Second Sunday of Easter
(RCL) Acts 5: 27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
Download large-print version for MS Word
Every night the same routine played out. It happened around the time the 11 o’clock news was on. As a child she usually slept right through it, but there were those occasions when she’d rouse from sleep, hearing the familiar gate of her father’s footsteps walking first to the kitchen door, then to the front door, then tramp downstairs to the basement. Dad would walk through the house and check the doors and secure the locks if need be.
It was a safe feeling to have – knowing that Dad was making everything safe and secure and that she and her family were out of harm’s way. Locked doors, secure doors, were comforting. The doors said, “If you just stay holed up here until daylight, then all will be well.” It was as if, in their silent and stalwart way, they were saying, “Everything is going to be okay, nothing can get through me, and I’m not going to let anything get to you.”
In short, locked doors assuaged fears, trepidations, anxieties, and uncertainties, and quelled the late-night wanderings of an active imagination.
Perhaps that is what the disciples felt on that Easter night so long ago. They were in the room behind the locked doors in fear of those who killed Jesus. They had walked alongside him for three years. They had been out in the public with him and engaged in his work and crusade. Then they who had spoken so confidently had, in the end when it mattered most, deserted him and the cause. They not only deserted him, some even denied they knew him.
Perhaps there was more than fear at work in the disciples. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty clear that there was more than fear at work. They were grappling not only with fear, but with scorn, ridicule, anxiety, a sense of failure and its ugly cousin, shame.
Maybe what the disciples were doing was not so much shutting out the world, but locking themselves in. Isn’t that the way it goes with our hearts?
What if we look at this gospel story as more than a resurrection account and story of eleven frightened men locked away in a remote room on some back alleyway of Jerusalem? What if it was a metaphor for our lives as Christians today and the fears we face? It is possible that St. John could have meant it as both as he wrote to a young struggling, persecuted church.
We face fears, anxieties, trepidations, uncertainties, and even shame on a daily basis. We slam home the bolts of the locks on our hearts, and we realize that by locking the world out, we are really shutting ourselves in. We become a prisoner of our own sins, shame, and self-perceptions. Like the disciples, we try to hide from our shame and disappointment in ourselves by locking the doors to our hearts and not letting anyone in.
This is particularly true if we’ve been hurt before. Each hurt is followed by another lock, another barricade on the door to our hearts. But we put up a good front. Let’s just say that the door is magnificent on the outside but impenetrable.
The Easter story is the culmination of Good News. In the midst of the disciples’ fear, anxiety, and shame, Jesus comes and stands among them. He restores them with the gifts of his peace and the Holy Spirit and charges them to carry on his ministry, his mission of reconciliation.
“To forgive,” in Greek, also means “to set free.” It means to release from bondage and captivity. When Jesus stands among the disciples in a room with a locked door and announces, “Peace be with you,” he is saying not only are “You are forgiven,” but also “You are free.”
At the center of the gospel is the proclamation that Jesus Christ has come looking for us – even behind closed doors. According to John’s text, he walks right through the locked doors to find us. He shows us his wounds from the cross, which are the marks of our forgiveness. Then he says, “Peace be with you.” You are forgiven, peace is restored to your troubled soul, and you are free.
We receive the same charge given to the disciples. We are to be about the ministry of reconciliation. We are to be about the ministry of unlocking the doors to people’s hearts so that they too can experience the freedom and healing of God’s love in Christ. We are called to set people free by pouring out on them the same forgiveness we have received. We are to be Christ’s disciples in the world; forgiven, restored, reconciled, and freed from sin and death.
We accept into our hearts once more today the risen Christ, and in doing so, we realize that fear is changed to faith, anxiety to peace, shame to restoration, and the locks on our hearts have all been removed and we are free.