19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
I don’t buy it. There’s something in this Gospel passage that I just find unconvincing. I’m not talking about the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to the disciples, though the Easter news is something I wrestle with and will continue to wrestle with my whole life, I imagine. Any faith that takes seriously the amazing promises of God will be a questioning faith. Thomas shows us that today. But the little detail that I want to argue with this morning comes earlier in the passage. The Gospel writer says, “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” I don’t buy it.
I think John’s editorial comment about the reason for the locked doors that first Easter evening is simply wrong. “Fear of the Jews?” Well, they themselves were Jews, were they not? And Jesus was, too. That had not changed during the three years of his ministry and had not changed on Good Friday, either. John is probably speaking more out of his own context, 60 or 70 years later, when there was some animosity between the early Christian community and synagogue authorities. But that was much later than the day of the resurrection. Besides, there is no evidence that Jewish leaders or Roman leaders, for that matter, had tried to hunt down any of the followers of Jesus after his death. Crucifixion meant it was all a settled matter in their minds, I presume, a closed case. Earlier on that same day some of the disciples—first Mary Magdalene and then two of the men—had walked right up to the tomb where Jesus was buried. If ever there were a location where they were vulnerable to arrest, the tomb was it. But still they went. Fear didn’t stop them earlier when the empty tomb was thought to be the work of grave robbers. So what had changed? Why the locked doors now?
What had changed, of course, was the news of resurrection. Mary had reported to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” and now everything had changed. Could it be then that the threat they feared was not capture by the Jewish or Roman leaders but in fact the possibility of running into Jesus?
Peter, for one, would have understandably been reticent about meeting Jesus again after denying him three times the night after their meal together. The other disciples had also essentially done the same and hid themselves in the shadows. Could Jesus forgive them? Could Jesus still love them?
Then again, something more than guilt could have led them to avoid the risen Jesus. Maybe their disappointment in him did, too. They were probably getting used to the idea that they had wasted their time and energy by placing their hope in him and had been foolish to follow. Maybe they had simply had it and were preparing to readjust to the status quo and did not want Jesus to mess with their lives any more, resurrected or not. It wasn’t worth the disappointment and embarrassment.
The door was locked; I think John has that right. But I can’t believe that it was locked to keep anyone out. It was locked to keep them in. In the safety of that room, they could deny resurrection and what it would mean for their lives. There they could try to forget about the things that Jesus had done and said. There they could continue to guard themselves from entering into the new possibilities and the new call to follow that the risen Christ would offer to them.
The Church of Christ today does face external threats in many places of the world, but I would guess that’s not the reason for most of our door locking. What might prevent us from going out to meet and join the work of the risen Christ? Could it be guilt? Could it be fear? Could it be greed or restlessness? Could it simply be a feeling of being overwhelmed by the suffering and sadness out there in the world, beyond the locked doors? It is appropriate for us on this Sunday after Easter to consider what keeps us back from living into the good news of resurrection.
The past several days, everywhere I’ve gone, from the hardware store to the dentist office, I’ve heard people talking about the county attorney’s decision not to indict the police officers involved with the killing of Jamar Clark. We’ve all been talking about it. There are so many details of the case that have been commented on that are so easy to share and discuss. What’s harder, I’ve noticed, is talking about the big issues of institutional racism that lie underneath the details of this situation, the history that has led to a lack of trust of police officers, unjust sentencing guidelines, housing policies that have segregated our neighborhoods. It’s so much harder to open the door to conversations of racism and privilege in our world. It all seems overwhelming, and it often feels like there’s nothing we can do about it.
I wonder if there might be some fear that resurrection could actually be at work among us if we let it. Could there be an overwhelming fear that the risen Christ wants to be found in our very lives and in our very communities? If that were true, what would that mean we’d have to risk? What would we have to give up? Oh, it would be so much easier, so much safer, to keep the door closed and locked and forget we heard the witness of Mary Magdalene, that she has seen the risen Lord.
And maybe we would…except that Christ comes to us even when we are behind locked doors. It happens without angels and trumpets, typically; it’s much quieter than that. And yet before we can say anything, the first words out of the risen Christ’s mouth are “Peace be with you.” Peace in the midst of fear. Peace in the midst of discouragement. Peace in the midst of heavy burdens and sorrows. Peace in the midst of doubts. Peace in the midst of hopelessness. Christ is present, wounds and all, to give us a peace that can open any locked door. Christ is present to breathe the Spirit into our very beings, giving us all we need to be sent into a world so badly in need of resurrection.
Each of us has different reasons for locking doors, for guarding ourselves from what’s beyond them. Maybe there’s a fear or regret that is difficult to face. Maybe there’s a situation in need of forgiveness. Maybe there’s a sadness that has been privately protected for a long time. Christ’s response to each one is to speak peace. It is a word that does what it says, a promise that cannot be unheard.
Today we are breaking ground on a new church building project to renovate the east entrance and move the offices to where we can more easily welcome and help those who come to the door. We have called it the “Opening Doors” project, as it will make that main door on the side of the church much more accessible and welcoming for all who use it. But this project has never been just about that physical door. It has been and will be about our ministry together as a congregation and our call to open all kinds of doors to freedom and love and reconciliation in our world. We continue to seek ways of loving our neighborhood, and to seek peace and justice for our neighbors. We are a people who have received the peace of the living Christ and have been sent out with it. Christ’s gifts do not come without a sending. We are sent to love the world as God loves the world.
Of course, we are a church made up of real people who may have real fears and doubts and regrets. But much more important, we are a church with the peace of Christ and a sending by the Holy Spirit. We are a church that has a promise to trust. It’s not on our own but with God’s power that we, followers of Jesus, are opening doors.