Peter proceeded to speak and said:
You know what happened!
You know the story! You know it inside and out.
“God loves us. He sent His Son to save us. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead. He is all-forgiving. God is merciful.”
Blah… Blah…. BLAH.
That’s what the world hears, isn’t it?
Because here’s the deal… THEY KNOW THE STORY.
They know what happened…!
Or at least they think they do…
We find ourselves in a very fascinating moment in history. The basic content of the Gospel has been spread just about everywhere. In almost every corner of the world — the Good News of the Resurrection has already been preached to some degree or another.
That wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, the Gospel was brand new information. It was unpredicted. Unheard of! It blindsided history!
This cannot be emphasized enough: The outrageous suggestion that God would take on flesh, dwell among us, die, be buried, and rise victoriously from the dead — when that news first broke, it SHOCKED the ancient world and it demanded an explanation. It rocked cultures. It transformed the world. After hearing it, you either killed Christians… or joined them!
But today, unfortunately… that same proclamation sounds like OLD NEWS for a lot of people. For so many souls, it’s been-there-done-that. Jesus is irrelevant, obsolete. We’ve seen the eye rolls. We’ve seen the yawns and the blank stares of sheer apathy.
It seems that Peter’s words are once again as true as they were for those first century Jewish listeners: “You know what happened!”
So what are we supposed to do? How can we break through to a generation that thinks they know everything already? How can the Gospel reach people today, here and now, when our message seems… so stale?
Perhaps we need only listen to the rest of St. Peter’s Easter message for the answer. Because while he starts off with “You know what happened” — he then cries out:
“And we… are… WITNESSES!”
That’s the key.
That’s what converted the world the first time around. And it’s precisely what can translate the 2,000 year-old story of Jesus’ life, death, and Resurrection to the present day reality of the Church:
WE ARE WITNESSES!
We are living, breathing proof that the Gospel IS believable. That our faith in Jesus IS NOT irrelevant — that yes, it’s ancient… but it’s also ever new! God is continuing his story… IN US… In the Church!
How so? How are we witnesses?
Because we’ve eaten with Him. We’ve tasted His Flesh. We’ve drunk the chalice of His Blood. We’ve experienced conversion through the Holy Spirit. We’ve heard His Voice ringing in our hearts in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, and in the peaceful silence of prayer.
We can personally and joyfully TESTIFY:
Jesus. is. alive!
And we know him! We’re friends with him!
Just like those first apostles who handed the faith down to us, we are now being asked to become bold, fiery, energetic, tireless WITNESSES of the all-important, and infinitely relevant Truth:
He is risen!
This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad! — Christ has conquered sin and death!
That’s why we are here today. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then our faith is worthless. Our Christianity — though it might be very nice and very merciful and very polite — though our churches be gorgeous, and our liturgies very emotionally satisfying — believe me when I say to you:
ALL of this is a complete and utter WASTE of time if the story of Jesus ended on the Cross.
Christianity is downright absurd without the Easter ALLELUIA.
Now…If we really believe that, then we have to live that.
So we listen to the words of St. Paul from our second reading:
Brothers and sisters: “If then you were raised with Christ” — if you are WITNESSES of His Victory! If you’ve left behind your old life and know His Love and Grace active in your heart — “THEN THINK OF WHAT IS ABOVE… Not of what is on earth!” Don’t get dragged back down into all that sad, boring worldliness! Power, pleasure, honor, wealth… All of that got crucified on Friday. Now — it’s Sunday, the LORD’S DAY — and both Cross and Tomb stand empty.
Now maybe you’re asking yourself: But what good can I really do by MY witness? What’s the point of trying to be holy? The world will only laugh… they’ll only make fun of me and call me a hypocrite.
To this I say:
NEVER underestimate the influence of a SINGLE man, woman, or child on fire with the Love of God!
NEVER underestimate what God can do through one single WITNESS.
Every sincere Christian, turned away from sin, striving for virtue, cooperating with God’s grace, is a brand new proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If Christ is working powerfully through you — Your witness is capable of converting thousands!
I hope and pray you know people like that in YOUR life. There are families I know whose lives simply DO NOT make sense apart from Jesus. The way they deal with money, school, work, having kids, and every other aspect of their lives — it defies all explanation… except for the fact of the Resurrection.
Those sorts of people are convicting. They are convincing. They give me — a priest — courage to keep believing in the Gospel.
Pope St. Paul VI put it best when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”
When we see Christians like that, so filled with the Holy Spirit, we can only respond with the words of today’s psalm: “By the LORD has this been done! And it is wonderful in our eyes!”
But what about the alternative?
What happens when we label ourselves “Christian,” but then we don’t bother to become WITNESSES? What happens when we try separating our religion from the rest of daily life? We might give God His one hour on Sunday — or every other Sunday — or maybe twice a year… but then we move on with “reality.”
If we do that, then I’m sorry, but we’re living a lie. We will have only a lifeless faith, and a faithless life.
But that’s not what you are being called to!
Pope St. John Paul II always encouraged us with these words:
“CHRISTIANS… be who you are!”
Be witnesses! Witnesses to hope in a dark, depressed, anxious world! Witnesses to the Truth in a tragically confused culture! Witnesses to the Lord’s action in YOUR life at a time when just about everyone assumes that God is dead.
Whatever you do — Don’t fall into that deadly modern-day trap of feeling awkward, embarrassed and ashamed about the central fact of YOUR life:
God is REAL. God is ALIVE. He trampled death by death!
We are witnesses of this. Go shout it out! Don’t let the world ever shut you up or force you to think that Jesus is just an obsolete, dead god.
But we know that’s not true! We know the story!
He is RISEN and ALIVE, HERE AND NOW.
Wake up and smell the Easter Lilies!
Jesus is LORD both now and forevermore.