A brief reflection on the lectionary readings for Sun 3rd April
(Acts 5:27-32, Rev 1:4-8, John 20: 19-31)
The theme of Christian witness runs through all these three readings, in ways that make it quite clear that witness is not an optional extra to being a Christian, but essential to what a Christian is.
I'll say that again: witnessing to Christ is not one activity amongst many that Christians may choose to engage it. It is what being a Christian IS.
The apostles in the Acts reading are boldly telling people all about Jesus, even though the civic authorities have banned them from doing so. They can't do anything else, they say - 'We are witnesses of these things'. Being a witness compels them to speak - not to do so would be to live a lie.
In the gospel reading, Jesus's first concern when he appears to the disciples is to show them his hands and his side - in other words, he is making sure that they are witnesses to the reality of his resurrection. This is really him that they are witnessing - he is forcing them to examine the forensic evidence so that their subsequent testimony will be informed and accurate.
This is the often overlooked background to the story of 'Doubting Thomas'. Thomas' rather gory (to modern ears, at least) insistence on poking his fingers and hand into the holes that the nails and spear would have left on Jesus' body emphasises that it is only these wound marks that would prove if it was really Jesus that his companions had seen. This is exactly what Jesus took pains to show the other disciples when he appeared to them, a point reiterated by Thomas's story. And when Jesus finally appears when Thomas is present, he doesn't rebuke Thomas for his desire to see this evidence for himself, but immediately displays it and invites him to investigate.
And the gospel then goes on to make the point that this is also why the gospel itself has been written down - so that you may believe that Jesus is really the Son of God. Just as Thomas wanted to be an eye witness for himself, the gospel writer accepts that we are going to want as much evidence as possible for who Jesus was if we are to believe the really startling claims of his disciples - and that is why the stories he has selected have been presented to us. As a dossier of evidence, so that we can witness for ourselves what Jesus was like and the sort of things he did - in the hope that we will draw the conclusion that he was indeed the Christ.
But its not just the disciples and the gospel writers who are witnesses. The author of Revelation describes Jesus himself as 'the first witness'. Jesus in his very being is witness to us of who and what God is.
So being a witness is not just something that certain special Christians do - it is the nature of the Christ we seek to follow.
Being a witness to what we have seen or glimpsed of Jesus is an integral part of being a Christian. It is not an optional extra.
Last week, I challenged the 8am congregation to tell one person that day or that week that they had been to church on Easter Day - but not just that they had been. I asked them to mention one thing that had struck them, or that they'd been reminded of, about Jesus. And I asked them to specifically mention the word Jesus! Because I had noticed, I said, that whilst we had spent over a year in PCC meetings and elsewhere telling each other our faith stories, hardly anyone had mentioned Jesus or God by name. Most people clearly feel much more comfortable talking about going to church than talking about Jesus. But feeling comfortable isn't enough - we are called to be witnesses. Even, as the Acts story makes clear, when that is certainly not going to be comfortable.
When I issued the challenge last week, I asked them to write down on a slip of paper as soon as they could after the conversation - anonymously - what they had said, and what the reaction had been from the person they said it too. I asked them to bring those slips to church tomorrow for us to share.
In conversations at the door, it seemed that people were up for the challenge! I wonder how many and how varied the stories we will hear tomorrow will be...