Last week on Easter Sunday, (according to John’s gospel), we left Mary Magdalene rushing off to tell the disciples the amazing news, “I have seen the Lord!” What a roller coaster of emotions Mary must have felt in a relatively short period of time, ... amazement when arriving at the tomb and discovering a huge entrance stone was removed, bewilderment and fear that someone had stolen Jesus’ body out of the tomb (who would do something like that!), deep grief that Jesus’ body was gone, confusion about what all of this meant.
Then Jesus shows up, in the midst of her tears, calls her by name, instructs her not to cling to him, but rather to GO-TELL, the disciples, the brothers, that he would be ascending to his Father. Mary was to GO-TELL-PROCLAIM the good news. Jesus was alive! And with that Mary becomes the first Easter apostle!
What is disappointing is that we don’t really know from John’s gospel what that exchange with the disciples was like. We can imagine there was much excitement...with questions directed to her, “Well, what did he say, what did Jesus look like, where were you when this happened, you thought he was a what...a gardener? how did he find you, was anyone else around???” But we don’t get to hear that conversation.
Today we pick up the rest of the story, according to John’s gospel. It is later in the day, evening time. Did the disciples spend all afternoon, knocking on people’s doors with the message, gathering at local shops, visiting with families, sharing together the news of this amazing turn of events? Well, what we read is the disciples were gathered together in a house, behind locked doors for fear of the Jews. Grown men, followers of Jesus, hiding together.
Why are the disciples not filled with boldness, with excitement to proclaim that Jesus is alive, that Jesus has conquered death? Did they lock themselves in for the night to protect themselves from what the Jews might do to them? Were they afraid that those who plotted Jesus’ death might now come after them, his followers? Remember Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus, of being one of them, denying/disowning Jesus not once, but 3 times! Were they fearful that they would be accused of stealing Jesus’ body?
Fear makes us do strange things...like locking doors. Fear causes us to live in a perpetual state of anxiety. Fear is exhausting and depressing. Lots of energy is used up when we try to stuff our fears, not face them, not talk about them, not acknowledge them. We’d rather run away from them most of the time!
We are familiar with the rest of this narrative and most often focus on Thomas on this particular Sunday. But as I studied this text, I kept coming back to the disciples, locked behind doors, and wondering what fears keep us locked up? Do we keep people locked out because of our fears? And what does Jesus offer to us in our fearful state? So we are setting Thomas aside for now.
My guess is that most of us deal with fear/anxiety at some time in our life. So we are going to take a few moments to reflect on our experiences of fear. I will offer a few questions for each of us to ponder, to reflect on, sitting in silence and then at the conclusion of these few minutes, we will join together in singing STS 45, Calm me, Lord.. I encourage you to close your eyes, open your hands in front of you, palms up. At the end of our time, when Lisa plays through the song one time, then we will join in.
1.) What are the fears in your life that keep you locked up? fears that paralyze you, that keep you from living a full, healthy life, fears that immobilize you?
2.) How do you keep people locked out of your life, held at a distance?
3.) How does it feel if you are being ‘locked out’?
(Sing STS 45 - Calm us, Lord)
Were you able to name some of your fears in the quiet moments, to hold them before God, to release them? I wonder what fears came to your mind?
Fear of failure, fear of death or dying, fear of a terminal illness, fear of the dark, fear of rejection, fear of losing your job or losing your mind, fear of a tragedy happening to a loved one, fear of not making the final cut for the choir or baseball team, fear of an abusive parent or spouse, fear of a bad review in your job, fear for the church. Can we stay together? Are you feeling locked into an abusive relationship or trapped in addictive behavior, or bad job situation.
How do we keep people locked out of our life and who are they? Do we break relationships with people who come to a different understanding of abortion, the peace position, method of baptism, Biblical interpretations, same gender relationships?
What does it feel like when we are ‘locked out’? When people pull away from us, don’t invite us into their homes and life or small group. When our votes don’t count and our voice isn’t acknowledged and heard. When there is no place for us at the table or we volunteer for something and are never asked to serve.
When the disciples were huddled together behind locked doors because of their fears, Jesus came, stood among them and offered them 3 gifts. He didn’t leave them stuck in their heightened state of anxiety, worry and crippling fear. He entered their inner sanctum, their safe room that they had created. He came, not just for a visit, but came bearing gifts that he knew they desperately needed.
1st gift - Jesus offers Peace. In the earlier part of John’s gospel, Jesus reminded his followers, before his death, “Peace I leave with you”. He had made that promise to them. Now he offers this same Peace to them as Risen Christ! “Peace be with you.” And he offers it to them, not once but 3 times! Jesus offers this peace to us, as well. In the midst of your fears, PEACE be with you. We sang about that desire in our song, “Enfold me Lord, in your peace.”
2nd gift - Jesus brings purpose/ mission. His followers are now sent out people, The believers become apostles...sent ones....out into the world. They have work to do, a responsibility to fulfill, a calling to follow. They are sent out of God’s love for the world. The now become Jesus’ representatives wherever they go...his hands...his feet. We become his hands and feet. We now have purpose and a mission. Peace given helps us unlock the doors that we have hid behind because of our fears and frees us to be ‘sent people’,....’mission people’,..people with purpose!
3rd gift - Jesus gives power and authority to carry out this mission. He breathed on them, he breathed into them the Holy Spirit. “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” Jesus gives them the power to fulfill their calling and mission and part of that is to offer forgiveness to others. This is John’s version of Pentecost...no large rowdy crowd, no tongues of fire, but a resurrected savior with a spiritual body that didn’t allow some locked doors to keep him from passing through and breathing the Spirit into their fearful hearts and bodies.
When does Jesus come with this peace, purpose and power? It seems like he comes when people are in grief, like Mary, weeping, distraught, confused. He comes when people are locked in fear, like the disciples, huddled behind closed doors. I think Jesus shows up, stands among us when you and I and many of our brothers and sisters are locked in darkness or locked out of churches and institutions. I believe Jesus shows up and stands among us as we struggle to make sense of what is happening in our churches, conferences and denomination. He stands among us as we gather at tables and discern together, as we learn to listen to one another respectfully, and pray for wisdom from above that will help move us forward.
We are called to leave the rooms we’ve locked ourselves in and go out, GO-TELL, the good news. We have been empowered by the knowledge that we bear the gifts of Peace, Purpose and Power of the one who bears the scars of his own pain and can pass through any walls that lock us in or out. When Thomas finally saw the those scars, the nail marks, the wound in Jesus’ side, he utters the most powerful confessional of the divinity of Jesus in the NT, “My Lord and my God!”
His darkness and his doubt have become light. Thomas is now a willing follower of Jesus knowing whom he follows. It is a new beginning for Thomas and it can be for us, as well. As we open the doors and release our fears, the Peace of Christ rests with us, the power of the Holy Spirit empowers us and we go out as sent people, proclaiming the good news, that Christ is alive and Jesus is our Lord.
Christ is alive, and goes before us . STS 89 has a rich text that offers us hope
(read together verses, if time)
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