And everything changed in that moment. Moment? Event, perhaps. Everything changed with that event. Easter is a new start, a new creation. We didn’t go back to Eden, but the way to the kin-dom of God was opened on that day.
The problem is that not everyone saw it. You know how it is with amazing things. If you didn’t see it, if you weren’t there, it is hard to capture the experience. You’ve tried to share it, you’ve tried to tell your friends or family about this amazing thing that you saw, this amazing music that you heard, this amazing experience that you had. You describe it as imaginatively as you possibly can. You show them the motions, you talk about what happened to you, you relive the moment in front of them. You try your best. And . . . crickets. Then you shrug and say the only thing you can think to say. The only thing that anyone says faced with that lack of reaction: “I guess you had to be there.”
That is what we might be left with when trying to talk about the latest movie we watched, or concert we heard, but it doesn’t seem adequate for this. This Easter thing. This Resurrection moment, this being alive in a way that leaks into eternity experience. We can’t and don’t want to shake our heads and say, “I guess you had to be there” and sadly wander away. It is too good to keep to ourselves. Too wonderful to hide under a bushel. Too incredible to not share. Because we are witnesses.
Bearing witness is more than simply saying we saw it. Saying, with the disciples, “we are witnesses” is not simply a matter of pride, or worse yet, one-upmanship. It is claiming a responsibility, or better yet, an opportunity to be proclaimers. To share the experience, to offer the gift we’ve been given, to announce the kin-dom that has begun to take root in our midst – that’s the Easter transformation and imperative that has taken place. We are witnesses.
This Easter season series dips into the Acts of the Apostles as a way of examining the witness of the one who first experienced the Resurrection. Their story, as they struggled to find a way to live out the implications of this amazing news, this gospel event, becomes our story as we too seek to bear witness to the Risen Christ and to live that witness daily.
We suggest as a companion piece to this series a book the United Methodist Women used as a part of their Mission u experience in 2021: Bearing Witness in the Kin-dom: Living into the Church’s Moral Witness through Radical Discipleship by Darryl Stephens, (United Methodist Women, 2021.) Dr. Stephens walks the reader through a well-constructed process to redefine what it means to be a witness for the Christian disciple of Jesus Christ. Yes, it means to observe, to see God at work in the world. But it also means to proclaim, to act, to announce with our hands as well as our words our commitment to God’s kin-dom for which we pray whenever we say, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The season after Easter is where we consider what it means to walk with Jesus into eternity. But it is not about life after death, or rather not only about life after death. It is very much about life before death, life in the face of death. It is about life and about bearing witness to a life that resembles a kin-dom existence right here and right now. It is this life, this justice and righteousness, this hope and this glory to which we can say with confidence, “We are witnesses.”
It’s Easter. In many ways, this day plans itself. It forms itself. There are patterns and rituals and traditions to this day that are unique to you and to your congregation. It doesn’t do to disappoint on this day. Easter, like Christmas, takes up residence in our consciousness and lives there almost as an entity of itself. And there are plusses and minuses to this. We might feel locked into a pattern that no longer speaks, but we might also tap into memories that open worshipers into a new and deeper faith. Go with it; meet expectations and then consider how to offer more.
Easter could be a standalone service, complete in and of itself. Don’t try to over-complicate it with innovations. At the same time, it can also be helpful to point to something that goes on. Using Easter to launch a series can be a way of suggesting that this day, as wonderful and beautiful as it is, does not encompass all of the life of faith. There is more to be experienced; there is more to be lived; there is fruit to bear and a journey to undertake. Let Easter be the means by which we launch the community off with renewed vigor and passion, conviction and purpose.
The “We Are Witnesses” theme suggests both “seeing” and “telling.” Claiming the faith that we have received is the beginning, but then offering this faith to the world at large is part of what it means to be witnesses. We are witnesses and we give a witness.
The Easter story should be told with power and passion in whatever ways that are meaningful to your community. But perhaps there is space to point beyond into the story of the apostles in the book of Acts, the foundation of the rest of the series. The subtext is that the greatness of Easter is found in the life that is lived in that light. So, even on Easter Sunday, we are pointing toward the future, toward what is coming.
Let our prayers be prayers of celebration of the gift that Easter is, but also for the strength to live into the promise of new life. Let there be a call to new life and new living. And that life is lived out loud in as public a way as possible. And the light and life of Easter invites us to see all that is still of death in our world—not just in our individual hearts, but in our community and in our world. We give witness to new possibilities and new hope because of Easter. We give witness to the end of hate, the end of war, the end of division, and the end of injustice. Because of Easter, we are witnesses to a new kin-dom—because God raised Jesus from the dead.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.