“You are witnesses of these things,” St. Luke tells us. And again in the Acts of the Apostles, in response to God having raised Jesus from the dead, “To this we are witnesses.” These words call us back to our roots as Christians. They call us once again to hear that our sole purpose for being as a church is to be a witness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
As witnesses, we are to live as the transformed people we are created to be. Then, out of our own transformation, we are to go out from these walls to live for the transformation of the world. We are the ones to embody Jesus’ vision for the Reign of God on this earth, to be ambassadors of healing and wholeness for all humanity. I want to tell you of a witness who lives the life of the Risen Christ.
Her name is Allouise Story. She would not allow fear or even the status quo define her or her world. Allouise is elderly, widowed, and the only occupant of a magnificent dazzling house in the midst of an urban ghetto. Her home has polished oak moldings, furniture covered with plastic – neat and tidy.
Outside, across the alley, is Doc’s Liquor Store. Patrons are slouched against tree trunks where they regularly urinate. This infuriated Allouise. In her house were two pianos and an organ that she played every day. When the weather was nice she would have the windows open so that the music would escape to fill the neighborhood with an alternative sound. Outside she would see the children of the streets dirty, disheveled, unkempt – another fury for her.
“There’s the future,” she would say. “And there’s their daddies leaning against these trees. What can we do about it?” She, if anyone, had the right to panic and weep. She had watched the rotting of the neighborhood. But she maintained that house as a sheer act of will to show that not everything or everyone must succumb to decay or leave the city in order to survive. Her very presence was a symbol of life despite the odds. Ordinarily one might see an elderly woman alone in the city and think of her as powerless, but not Allouise. She was full of power.
She is said to pray the Lord’s Prayer so clearly and firmly that when she says, “Amen,” it makes people jump. She fights for good education and good teachers for the city. She maintains the struggle with the signs of defeat all around, but never descends into self-pity. She sings the spiritual “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” so powerfully that a person once said, “No one should be able to sing it like that.”
When Allouise is asked why do you stay, why do you fight, wouldn’t it be easier to move, her response, echoing I John today, is “I am a child of God,” for that is what she is. “I do all of this because I am a witness to the Risen Jesus.”
Allouise has had her mind opened to understand the Scriptures. She knows something of the peace of Christ transforming her heart, giving her the gift of hope to work on the transformation of her community. She is at home living her faith in amazing ways to bring God’s promise of new life to bear in her life circumstances. She, in her way, is proclaiming Jesus’ Name to the nation of her neighborhood.
You and I, because Jesus is Risen, are called to do the same, to go into our “Galilees” wherever and whatever they may be: an apartment; a college dorm; a neighbor’s home; a hospital; the grocery store; then, live a life amazed at the possibility that even in the midst of death in all its forms, God’s new life is always breaking in. Philips Brooks, an Episcopal priest of the 19th century and the writer of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” said, “The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death, but that we are to be new here and now by the power of the resurrection.” The disciples were made new. Allouise was made new. You and I are made new, signed and sealed forever in the love God has given us. It is what we celebrate today in the people of God coming forward to receive the laying-on-of-hands. You see, the proof of the resurrection of Jesus is in the Allouises of the world. Your own life is to join with her in that proof as a witness to new life.
The Easter event is one of human beings becoming empowered to find a way out of failure, fear, violence and the inclination too often to betray what we love the most. It is the story of all of us as we discover the need that every single one of us has, to be healed, forgiven and restored to fullness of life, the abundant life of which Jesus speaks. The world is longing for such a vision beyond being a mere shadow of existence, just taking up space on the planet and using its resources without regard for how it affects anyone else.
Sure, we can let the fear-mongers of the world continue to manipulate us and dictate the way of death to us. We can stay in a state of semi-panic and buy into a world that seems to value violence as the first response to trouble, rather than the way of love; a world that values the assertion of power that controls, over servanthood that sets people free. We can go home from here and live in our self-contained worlds trying to ward off anxiety and fear with all the ways we anesthetize ourselves and, in so doing, betray the very reason this community of faith was founded.
Or…or, we can go out these doors as witnesses of the wonder of God’s life and love seeking to take deep root in you. Be a witness for the power of life in the midst of death. God’s promise is that in Jesus light has come and darkness cannot overcome it. It is the reason for which St. Mark’s is here at all.