident. If a new development or question might happen later down the road, you will likely be called. Whether you desire to get the facts straight or find yourself in a tricky situation because of being in a certain place at a certain time, being a witness can be stressful.
Beginning with Easter morning in the gospel of Luke, 3 stories happen in rapid succession. First, the tomb is empty. Then, at dusk, Jesus walks with disciples on the way to Emmaus. Finally, at the end of the day he appears in the midst of the disciples. He opens their minds to the scriptures, eats broiled fish, and makes what seems to be a self-explanatory remark: “You are witnesses of these things.” In declaring the disciples to be witnesses, Jesus may very well be saying “You are in this with me going forward. You are connected to this situation. You are going to respond to the new developments and questions.”
As disciples in the 21st century, it’s a bit of a challenge to put us in the same place as those disciples so long ago, but the gospels were written for the sake of their hearers, rather than the sake of the characters themselves. The author of Luke had precisely our eyes, ears, and hearts in mind as he wrote those words of Jesus. Luke, as well as the other gospels, invite us into the very scene on the page. It’s as if Luke would be writing, “You are reading this, you are witnesses too!”
When the word “witness” is tossed around in predominantly Christian circles, it gets used to describe the story we are supposed to tell. Maybe you have heard witnesses that tend to follow a certain pattern:
“I had a decent start in life. I ran into a really rough patch. Everything fell apart. Then I found Jesus. I accepted Jesus. Things started putting themselves back together. Things really took off. I’m great now! And if you want to have this happen in your lives, come to the altar right now.”
This may be a slight oversimplification, but I will say I have noticed this pattern several times personally. While this can be a rhythm of how we “witness,” I’m not sure it should be the dominant script for how Christians witness God in our lives. It suggests that God is like a product and reduces the role of being a witness to positive results rather than a dynamic relationship with the one who has redeemed us beyond the power of sin, death, isolation, fear-mongering, conspiracy theories, illusions of control, etc.
I guess where I am led in this devotion is an idea that there is so much more about God for us to witness.
As a lifelong Lutheran Christian, spoken “witnessing” does not come very easily for me. However, there is a witness made when I affirm someone is loved. There is a witness made when I hug my children at night. There is a witness when I stomp and use…choice…language. We have narratives of witness that we can draw from to speak our God-experiences. For example, I remember when I witnessed death in the moment for the first time. I remember being surround by a great deal of care after a surgery. I remember the first time I encountered Romans 8:38-39 and how those verses spoke a word of God’s unprecedented connection with us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
It is stressful to be a witness. It means we are entrusted with a responsibility and a power which can reshape the world. Jesus’ words of witness come just before a promise that God will send power to them so that they might carry their witness, connection, and involvement to the ends of the earth. In the midst of so much which has and which will happen, God is never letting go or giving up.
We are witnesses of these things.
Let us pray...
God of all, thank you for bringing us into your resurrection life and declaring us witnesses. Help us communicate in our words and actions your goodness, grace, and love above anything else. Amen.