Sunday, March 27, 2016

We are witnesses

Homily: Easter Sunday – Cycle C
          We are witnesses…  In its most basic definition, a witness is someone who sees an event take place.  Typically, we associate a witness with legal proceedings.  Because of this, we all generally recognize that being a witness carries with it responsibilities, specifically the responsibility to recount what it is we have seen or experienced.  Here in the United States, one can only be demanded to “give witness” in a court of law.  Otherwise, we have the “right to remain silent.”  For Christians, however, this right doesn’t necessarily exist.  Certainly, our freedom to remain silent can never be taken from us.  Nevertheless, as Christians we believe that an encounter with the risen Christ demands a kerygmatic response.  It is in fact a response commissioned by Christ when he told his disciples, “You are witnesses….”
          Now I know many of you are probably looking at me and saying, “I was with you right up until that “K”-word.  Right, kerygmatic.  First let me tell you that it is not important that you know how to say this word and it is even less important that you know how to spell it (if it wasn’t for spell-check, I would get it wrong every time).  Now let me tell you what it means.  It’s a Greek word that means a convincing proclamation of what one has seen and heard.  For Christians, kerygma is a proclamation that the crucified and risen Jesus is God’s final and definitive act of salvation.  Imagine for a moment that someone would stand up in this assembly and say: “Brothers and Sisters, you remember this man, Jesus of Nazareth, the prophet mighty in word and deed, who worked many signs and wonders in our midst and whom we lauded as our king as he entered this city; this man whom we then watched as he was condemned wrongfully and led off to be crucified.  I stand before you today and tell you that he has been raised to life and that I have seen him.  And not only me, but these other men, too.  We have seen him face to face.  We have heard him talk and have seen his hands and his feet.  We have even eaten with him and so are assured that it is no ghost that we have seen, but a living man.  Truly, I tell you, this Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised to life.”  You can imagine that this kind of a witness would be pretty powerful.  This is exactly the witness that Peter gives in our first reading today.
          Over these last few days, we have witnessed many things.  First, on Thursday night, we witnessed the Last Supper in which Jesus, knowing that he was about to die, instituted the Eucharist by giving to his twelve closest disciples his body to eat and blood to drink in the form of bread and wine.  At the same time, we witnessed how he instituted the priesthood that same night in order to ensure that this Eucharist would continue after he was gone.  And we witnessed how Jesus bent low to wash his disciples’ feet, giving them an example of how it is that they were to serve one another.  Finally, we witnessed how he went out to the garden to pray and was arrested after he was betrayed by Judas, one of his twelve closest disciples.
          Then, on Friday, we witnessed how Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and was condemned unjustly.  Perhaps we even felt the sting of guilt as we joined in with the crowds who shouted “Crucify him!  Crucify him!” and who demanded for the release of Barabbas the murderer instead of Jesus.  We witnessed how he carried his own cross and was crucified on Calvary.  Perhaps the sorrow for our sins moved us to venerate the cross that day: the cross on which Jesus suffered for our sins, but through which he set us free.  At the end, we watched as his dead body was taken down from the cross and laid in a tomb before nightfall that night.
          On Saturday, we witnessed that strange, eerie silence that always comes with Holy Saturday.  “There is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness” an ancient Christian homilist wrote.  He continues, “The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep.”  We witnessed the closed tomb of our Lord and (hopefully) witnessed the Sabbath rest.  We sat and waited, not knowing if what Jesus had said about the resurrection was true and, if so, how and when it would come about.  We witnessed night fall and felt the anxiety of not knowing what the future would hold and the sadness in our hearts for having lost, it seemed, all that we had hoped for.
          Now this morning we come here and we are witnesses to the incredible news that has come to us from the women who went to the tomb: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb!” and we are witnesses of what Peter would tell us after he ran to the tomb and found it empty.  “Could it be that our Lord has risen?”  Yes, Peter, he is risen and of this we are witnesses.
          My brothers and sisters, we are witnesses.  We have encountered the risen Christ.  In fact, we encounter him every Sunday, here at this altar. Peter and the other disciples knew that once they had encountered the risen Christ, they could not remain in the Upper Room, but had to go forth from there to proclaim what they had seen and heard.  And so it is with us.  As much as we can no longer claim ignorance of our sins, having seen the suffering that they caused our Lord, no longer can we stand idle, either.
          Ite. Missa est.  Those old enough will recall that these are the words of dismissal from the Mass as it was celebrated in Latin.  Ironically, even though the new English translation of the mass was intended to more closely emulate the Latin, the dismissal seems to have somehow escaped that treatment.  Literally translated, the Latin phrase means “Go.  It is the dismissal.”  However, the word “dismissal,” in the sense that it is used in Latin, means something more than “you are free to go” like it does in English.  It means, rather, “you are sent forth” and it is understood that this “sending forth” involves some sort of mission.  Missa.  Dismissal.  Mission.  Those words all sound related, don’t they?
          Every Sunday, and in a particularly powerful way on Easter Sunday, we participate anew in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; we encounter again the risen Lord in Word and Sacrament.  My brothers and sisters, we are witnesses.  Therefore, the dismissal at Mass is never the end of our Christian obligation for the week (or for the year, perhaps?), but rather it is just the beginning.  The privilege of being a witness—and it is a privilege—brings with it the responsibility to proclaim what we have seen and heard in every place where we live.  Just listen to our late Holy Father, Saint Pope John Paul II, who said at the beginning of his pontificate, “Do not be afraid to go out into the streets and the public places—like the first apostles!—to preach Christ and the good news of salvation in the squares of cities.”  If we are to be authentic witnesses then we must take seriously this “sending forth” that we receive today and every Sunday.
          Since we are learning Greek vocabulary today, why don’t we try one more?  Does anyone know what the Greek word for “witness” is?  It’s martyr.  May our kerygma, our witness, of the risen Christ whom we encounter here at this Mass earn for us so noble a title.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – March 27th, 2016

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