Homily for III Sunday of Easter
Witness! That’s the one word and concept that I’d like each of us to take home today.
Witness is a powerful thing. Being witness and bearing witness can be a privilege and a great responsibility. In court, the testimony of witnesses to a crime can lead to someone being sent to jail or set free – especially if there is not much physical evidence. In our ordinary day-to-day lives, a great deal depends on the trust we place in the experience and testimony of other people.
This is especially true in our faith. When Christ rose from the dead, His mission on earth was completed. He was not going to stay visibly present on earth for all time. So, right from the start of His public life, He chose witnesses to accompany Him – men and women who would see His miracles, hear His words, be present at His death, and have the privilege of meeting Him again after His resurrection.
Today’s Gospel reading is St. Luke’s transcription of eyewitness accounts of the Risen Lord, who explicitly charges His followers with the duty of bearing witness to all they have seen and heard. They carried out that task faithfully, as we heard in the first reading today; St. Peter proclaimed the death and resurrection fo the Lord, and emphasized, “of this, we are witnesses”. The Psalm is also an example of someone bearing witness to God’s presence in his life. The psalmist writes, “Know that the Lord does wonders for his faithful one; the Lord will hear me when I call upon Him.”
Announcing the Gospel with our words is only one way of bearing witness, and not necessarily the most effective or important, at least not as a starting point. When we witness something powerful, it affects the way we live. Peter and the other Apostles and disciples were transformed by their experience of Christ, and it showed in the way their faith shaped their lives.
St. John, in the second reading, says that if we truly are witnesses of Christ, people who know Him, then we will keep His commandments. As John himself tells us elsewhere, the Lord’s commandments are, in short, to love God above all things, and to love others as He loves us.
We do not have the same experience of Christ as the Apostles did. We have not seen him with our own eyes. Nevertheless, we witness the Lord’s life, death, and resurrection through the words and actions recorded in the New Testament, and we can experience God’s work in our lives in many other ways. If we have our hearts and our eyes open, we can perceive Jesus’ presence in answered prayers, in the strength we receive through the Sacraments, in the love and support of other members of our faith community, and in many other very personal ways that are unique to each one of us.
We need to ask ourselves: do we have personal experience of Christ that gives us hope, strength, and peace, in good times and bad, like the Apostles and many saints throughout the ages? God Himself came to dwell in our soul at baptism, but the degree to which we experience that presence depends a lot on how much we give time to God in prayer and the sacraments and let His teachings inform our daily thoughts, words, and actions.
In baptism, we are also called to be more than passive recipients of God’s presence. We should be active witnesses to God’s loving, living presence. Our very effort to respond to God’s grace by being faithful Christians is one of the most important forms of testimony; as Jesus says, people will know that we are His followers if we love one another as He loved us. We can be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection every day by the way we treat the people around us: reaching out to those in need, forgiving those who offend us, being charitable in our thoughts and words, and doing good to all.