“You are witnesses of these things.”Luke 24:48
‘You are witnesses of these things.’ These are the words of Jesus to his followers after he had been raised and had appeared to them in the upper room. Suddenly standing there among them. Bodily present to them. There are several of these stories of the resurrection appearances told in the gospels and we listen to them in these weeks after Easter. The disciples can hardly believe their eyes and yet the evidence is standing before them with the wounds visible in his hands and eating fish – you are witnesses Jesus tells them- you have seen me. And by definition they are not only witnesses of the resurrection, but of all that he has said and done during the time that they have been with him.
Witnesses of his teaching, of his healing, of his compassion, of his concern for the outsider, of his arrest and trial and his crucifixion and also of his prophecy that he would suffer and die and be raised on the third day. Those men and some women too, had seen and heard. They were witnesses. And they go on to witness to their experience.
In that reading from the Acts of the apostles we heard Peter doing just that. He and John had healed a lame man in the name of Jesus – and he tells the crowd who gathered – this is what happened. You rejected Jesus – the author of life and yet God raised him from the dead. To this we are witnesses – and it is in his name that this man was healed – not in our own strength or piety.
Today we honouring Prince Philip. The church across the country has been invited in these days to following his funeral to join in commending him to God’s mercy and love as we give thanks for his life of faithfulness and service, to the Queen, to his family to the monarchy and to the country. A dedicated and long life and although in one sense, ‘in the background’ that is standing behind the Queen figuratively and as well as literally – yet also a life lived at the centre. The centre of the nation’s life, at the centre of the relationships between the nations of the commonwealth, at the centre of the affairs of people.
Just consider what he has witnessed! The changing way of the world across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the dynamics between nations, the ups and downs of politics, the changes in technology, the development of industry, the insight into the working lives of people, the insight into how people live across the world. Consider the huge variety of people that he met. Philip was a witness of an era. A participant and a witness.
But as we have just heard being a witness is not just about looking on, it is not a passive activity. Being a witness demands a response. It carries a responsibility. It requires speaking or doing in response to what has been seen or understood. This is what Prince Philip did. He witnessed a disrupted family as he grew up and he worked to build a stable one. He witnessed the collapse of monarchy in his family’s circumstances and he worked and lived to update and support one in this country. Through his schooling at Gordonstoun and his training in the Royal Navy, Philip witnessed the difference that it made to himself – to be given space to explore what he was capable of, and to be given the opportunity to take risks – and he worked to give that opportunity to young people everywhere.
Prince Phillip witnessed the difference technological advances made and he worked to support them. He saw the campaigns and the causes that mattered to people and put his name and his active interest behind them. Did you know he was a member of the Accrington Camera Club! Phillip witnessed through his travels and researches the destructive impact of human activity on the environment and established the World Wildlife Fund for nature and continued in his activity as a conservationist. He may not have had the overt public voice – because of his position as consort, but I heard on the radio that he had made over five hundred speeches at various occasions and events and of course he was a doer.
I wonder what kind of witnesses we are and what we would want to witness to. In this media-soaked age we all witness a huge number of events and activities and situations and we all have the chance to make a response to them. We witness: poverty, injustice, inequality, intolerance, the destruction of God’s creation, loneliness, mental illness – how do we respond?
We also witness the efforts and activities of those who care, the activities of everyday people to look out for each other, the charities, the NGO’s, those who work to right injustice – how do we respond?
And for us who are Christians how do we witness to the transforming nature of Jesus? How do we witness to the reality and vitality of a relationship with God? How do we witness to the difference our faith makes to us, in moments of joy and in moments of trouble and suffering? How do we honour God?
Our lives are our witness. Phillip was given the gift of life and lived it well. We have all been given the gift of our lives. We are called by our God to live them well. God give us grace to live them well.
Let us pray
God our heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of life and we thank you for the life and the faith of Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. Inspire us to live lives that witness to our faith in making a difference to our families, our communities and our world.