“Now we are those witnesses …”
These words of the Apostle Peter echo for us on Easter morning. We are now the witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection because we have come to know Him. We can as truly say as Simon Peter that in the Holy Eucharist “we have eaten and drunk with him after his resurrection from the dead” and have received the mission “to proclaim this to his people” (Acts 10: 41, 42). These words have a special resonance for us at this Easter of 2017, dedicated in Shrewsbury Diocese as a ‘Year for Mission.’
In recent weeks a chocolate manufacturer and a national charity may have sought to airbrush the name ‘Easter’ from this public holiday; and a survey of national opinion sponsored by the BBC produced some confusing results as to what the British people believe about Christ’s Resurrection and the life of the world to come. It is a confusion which perhaps arose from people being asked in a phone call about Christ’s empty tomb and the hope of eternal life in much the same way as questions might be asked about a commercial product or a political choice. The Resurrection of Christ and our hope in the face of death can never be treated as matters of quick comment or casual speculation: they constitute the historic and transcendent event (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church n.639, 647) and the faith-filled conviction which has shaped our history, our world and all our lives. Even in the marketing an egg trail or a public holiday, the weakening of the Christian memory matters, insofar as it contributes to obscuring the very vision of human life and destiny which has sustained our national life for almost a millennia and a half.
Saint Peter’s words remind us that from the beginning of the Church this Easter faith has been communicated by those who could truly be witnesses. I think of the many hundreds of adults who, year after year, gather in this Cathedral church seeking Baptism or reception into full communion. They all have very different stories and yet, invariably, on their path to faith each one has met a witness – we might say, a witness to the Resurrection: a husband or a wife; a friend or family member; a colleague at work; a priest or a sister, who somehow gave testimony to the Risen Christ alive and living among us.
Blessed Pope Paul VI famously commented that “modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelii Nuntiandi n. 47). In this era of ‘fake news’ and much confusion we might detect a growing thirst for authentic witnesses. Blessed Paul VI also observed that people today – tacitly or aloud, but always forcefully – ask Christians: “Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live?” (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi n. 76). I hope the new facilities of this Cathedral might help us offer such testimony even by the very openness and witness of these buildings. However, it is as we walk all the paths of daily life that we have each been given the mission to become witnesses to Christ’s Resurrection, and to be ready to give the reason for our hope to so many around us. On Easter day, we are called anew to recognise this mission entrusted to us and to see: “Now we are those witnesses” (Acts 10: 41).