What did you see? What did you hear?
"...for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard." -Acts 4:20
By BISHOP ROBERT E. HAYES JR.
You have put away the many reminders of yet another glorious Easter Sunday-the damaged lilies no one took home, the folding chairs needed for the overflow crowds, the heavy wooden cross adorned with flowers that sat proudly on the altar; and you've replaced the ropes temporarily removed to offer more seating in the pews at the rear of the sanctuary.
It is my duty as your bishop to inform you there is another part of this timeless Christian story that you will never be able to put away: the story itself!
What better time than now to remind you another part of Easter is the sharing of what we've seen and what we've heard as we move through this season of Eastertide?
As "resurrection people," followers of the Risen Lord, it becomes our obligation to go out and proclaim boldly the significance of this season. Those earliest disciples saw firsthand the miracle of that Easter morning. If they had kept to themselves all they had seen and heard, the church would not be here today.
Before you slip into your camel-hair clothing, pack your lunch of locusts and wild honey, and prepare to go and tell others about the Risen Savior, let me give you the first rule of witnessing:
You yourself must have firsthand experience of Christ!
In order for you to witness to his death and his resurrection, Jesus has to be alive in you.
One of the biggest struggles we have as witnesses is our inability to convince other people we know about the Christ we serve. Don't fool yourselves: People can look at us, at the way we live, and see for themselves when we don't possess the knowledge of the Master to which we say we are dedicated.
In this day and age, it is not enough to cultivate a Christian personality. No longer is being a good example sufficient, nor can we just talk about Christianity and expect to lead others to Christ.
The late Rabbi Wise said, "If Christians wish to win people to their faith, the best way is to be better Christians."
My friends, the other side of Easter demands that we speak to what we have seen and heard about the events of that first Easter morning.
Did you see anything? Did you hear anything?
In case you didn't, let me give you three unmistakable signs of what happens when the risen Lord enters your life.
First, the risen Christ changes....
What we are
Those early Christians were so vociferous in their witnessing that the New Testament word for witness-matureo-was transliterated into our word "martyr," meaning one who dies for his/her faith.
When Jesus returned in his resurrected form, it changed everything. Seeing him, talking to him, eating with him, and hearing what he had in store for them made a tremendous difference in the lives of those first disciples and of everyone else who came in contact with him.
They understood that all Jesus stood for had not been destroyed, but instead was now affirmed in a wondrous, victorious way.
After seeing that even death could not defeat Christ, those first disciples were ready for anything. They went out and lived in the strength of what he died for, believing that those things were alive and vital, at the very heart of life. They knew they would go on, no matter what the world thought or said, because they knew nothing could separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Secondly, the knowledge of the risen Christ change....
What we say
After challenging their fears and calming the disciples behind the locked doors of the Upper Room, Jesus said to them, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
He went to them again on a hilltop in Galilee and said, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."
And his final words before he departed from them were: "You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
With these words, Jesus told the disciples that they could not know he was alive without wanting to share that news with others. So he sent them out from behind locked doors, down from the hilltops, and forth from his Ascension-to bear witness to what they had seen and heard.
Today, Jesus does the same for us. He sends us out from our complacency, our silence, our apathy, and our shame to be identified as followers of our risen Lord.
Jesus frees us to tell our own stories, just as he has done with all the saints and martyrs and pioneers of our faith in every generation.
He comes to simple, ordinary people like you and me, and he sends us out to proclaim that He lives!
Finally, knowing that Christ lives changes...
What we do
Once the risen Lord enters your life, there is no way for you to be satisfied with what you once did.
Like yeast rising in uncooked bread, those who have been raised with Christ are lifted to a higher level of life, able to ally themselves with what is known to be right and good.
There is a beautiful story from the life of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. One day, he preached to several thousand prisoners in a large state penitentiary. Prison officials announced that, after Moody's message, a pardon would be granted to a prisoner by the governor.
After the sermon, the name of the prisoner was announced, and a wave of applause sounded across the room. But the inmate did not stand; he could not believe what he had heard.
A second time, his name was called, and again he did not stand.
Finally, the man was pushed to the front to receive the pardon from the hand of the governor.
However, when it was time for all the prisoners to return to their cells, the newly pardoned inmate began to march back with them. It was habit; the man had done that so many times. It became necessary for the attendants to pull him out of line.
As he stood holding his pardon in his hand, the attendants asked, "Man, don't you know you are free?"
Out of habit, we sometimes try to go back to what we were before Christ burst forth from the tomb. So I close with this question: Don't you know the resurrection of Christ has set you free to be what God intends for you to be?
There is no going back, for we were all made new through the miracle of Easter!