‘Witness’ is an expanding word. It starts simply as someone present at a dramatic event, like the Manchester bombings this past week which killed 22 and injured many more. “I was there” they can say to their children and grandchildren.

The older I become the more I find I am a witness to events only read about or heard about by others. If I say “I remember the Japanese surrender in 1945”, or “I knew John Bradburne in the 1970s”, or even “I was there at the raising of the Zimbabwe flag at Independence in April, 1980”, younger people look at me as if I were a fossil! It is the most basic meaning of the word ‘witness’: being there.

When Jesus says to his friends “you will be my witnesses” he said something more charged. He implies they were there during his ministry and saw and heard everything. But he now calls them to live the implication, to act on it. This might cost them something. In fact, it might cost them everything. They might die for it. The Greek word for witness gives us our word ‘martyr.’

We know of the bloody type of martyrdom. There is also the more reachable form: standing up for what one believes. There are so many examples today of individuals and groups doing this: for civil rights, justice and peace. As they mourned their dead the people of Manchester recalled their brave forbears. Among them was Emmeline Pankhurst who was voted by TIME as one of the 100 most notable people of the twentieth century. She led a group of women who campaigned, against astonishing opposition, for the right to vote. “She shaped an idea of women for our time; she shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.” We take it for granted now when a country like Zambia or Zimbabwe wins the right for “one man, one vote” it means men and women. But do we remember what a huge struggle it was to achieve this?

Pankhurst’s campaign was high profile but we encounter many “low profile” calls on us to witness. They reach down into the ordinary of everyday. They call for honesty, integrity and courage. It is Africa Day as I write. Yes, we have freedom. But we know it is incomplete until every man, woman and child has a chance to a dignified life. We are far from there yet. There are struggles before us. It takes courage to engage. We will be witnesses to the good news if we do. It is the way we become fully human. “You will be my witnesses.” While Jesus was around his friends could simply be bystanders, basking in his fame. Now he is withdrawing from them (the Ascension) and the ball is in their court. Magnificently, they take up the challenge.

28 May 2017   Ascension

Acts 1:1-11      Ephesians 1:17-23       Luke 24:46-53

Post published in: Faith

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