Canon Simon Butler
When it was evening on 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.’ (John 20:19)
We have begun to understand something more about locked doors and fear these past few weeks. Self-isolation has forced us apart, forced us to retreat into our homes, forced us away even from gathering as God’s people. Fear may not have dominated the thinking of each one of us, but it will have crept up unannounced even on those who think themselves most unlikely to succumb to COVID-19. But fear, like a virus, is infectious. Perhaps behind locked doors we understand something of those under house arrest or the persecuted church meeting far from public gaze; maybe in our fear, we have come to empathise with those whose fragile grasp on security means that being frightened is their normal way of living.
Self-isolation is a proper, moral, way of living right now. Locked doors make sense, to protect others as much as ourselves. Sometime it seems safer to lock the doors of our house. Even fear has its place, I guess, as we seek to protect ourselves and those we love.
But, we must be careful. Shut doors must never become closed hearts and minds. Fear must never paralyse us from doing the right thing – I’m amazed, for example, how many of our NHS staff are overcoming fear in order to serve the sick. No, every time we shut the doors of our life, our mind or our heart we imprison ourselves. For every person, event, or idea we lock out, regardless of the reason, we lock ourselves in.
That’s what has happened to the disciples in today’s gospel. It is Easter evening, the first day of the week, the day of the resurrection, the day they saw the empty tomb, the day Mary Magdalene announced, “I have seen the Lord.” The disciples are gathered in the house, the doors are locked with fear. A week later they are in the same place. It is the same house, the same walls, the same closed doors, the same locks. Nothing much has changed.
Jesus’ tomb is open and empty but the disciples’ house is closed and the doors locked tight. The house has become their tomb. Jesus is on the loose and the disciples are bound in fear. The disciples have separated themselves and their lives from the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. Their doors of faith have been closed. They have shut their eyes to the reality that life is now different. They have locked out Mary Magdalene’s words of faith, hope, and love. They left the empty tomb of Jesus and entered their own tombs of fear, doubt, and blindness. The locked doors have become the great stone sealing their tomb. They have locked themselves in. The doors of our tombs are always locked from the inside. All this, and it has been only one week.
There’s been a lot of talk already about life being different after this pandemic. Perhaps that will be the case. But, despite the restrictions placed upon us in these difficult days, I wonder, in the light of Easter is our life different? Where are we living? In the freedom and joy of resurrection or behind locked doors? How is our life different because of Easter? And if it isn’t what are the locked doors of our life, our heart, our mind?
When St. John describes the house, the doors, the locks he is speaking about more than a physical house with walls, doors on hinges, and deadbolts. He is describing the interior condition of the disciples. The locked places of our lives are always more about what is going on inside of us than around us.
What are the closed places of your life? What keeps you in the tomb? Maybe, like the disciples, it is fear. Maybe it is questions, disbelief, or the conditions we place on our faith. Perhaps it is sorrow and loss. Maybe the wounds are so deep it does not seem worth the risk to step outside. For others it may be anger and resentment. Some seem unable or unwilling to open up to new ideas, possibilities, and change.
Jesus is always entering the locked places of our lives. He comes, to quote Gerard Manley Hopkins “eastering in us.” Unexpected, uninvited, and sometimes even unwanted he steps into our closed lives, closed hearts, closed minds. Standing among us he offers peace and breathes new life into us. He doesn’t open the door for us but he gives us all we need so that we might open our doors to a new life, a new creation, a new way of being. This is happening all the time.
Throughout this pandemic strangers are becoming friends, individuality is giving way to unity, and hope lies in the midst of loss. Christ stands among his people saying, “Peace be with you,” breathing life into what looks lifeless. We have served 160 people through Coronavirus Angels in the past three weeks or so. The boundaries of race, economics, education, and language fall away as people encounter each other in serving and being served. Volunteers find themselves moved and changed through service. In the midst of these encounters, I can sense Christ entering saying, “Peace be with you.
Regardless of the circumstances, even in these straitened times, Jesus shows up bringing peace, offering peace, embodying peace. Regardless of the circumstances Jesus shows up bringing life, offering life, embodying life. Life and peace are resurrection reality. They do not necessarily change the circumstances of our life and world. Diseases will still rise up, the hungry still need to be fed, and loved ones will die. The life and peace of Jesus’ resurrection enable us to meet and live through those circumstances. His gives us his peace, his breath, his life, and then sends us out. We are free to unlock the doors of our lives and step outside into his life.
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