The doors are locked. Locked from the inside by the disciples out of fear of the religious leaders. It is a scary time with Jesus so recently crucified and the women besides themselves with the strange news that He has risen. But for now there is no celebration, just confusion, wondering, and locked doors.
That could an apt description of the church in Canada. Confusion, wondering, and hiding behind locked doors. Locked doors? How so you ask? We hide behind locked doors when:
- we consider religion and faith as a private matter.
- we fear turning people off by being open about our faith.
- we leave speaking to people about Jesus to the “professionals.”
- all our friends are Christians, and all events we attend are Christian.
- we immerse ourselves in a thoroughly Christian subculture.
- fear over our reputation overpowers our courage.
And so while there is no need for we Canadian Christians to fear for our lives like the disciples, or like many disciples around the world today, we can all too easily hide behind locked doors. Is there hope that we can get out?
Despite the fear and the locked doors the disciples are on the verge of a turning point. Fear will be replaced with courage, the huddled group will be out and about. Though it will be Pentecost, several weeks later, before that turn is complete, it begins here in this moment behind locked doors. What makes this change possible?
The Presence of Jesus. It begins with Jesus, oblivious to all doors locked or otherwise, standing before the disciples. He says “Peace be with you” (John 2-:19 NRSV). Given that the disciples deserted Jesus not too many days before, Jesus’ greeting would be encouraging, a sign of forgiveness. “After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side” (John 20:20 NRSV). Seeing the wounds, there could be no doubt that yes, this really is Jesus, back from the dead. But those wounds say more than that. It is as if Jesus is saying “You have your doors locked out of fear of what they will do to you? Look what they did to me, and yet look at what they could not do to me! I am not dead, but alive!” That’s encouraging and a reason for courage.
The Task. Next we hear of an incredible task: “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you'” (John 20:21 NRSV). The implication of this is clear, the doors will need to be unlocked. Not so that people can get in, but so that the disciples can get out with the incredible message of Jesus. A massive change will need to take place.
The Gift. Next an incredible gift is given to enable that change: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'” (John 20:22 NRSV). We are to be reminded here of the creation of humanity when God breathed life into Adam (Genesis 2:7) and so are to think of the creation of a new humanity, in perfect relationship with God and with God’s creation. Think back to that time of dwelling with God in the garden. There is no need for locked doors there. Nor here now.
The Responsibility. But finally we read of an incredible responsibility: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (John 20:23 NRSV). Now some will read this in a far too black and white fashion and will question what role we could have in forgiveness when the forgiveness of sin is God’s work. Yes it is, but the point shines through loud and clear, God will use His people in a significant way to help people become aware of that forgiveness He offers. This will go beyond the declaration of God’s offer of forgiveness, though, yes, that is supremely important, to modelling forgiveness and demonstrating how grace works. It will not be long before a Jesus follower, Stephen, will be doing just that as his last words echo the words of Jesus from the cross: “Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died (Acts 7:60 NRSV) Such incredible grace would never have been seen had Stephen kept himself safe and sound behind locked doors. Forgiveness does not work very well when we are huddled together behind locked doors but works best when we are rubbing shoulders with people who will hurt us.
There is hope that we as Canadian Christians can get out from behind our locked doors. But it will not happen if we are not with Jesus experiencing His forgiveness and peace. It will happen when we hear the call, receive the Spirit, and realize the awesome responsibility and privilege that comes with being forgiven. Do you have some doors to unlock?