Have you ever been asked to “share your testimony”? Does that spark enthusiasm in you? Or terror? Or nothing? Do you feel like you know what you would say or would you need some more time before you could answer?
What do you think of when you hear the word “testimony”?
Perhaps you’ve heard people share radical conversion stories about how much their life changed after they became a disciple of Jesus. These stories usually include three acts modeled after the prodigal son story: 1) Lost 2) Found 3) Celebration. And much like the prodigal son story, these personal experiences are moving to hear and compel us into deeper understandings of God’s grace, power, and mercy.
Yet as compelling as these particular testimonies are, I always appreciate when faith communities look to include more kinds of stories in the mix of experiences they discuss together. As members of the Jesus-life we actually have many stories (small and large) about how God is inviting us deeper and deeper into his Spirit.
A “conversion story” is just one kind of testimony but actually we have many God-stories, don’t we?
Times where we suddenly felt a wash of peace or remembered to pray. Times when we made an ethical decision despite what it cost us. Times where we were compelled to stand with the outcast, or serve instead of strive, or spend an extra moment in Bible. Times where we felt parental love or were able to be the bigger person or to demonstrate humility even when we didn’t want to.
All of these are testimonies.
All of these are stories about when we got in step with the Spirit.
Or had a renewed sense of confidence in our journeys with Christ.
Or were reminded that we are, indeed, on the path after all.
One of the things I love about Easter is the way in which this testimony about an empty tomb spreads and eventually changes all of human history. That what some women saw a long time ago is still being talked about now.
Because sometimes our story becomes someone else’s story.
And once in a while a single story becomes the story.
So each of the gospel writers tell this final Jesus act a little differently but what they basically recall goes something like this: Jesus is crucified and so the disciples disperse out of fear and shame but a few women (and probably John) remain faithful to Jesus’ memory and continue to visit his tomb. On the third day when they visit, they find Jesus’ tomb empty.
So they tell their friends.
(I mean, wouldn’t you?)
Here’s how Matthew tells the story:
Early on Sunday morning as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. 2 Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it…
5 Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. 7 And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”
8 The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. (Matthew 28:1-2, 5-8)
So an angel comes and tells a story to the women. An unbelievable story. And then the women tell the disciples this story. And some of the disciples end up meeting the resurrected Christ for themselves and now have their own story to tell. And some people get told the story and never meet the resurrected Christ but they still tell the story anyway.
Sometimes we experience something first hand and sometimes we just get to experience the story.
Sometimes God meets us directly and sometimes God meets us through the account and witness of others.
And for us Christians, this story is the story. This is the single story that we let define all of our other stories and beliefs about ourselves and about all things.
For us, the good news, the best story, is that God is in the world making it new as Jesus lives and brings new life.
He is risen.
And so we too can rise.
So this past week in Spiritual Life at OC Online we broke into small groups and looked at all of the little stories leading up to this big story. Some groups explored the last supper; other groups Palm Sunday and so on. It’s interesting to see how these episodes spoke to each of us so diversely.
One student noticed through the exclamation of the Roman Centurion) that “even in Jesus’ death He impacted those who doubted”. For her the personal and emotional reversal is what stood out. Another student really appreciated a lot of the visual details within the story. He shares, “After loss of much blood and energy, Jesus died and then resurrected. The guards ran away and he had only the marks left from the spear and nails”. One of our staff who also attended noted the passages which authenticated the resurrection; she shared: “A rich man took Jesus' body and wrapped it, placing it in a tomb that was guarded by a big rock. …This big rock was [used] to guard the tomb for the next 3 days so nobody stole his body and said he rose from the dead.”
Sometimes it’s the emotional arc of a story where we find God. And sometimes it’s in the details and the concreteness and sometimes it’s in the ways that the impossible becomes possible.
God meets us in what we notice.
We ended our session with a conversation with a faculty member who considered how she relates to each part of the death and resurrection in her own life. She explored how this story from a long time ago is still impacting her life testimony today. In responding to Jesus praying through his pain at Gethsemane she shared about her own chronic health problems and how that pain has lead her through many despairing times and naturally caused her to ask “Why, why me, why now ?”
She goes on to explain, “the consistent answer I gets back is that this is God’s way of bringing me closer to him. [Moreover] I take solace in knowing that Jesus struggled too and I am not alone in this”
You are not alone in this.
That’s the thing about God stories; they bring us together.
They remind us of our connection to each other and most importantly of our connection to God.
When we bear witness to the awkward and uncomfortable and happy and sad and easy and hard experiences we have as disciples, we begin to see together how God is still here and we are not alone.
So my prayer for you this season is that you take some time to consider your testimony. And not just your “TESTIMONY” but all of the little testimonies, the small experiences you have as an educator or as a student or just as a person, that invite you into the richness and wonder of the life with God.
Most of all I pray that you may see this season that the resurrection story is also your story. And your neighbor’s story. And God’s story.
And that like most things, testimonies, are best when shared.