This reflection was given by our ALM Carol at the morning service on Sunday 11 April. Here it is for you:
Words we have all become familiar with over the last 12 months and words we probably rarely used before that, but maybe now we can see our way to freedom. That glimmer of hope, as Noah experienced when the dove with the olive branch returned to his boat, after an endless time being locked away. Our Gospel reading today begins “It was the first day of the week. It was evening and the disciples were hidden away in a room, the door locked tight.” The big question is: Who were they afraid of? And why? Many of us have experienced this, afraid to go out just as the disciples were here.
Well, John says that they had locked the door “for fear of the Jews” – but that isn’t a very credible excuse. First off, there is no sense in which the Jews had arranged a posse to hunt down the disciples, so there really was nothing for them to be afraid of. And besides, when Mary said that the tomb was empty, Peter and John had rushed straight there. Now, if they were really afraid of the Jews – or the Romans for that matter – they wouldn’t have gone back to the tomb. So why didn’t they go looking for Jesus? Wouldn’t you have gone looking for him? I think I would. But they didn’t. They stayed behind locked doors, locked in and afraid. Did they think Jesus was nowhere to be found even if they did send out a search party, or is something else going on? So, what was really making them afraid? What were they really running from? Who were they really hiding from? Who had they locked out?
Perhaps they were actually afraid of running into Jesus! What if Mary was right and Jesus had been raised from the dead? What would he say if they bumped into him? They had every reason to be afraid, the last time Jesus had seen the disciples was when they were deserting him at his arrest in Gethsemane, they fled like frightened children. Sure, Peter had stayed with him: but then he had denied knowing him at all. Maybe it was guilt that kept them in lockdown.
The disciples were desperately ashamed of themselves and afraid of what Jesus would say if he saw them again; how would he react; would he be bearing a grudge; would he be angry with them; would he be out for revenge! Have you ever said some nasty things about someone behind their back, only to discover a short time later that so-and-so had gotten wind of what you had said? I don’t think you would be too eager to run into that person again. Maybe, the disciples didn’t go looking for him because they were just possibly afraid to find him. No, rather than going out searching for Jesus, it would be far safer to lock the door and hope the whole problem will go away!
Think about it, maybe we are more like the disciples than we want to admit! How often have we locked the door and kept Jesus out? Possibly because of something from the past: something we are particularly ashamed of, or possibly fear for the future, what will it bring what will it look like – will it ever be safe again. Sometimes, we are frightened of what Jesus might think, what Jesus might do, so we lock up our hearts, to keep Jesus out…Locking ourselves in, and Jesus out, for fear of what might happen.
At times, we are not even honest with ourselves about why we are hiding or what we are hiding from. Maybe the disciples weren’t keeping the Jews out, they were keeping themselves in. But what does Jesus do? He does what he always does when we try to hide from him: he came and stood among them. This proves to us that no door is too big, or any problem too great that Jesus cannot handle it. He didn’t knock and make the disciples unlock the door before he entered. He did not criticize them. He accepted them the way they were. He was patient. After he entered the locked room he didn’t say, “Shame on you for being locked up in here, now get on out there.” No, each time he appeared he simply said, “Peace be with you.”
Jesus says to the disciples, as he says to us, “It’s OK…” He’s not out to settle old scores. He’s not angry with us. He knows our failures, he knows our weaknesses, he knows everything we have ever done wrong. And he says, “It’s OK…let’s move on…” Do you notice, he doesn’t even say to the disciples, “I forgive you”. There is absolutely no mention of the past. It’s done – it’s finished: it’s not even remembered anymore. We just get this amazing verse of Scripture: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’”. Why is this so amazing? Because Jesus is inviting us to start completely afresh and go right back to the beginning with him.
We can hide from God because of our shame, we can hide from him out of shame for our past, we can hide from him because of our bad habits and failures and weaknesses. But because he loves us so, so much, God will come and seek us out and find us. He will seek us out and he will find us, and he will say, “Peace be with you”. “It’s OK. I know. And it’s OK” we can start again.
One of my favourite paintings is the one where the Risen Christ is holding a lantern outside a locked door and He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” There is an example at the back of Church you can see on your way out. Jesus knocks at the door of each of our hearts. Perhaps because of what we know about ourselves, we don’t want to open the door to Jesus. Perhaps, like the disciples in this passage, we want to hide away and keep the door firmly locked. We are locked in and Jesus is locked out. But that will not prevent the love of God reaching out to us. More than anything else in the world, Jesus wants to stand before us and say, “Peace be with you”, and to breathe the Holy Spirit on you. This is what Jesus is saying to us today. I am here with you. Let us unlock the doors of your circumstance and go out together and enjoy the beauty of life. Let us begin again.
Easter is all about new beginnings. Perhaps, this morning, you or I need a new beginning with Jesus. As we receive the Eucharist in a few minutes time, that is the ultimate symbol of forgiveness and a new beginning. Let this be the moment when we put it all behind us and we allow Jesus to breathe his Spirit on us and say to each one of us, “Peace be with you…Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Our Gospel ends “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But 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 will end with this poem/prayer of some of His appearances.
Jesus in the garden, newly risen from the dead,
who stood by weeping Mary, and who heard the words she said
as if you were the gardener, till at last your shepherd’s voice
called her ‘Mary’ and with one word gave her reason to rejoice,
Jesus in the garden, ever new but still the same,
help me recognise you in the speaking of my name.
Jesus on the journey, fellow traveller on the road,
who met two sad disciples, walking with them as you showed
the meaning of the scriptures that predicted you would rise,
but only when you blessed the meal could they believe their eyes.
Jesus on the journey, meet me where my hopes have fled,
help me recognise you in the breaking of the bread.
Jesus in the locked room, breaking through despair and doubt,
who comforted your friends when they had shut the whole world out,
who came again for Thomas, and revealed your hands and side
so that he could touch and know you as alive, though you had died.
Jesus in the locked room, breaking through our self-built bars,
help me recognise you in the touching of your scars.
Jesus on the shoreline, cooking breakfast for your friends,
who offered guilty Peter one more chance to make amends,
who filled a net with fish for him, and helped him to recall
the first catch that convinced him to respond to your first call.
Jesus on the shoreline, know my best, forgive my worst,
help me recognise you in the way I met you first. Amen