“Locked in?” - Reflections on John 20: 19-31
by Dr. Alyce M. McKenzie on Tuesday, April 6, 2021
Easter II April 11, 2021
John 20: 19-31
We have been locked in a cage for the past year, and its name is Covid. Even before Covid, people were caged by anxiety, discrimination that shows up in our healthcare and criminal justice systems, domestic abuse, and physical and mental challenges. All these preexisting conditions have been highlighted and exacerbated by this pernicious, pervasive virus. Many over the past year have felt locked in a Covid cell, either forced to stay at home, or forced to go to work where they run the risk of contracting the disease. The killing of George Floyd and the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans show us how seemingly impenetrable the prisons of violence and hatred in this country still are. Vaccines are now more abundant, but so are variants. Restrictions are being lifted, but fear remains. What does Eastertide hold for Christians in fear lockdown?
The painting called “Christ at Heart’s Door,” by Warner Sallman is based on Revelation 3:20. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to you and eat with you and you with me.” Pairing that text with that painting has produced many a sermon that encourages listeners to open the door of their hearts to Jesus. The message is that he will not come in unless you invite him. But that is not the message of John 20. For one thing, Jesus in John 20 doesn’t have shoulder-length auburn hair and blue eyes. Nor does he wait patiently for us to open the door from within.
The text simply says that, although the disciples were locked in, for fear of Jesus’ adversaries, “Jesus came and stood among them. “ (John 20:19b) He comes in to break them out.
What an entrance!
Where did he learn to come to where people are hurting and break them out like this?
Jesus is the Son of a God who has lots of practice passing through locked doors and setting people free:
- Joseph at the bottom of a pit
- Mishak, Shadrack, and Abednego in the furnace: God sends an angel to protect them.
- Daniel in the lion’s den- God’s angel shuts the lions’ mouths.
- The Israelites in bondage in Egypt: God opens a way through the waters for them to pass through.
- Hagar and Ishmael dying in the desert: God provides a well of water.
- Elijah hiding out from Jezebel in a cave: God calls him out with a still small voice.
- Lazarus dead in the tomb, starting to stink: Jesus calls him forth to live again.
- Paul and Silas in jail in Philippi: God provides an earthquake to break them out.
- Jesus in a prison of pain, trapped on a cross, then shut in a tomb: God resurrects him, proving that death does not have the last word.
What a greeting! And today it is our turn to hear his greeting: “Peace be with you.” Not a wish, but a statement of fact. Jesus through the power of God is Peace in Person.
What a gift! This peace can come only from one who is one with us in our sufferings and one with God in presence and power. One who is fully Divine, who can pass through walls. One who is fully human; he shows us his hands and his side. One who knows what it’s like to be bullied, sexually humiliated, and discriminated against for who he loves and how he has loved them, restrained face down on the pavement, though he holds no weapon. This is the one who on a Friday not long ago was torn up, nailed up, and torn down. This is the one who stands before us and breathes on us the Holy Spirit. He told us he was leaving. He told us he would be back. Now he’s back, breathing on us the forgiveness and power of the Holy Spirit, the assurance of his personal, pervasive, permanent presence among his followers.
What an exit!
After offering the disciples the gift of peace, the Risen Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then he breathes on them the Holy Spirit.
It’s now our turn, as we move into the season of Eastertide, to go where Jesus sends us, confident of his presence and power. For some that may mean continuing to stay in, if their health and circumstances dictate that as the wisest course. For others, that will mean being out in the world, masked and socially distant, but sharing the good news that love is stronger than death. Wherever Jesus sends us in the days and weeks ahead, we have the assurance of his Spirit of presence and peace.