Witnessing to What or to Whom?

Today’s gospel, Luke 24. 35-48, tells us what happened after the disclosure at Emmaus. What fascinates me is not the disciples’ obvious failure yet again to recognize Jesus, nor that piece of broiled fish and what it says about Christ’s resurrected body (and believe me, the speculation to which it has given rise over the centuries is immense), but the words at the end:

Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Perhaps I am being very dim but the kind of witness being posited here is actually a little strange. The disciples had seen Christ suffer and die and rise again and had had the scriptures explained to them, but now he is asking them to witness to a future event: the preaching of forgiveness and repentance in his name. We hear our preachers exhorting us to ‘witness to Christ’ in various ways, but I wonder how often we think of that in terms of a past event: the death and resurrection of Christ as something located in history, made present through liturgical anamnesis, but essentially something to which we look back rather than forward. We are in the business of retelling the story rather than helping to tell it for the first time.

I am probably trembling on the brink of heresy again, but the idea of witnessing to a future proclamation of Christ which must embrace the whole world is quite stunning. It reminds us that Easter is the beginning of the story, not the end. There is still something for us to do, and do it we must, for it has been entrusted to us by Christ himself. As we shall sing at Pentecost, ‘All is made new.’

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7 thoughts on “Witnessing to What or to Whom?”

  1. Amen. How amazing that in our treacherous world there are Christians ,who not only risk their lives for Jesus ,but, those whose loved ones have been martyred for His sake, and, then publicly forgive the transgressors. Remember the Amish child ? etc etc
    Hope for us all.

  2. There is still some work for us to do. This is what I heard in Monday’s Gospel, when Jesus tells Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers…” And I heard Him say this to us women, wherever we happen to be…

  3. I love the complex mysteriousness (rendered in the gospels) of the Risen Christ. Resurrection doesn’t mean all goes back to what it had been; hence, I think, the trouble people are having recognizing Him. Jesus’s death and resurrection scrambles and redeems very time itself: nothing will ever be the same…

  4. i’m a bit ?upset?bothered?puzzled? by your “Witnessing to what”. Why do I feel as if I am reading it through fog?
    You may remember I am ‘one of THEM’, but I attend Mass every Sunday. Perhaps I am not in the habit (no pun intended) of thinking in that manner, though I feel I have spent the last 80 years searching.

  5. Thank you for all your comments. Stan, I’m not sure I quite understand the point you are making, but I’ve moved your comment here from the newsletter sign-up so that others can help us out. I certainly didn’t want to upset you or anyone.

  6. Oh, I am not upset in any sense where you should apologise! I am not surprised you are unsure of what I mean – that’s my trouble I am unsure of what I mean, too. I think I am unaccustomed to thinking in the ways you are writing, especially in the last para of your article. I think I was confused and therefore uneasy, trying to work through ‘looking forward’ when I perhaps only look backward. I’m just a crazy mixed-up kid! (but certainly not unhappy!)

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