Easter 2, 2017 'Low Sunday'
We read “the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.” I find myself thinking about locked doors.
I can imagine locking the doors – when you are fearful of the mob outside raging through the street, unpredictable, violent, plagued by a kind of madness. Those doors seem vital then – all that stands between you and destruction.
So you lock the doors, dim the lights, talk in whispers and pretend no one is at home. You pray that no one starts battering on the door.
Think of all who have hidden like this in other times and places. The persecuted Christians during Nero; and the holocaust victims who hoped against hope that their locked doors and silence might be enough. There are countless others of course: those who hid from Pol Pot in Cambodia; the intellectuals and activists who hid from – well it could have been from Mugabe’s thugs in Zimbabwe, Rouhani’s secret police in Iran, or from any of a dozen regimes in the world today.
Then there have been the doors locked by all who have ever felt the need to take refuge from the apparatus of power – hiding from the landlord, the bailiffs, the debt collector, the social worker, CYFS, the police, abusive parents, a violent spouse …
Then again there are those other subtler doors of the mind: the clinical depression that has the sufferer in hiding from the world; the addict in denial of his addiction; the one who has never processed their grief and who year after year, hides from it. Silence, denial, hiding, guilt, illusion and shame – one may think of these as the doors of the mind that keep us – not safe - but in pain.
To think of the locked doors is also to recall, almost inevitably, the keyless, overgrown locked door in Holman Hunt’s allegorical painting in Westminster Abbey, ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock.’
But the question is why, with this wonderful gospel and the courageous questions of Thomas, why am I lingering over the thought of those locked doors?
I think it is most simply this: whereas the locked door speaks of fear, the love of the risen Christ draws us beyond fear.
One can understand those first disciples hiding behind locked doors. They had seen their Lord killed. They knew the real danger of a Jerusalem mob once it found a target, they had seen that happen. They knew that they could be in danger of being hunted down as associates of Jesus. They had no leader. What could they do? They took the prudent course: locked the doors, lay low, and kept quiet till things calmed down. Is that what we might call a siege mentality? I suspect so.
Against this their experience of the risen Christ is a transforming moment: he says “peace be with you”; peace, to people who almost reek of fear! We can barely comprehend the nature of their experience – one moment cowering behind locked doors, the next they are confronted and stunned by the apparition of the Lord they saw killed.
Yet a process is unfolding. They hear something familiar: his words “Peace be with you” resonate with memories of other occasions, perhaps memories of the Christ who calmed the storm on the lake. In a similar manner the storm of their confusion and fear is calmed and there follows a process of insight and recognition when Christ shows them his wounds. He is no apparition but flesh and blood. It is then that their eyes are truly opened and we hear how they rejoiced ‘when they saw the Lord’.
This encounter is the antithesis of the locked doors: this is reminiscent of the stone being rolled away. Jesus sends them out into the world: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Of course this is the mission of the church, our mission – and it is expressed as he gifts them with the Spirit.
It is worth dwelling on this moment and his words: he breathes on them; he says “Receive the Holy Spirit” and he links that with the forgiveness of sins. Here breath is Spirit; the Spirit of God forming the creation; instilling life into inanimate matter; re-generating the minds and lives of these followers and empowering them to be free and whole. This community behind the locked doors is a new creation in the making.
What are our ‘locked doors’? Locked minds? Locked hearts? People we have not forgiven?