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Invited To Witness

By Kristen Hartman | April 1, 2021

Few people change the world.

Even the famous people we remember from generations and centuries past—few actually changed the world.

Perhaps I studied journalism because I knew I wasn’t going to change the world, but I thought I could bear witness. And it might be why I’m drawn to the people in the biblical narrative who bear witness, the people that inspired authors point to as noticers.

In the midst of Holy Week, I am captivated by the witnesses. Some are presumed—the ones who saw the veil tear from top to bottom in the temple, the ones who saw the tombs give up once-dead-now-living bodies. Others are explicit—Peter in the courtyard, John and Mary at the foot of the cross.

But the gospels call out a specific group of witnesses who look on from a distance. Most aren’t named, yet they are present and paying close attention, and the gospel writers don’t want us to miss them.

Luke tells us that some of these witnesses stick around. They watch Jesus die. They watch Joseph of Arimathea take their lifeless friend’s body. They follow, and they watch as Jesus is sealed in that tomb.

And then they wait out the Sabbath in what I can only imagine was the longest, saddest day of their lives, before they head to the tomb where they witness the incomprehensible.

The tomb is open. The tomb is empty.

I wonder, in those first disorienting moments of shock, if the words of Isaiah 43:18-19 and 44:8 might have gone through their minds,

18 “Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
19 Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

8 Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”

Did these women have any idea they were about to shift from being on-the-fringes witnesses to verbally proclaiming what they’d witnessed? Did they realize they were the first to see, the first to know, the first to announce the new thing God had done?

Women who once watched from the edge of the scene, now had the immense privilege of bearing witness to the disciples (and, through the pages of the Bible, the rest of us) that the world would never be the same again.

Those women did not change the world, but they bore witness to the ultimate world changer.

In some ways, the bleakness of our current reality makes the bleakness of that Friday and Saturday more relatable. This year, many of us have lost loved ones seemingly prematurely or perhaps without the opportunity to say goodbye or carry out our usual ways of mourning. We may understand grief and loss better this Holy Week than ever before.

Like those women gaping at an empty tomb, as we stand on the edges of a shaken—and still shaking—world, we too are invited to bear witness.

In a year of loss and grief, we have good news to proclaim.

The tomb is empty. Jesus is alive.

And He changes everything.

-Kristen Hartman