John 20:19-31: Unlocking the Doors

Second Sunday of Easter: April 28, 2019

There are two kinds of doors in this world: the kind we lock and the kind we unlock. We lock the front door when we go to bed. We lock the car door when we head into our offices for the day. We lock the medicine cabinet to keep our kids safe. We lock the door of the Alzheimer’s unit to keep our parents safe. We lock the jail cell door to keep our communities safe. We lock the safe door to keep our money safe. We lock our gated communities to keep our property values safe. We lock people who disagree with us out of our Facebook newsfeeds to keep our convictions safe.

And then there are all of the metaphorical doors we lock. We lock the doors of our minds to keep our opinions safe. We lock the doors of our hearts to keep our feelings safe. We lock our true feelings away to keep our self-deceptions safe. We lock away closely guarded secrets to keep our reputations safe.

The disciples in today’s gospel lesson have locked their front door against the Jews, because they are afraid of what might happen to them if they are discovered to be disciples of Christ. They are determined to keep themselves safe from the Jews and to keep their community from being found out. So can you imagine what it must have felt like to them to see Jesus among them and to hear him speaking to them? The story tell us that they were glad when they saw the Lord. And I imagine it must have been like waking up from a nightmare. What a relief it must have been to think that the ordeal of betrayal, denial, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial was all just a terrible nightmare that was finally over.

And then the story goes on to tell us that when Jesus speaks, he gives them three things: peace, a commission, and the Holy Spirit: “Peace be with you,” he says. “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. . . . Receive the Holy Spirit.” If seeing Jesus was like waking up from a nightmare, hearing these words must have been like falling back into the same recurring nightmare. The disciples, after all, were in that upper room with the door locked for a reason: it wasn’t safe for them outside. But here Jesus is, telling them to go out where the Romans and Jews are looking for them and will surely find them. It is safer to be inside with the doors locked.

During Lent, we gathered here on several occasions, beginning with Ash Wednesday when we shared a pancake meal, received the imposition of ashes on our foreheads, and shared communion with little pancake wafers—my all-time favorite communion service! We gathered to read scripture, meditate, and pray on Tuesdays. We hosted the community Easter cantata, when the parking lot was filled to overflowing and the sanctuary boomed with the sound of the organ, the orchestra, and dozens of voices. We celebrated Passover with a Seder and a fellowship meal. We walked the Stations of the Cross. We proclaimed “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!”

My single favorite day during Lent had to be one Tuesday when I found the building unexpectedly full. I was so used to pulling into an empty parking lot on Tuesday evenings that it surprised me to find other cars here. The Pre-K board was in the fellowship hall and a cantata rehearsal was going on in the sanctuary. What a happy feeling, I thought, to see this building being used so fully! Every occasion, in fact, on which I’ve seen this sanctuary full—during my ordination, during pre-K graduations and Christmas programs, during community Easter cantatas and the Thanksgiving service, during Laura and Josh’s wedding—I’ve had the same thought: Oh! How lovely it is to see this sanctuary full! And it is!

But the message of the empty tomb is not ultimately about filling sanctuaries, or Sunday school classrooms, or fellowship halls. It is about being sent with the gift of the Holy Spirit to bring Christ’s message of peace. “Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come . . . and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.” So writes John in the book of Revelation to the seven churches of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Per’gamum, Thyati’ra, Sardis, Philadelphia, and La-odice’a. These churches were beloved of Christ, but each had, in its own way, become distracted by their wealth, poverty, or false teaching, or lukewarm in their love for Christ and each other. John’s message to these churches is of bearing faithful witness to the peace that is ours through Christ. “Grace to you and peace . . . from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness.”

The call to faithful witness to the peace of Christ is a call to take the message of Christ outside the doors of the sanctuary. It is a call to unlock whatever we have locked away for safekeeping so that we can bear faithful witness to Christ. It is a call to open ourselves to vulnerability, to take the risk of sharing our most sacred stories, to risk our reputations by showing others the scars we bear on our own hands and feet and sides and telling how Jesus healed those wounds. It is a call to expose our self-deceptions to the close scrutiny of a loving God who is willing to take us just exactly as we are and shape us into a beloved community. The call to faithful witness to the peace of Christ is a call to unlock the doors of our hearts so that others who do not look or think or talk or act like us can find safe shelter with this community.

What might that look like? What will look like for us to be a community with doors flung so wide open that anyone can feel safe coming in? I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it looks like a ministry of prayer where anyone who comes here knows that the heaviest burdens of their hearts can be unloaded and prayed over and not judged. Maybe it looks like a ministry where people who are suffering the ravages of cancer or divorce or grief or addiction can find a community of mutual compassion and support and empathy. Maybe it looks like a group of women enjoying an evening of love and laughter, and then pooling their resources so that another group of women in a far-away country do not have to haul polluted water from a distant source. Maybe it looks like a ministry where folks who are estranged from neighbors and family and their own selves can come to learn the forgotten art of forming real connections.

Those first disciples who were hiding in the dark behind locked doors on that first resurrection evening had a lot to overcome before they could unlock that door and carry Christ’s message of peace to the world. I think especially about Peter, who swung through a wild arc from “I will never deny him” to “I will fight for him” to “I don’t know him!” Think of all the metaphorical doors he had to unlock! He had to unlock his mind to the Gentiles. He had to unlock his self-deception to own up to his denial. He had to unlock his heart to forgive himself. I don’t know how he did it, but I am pretty sure he did not do it alone.

And nor do we. Whatever we become, and whatever we are able to do, and whoever comes along with us as we unlock all of those doors—physical or metaphorical—we become and do and go through the grace of Christ who is our peace, with the love of God who send him and sends us in Christ’s name, and in the company of the Holy Spirit. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.