BECOMING WITNESSES – Third Sunday of Easter, Year B

April 18, 2021

Revised Common Lectionary
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm 4
1 John 3:1-7
Luke 24:36b-48

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Acts 3:13-15, 17-19
Psalm 4:2-4, 7-8, 9 (7a)
1 John 2:1-5a
Luke 24:35-48

What made the early disciples of Jesus such convincing witnesses of his resurrection? Think about it. An itinerant rabbi executed in the most brutal and humiliating way possible by the Roman government became an object of faith based on testimony by his followers that they had not only found his tomb to be empty, but that they had seen him alive. While not everyone was swayed by their accounts, their movement quickly grew and spread, based on their powerful witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

Isn’t it striking to hear the confidence and assurance of Peter’s sermon in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles? Yet we know from various passages in the Gospels that Peter had not always been so unwavering in his faith, denying that he even knew Jesus on the night before his crucifixion. Another of today’s readings, from the Gospel of Luke, shows that Peter and the other disciples were formed into credible witnesses in much the same way as we are today—through a gradual process that takes place within a community of believers and in which moments of doubt and fear can give way to deeper understanding.

When we meet the disciples in today’s Gospel reading, they are hardly ready for the task of witnessing. A fearful and uncomprehending band, they are huddled together, comparing notes about appearances of Jesus to Peter and two disciples on the road to Emmaus. When Jesus suddenly stands before them and greets them, they “were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost” (Lk 24:37).

Jesus reassures them by inviting them not just to see his hands and feet but also to touch them. Luke tells us that they had mixed feelings at that moment as their joy was tinged with disbelief and wondering (24:41). Jesus offers further evidence that he is no ghost by asking them for food and then eating a piece of broiled fish before their eyes.

Even more significant than these “proofs,” however, were the words that Jesus went on to speak. Just as he did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (24:45). He spoke to them and taught in a way that showed that the resurrection was not a parlor trick but an integral part of God’s plan for the world. The Messiah had to suffer and rise so that the world could be transformed by the gift of God’s forgiveness and changed lives.

Only gradually, through the gift of his presence and the unpacking of his word would they be prepared for the task of witness. Their faith was not simply kindled in a moment but was nurtured over time as they recognized the signs of his presence and came to an ever-greater understanding of the Scriptures. When Peter stood up to proclaim the power of Jesus’ resurrection in today’s reading from Acts, he had already had the opportunity to face his own fears, to deal with his own doubts, and to align his own life and way of thinking to the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising.

How can we, like Peter and the other early disciples, become convincing witnesses to the risen Christ? Like them, we are engaged in a life-long process of learning to recognize the signs of the Christ’s abiding presence among us and to understand the significance of his rising in the midst of suffering, injustice, and death.

On this faith journey, we all experience moments of wondering and disbelieving. Yet as we gather together, as we open the Scriptures, and as we break bread together, our eyes are opened to recognize him. As we meet the risen Christ even today in these and many other ways, he continues to send us out as his witnesses.

A Hymn for Today: “They Disbelieved for Joy”

Hymn Society member Rae E. Whitney has penned more than 500 hymn texts, many of which appear in her six published collections. This text is based directly on today’s Gospel reading and celebrates the ways in which the risen Christ formed the faith of his disciples and prepared them to be witnesses, just as he does for us today.

They disbelieved for joy
When Christ appeared to them,
While hiding in the Upper Room
In old Jerusalem.

“Peace be with you, my friends!
No longer fear, nor weep.
I told you I would come again.
My promises I keep.

“Behold my hands and feet!
Come touch me!” Jesus said.
“For I am not a phantom ghost.
God raised me from the dead!”

As Jesus shared their food,
Some wondrous truths they heard,
For he revealed the hidden plan
That lay within God’s Word.

The Prophets, Law, and Psalms
Foretold how Christ, God’s Son,
Would come to bring us back to God,
Through love to make us one.

Let us believe for joy,
Across both time and space,
With others share the Word of God
And witness to God’s grace.

Text: Rae E. Whitney, b. 1927. © 2000, Selah Publishing Co., Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Paschal Greeting

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.