Unlocking Doors

2:46 PM

Sometimes it's hard to understand the world.
Last Sunday I had the honor of sharing with our community the lectionary passage of John 20:19-21 before I realized what a difficult week it would be for many Mississippians and those who love them. John 20:19-21 reminded me, once again, of my call to follow the teachings and example of Jesus by unlocking doors in order to speak words of peace.

In the passage a group of men and women huddles together, locked in, terrified. Their physical doors are locked, but their minds and bodies are locked in as well with fear. Can you imagine the crowdedness of the house? These were very small houses, to begin with—and you have all of these people locked in, crowding one another for about three days now with their physical bodies. But something else is taking up space in the room as well—so many emotions, so many feelings are crowding the room. Obviously the feelings of fear are there, but also present is anxiety ("What will happen to them if they did that to Jesus?"). Guilt is there too (Jesus was crucified and they ran away). Along with shame and anger ("This is not where we were supposed to end up."). This room is so crowded.

Who can blame Thomas for needing to get out for some fresh air?

Imagine yourself in the room, and all of a sudden, everything feels just a bit tighter as one more body causes all the other bodies to shift a little to make space. As you look around to see why this is happening to you see Jesus standing there, and hear him speak these words “Peace be with you.”

The room gets lighter and less crowed as Jesus invites those present to see the wounds in his hands and side. All those heavy feelings of fear and shame and anger, become lighter as Jesus says it again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Then Jesus breathes on them. Have you ever thought about this? I don’t know anyone who particularly enjoys having someone else “breath” on them. And I wonder what that was like, I mean, Jesus has just spent three days in the tomb. It could have been bad; it could have been three days in the tomb bad.  But I imagine the scent was a lot more like life than death. Like when the seasons change and there’s just a crispness in the air that is fresh and new. It makes me want to go outside, breathe deep and hold my arms out by my side to feel the air.

Whether we realize it or now we have a lot in common with this group of frightened and discouraged men and women hiding behind locked doors. Our crowded room may not be physical, but for each of us at some point in life we’ve found ourselves locked behind doors in crowded rooms. For some of us we may be locked in crowded by fear or anger, or for another anxiety or depression; for others it could be insecurity or addictions.

This is where the resurrection story, the Easter story, continues. We are reminded that God barges into our locked doors, at our darkest place, when we are consumed with it, and uninvited, God just bursts through to offer us peace and forgiveness and breathes life into us again.

Jesus didn’t come in and say, "Man, you guys really left me hanging!" (ok, pun intended:). He didn't say, "I thought you were my friends. Why are you sitting in this room hiding like a bunch of scared children? Put your big boy and girl undergarments on and show some courage!" There was no guilt trip, no shaming…just forgiveness and peace. That greeting of “peace be with you” means EVERYTHING is well between us. Then Jesus breathes some life back into them.

Have any of you ever had an experience when someone’s words (or maybe just actions) brought you life or freedom or peace. It's not that the depression or the anger or the fear or the addiction magically disappeared with the words of another, but somehow the words, the actions, gave you just enough air in your lungs to take another breath. To move towards the door. To step back out into the light of day.

That’s what Jesus does here with these men and women who have been locked in their own tomb for the past three days. Jesus speaks peace to them and breathes into them to give them just enough air to step towards the door. To step back into the light of day. To breathe the air in the streets, to move towards the people outside, to move towards this beautiful world now bursting with new life to which he sends of them.

But then John adds verse 23, ugh. Why?

When I first read this passage I really liked the beginning part, and I really liked the ending part with Thomas. But there was this one little verse in between I didn’t like. I didn’t like what it said. It seemed out of place. It seemed out of step with Jesus. So I did what all good God-fearing preachers do, I thought... “I’ll just have to...skip it!”

Ok, obviously, I couldn't. It says:
23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.

For me, it was as if Jesus passed out an Easter basket full of “forgiveness eggs”--and commissioned the group to go out and pick and choose to whom to give them. "Forgiveness for you, and you, and you, but not you. I’m going to retain this egg from you."

As I looked at the whole picture of this passage I realized that’s not what Jesus meant, and that’s not why John put it in here.

Rob Bell said, Sin is like disease, and its effects are pandemic in the human body, not to mention the human community. "When I kept silent," the Psalmist writes, "my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long ... my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer" (Psalm 32:3, 4). Refusing the practice of confession, the Psalmist's silence bore a heavy grief. He was listless, depressed, and physically tormented. But the pain of his refusal finally ended when he confessed his sin. Confession to other human beings (and their prayers on our behalf) can help restore us spiritually—as well as physically, mentally and emotionally.”

When we unlock our doors and stop wasting away in silence and confess our anger, fear, anxiety, addictions to one another, we are restored physically, mentally and emotionally one breath at a time.

Jesus basically says, "Now, I’ve spoken peace and forgiveness to you. I’ve barged in. I’ve breathed enough life into you to get you to move towards the door. Now go out and speak forgiveness to the world, to the people in your family, in your community, in your world who are keeping silent, who are wasting away, who are depressed, listless, or numb. Speak peace and forgiveness into the locked doors and crowded rooms of others. If you don’t speak it, the doors remain locked and crowded.

“As the Father sends me, so I send ALL of you.”

All of you—except one. Thomas missed the party. Thomas, the one disciples whose real name we don’t exactly know because although Thomas is a fine proper English name, it was not an actual proper name in Aramaic. Thomas is a nickname in Aramaic which means “twin”. For centuries he’s been the disciple who’s actual name is left out of the Bible. If that's not bad enough, the church adds a little more insult by adding the nickname of Doubting. So we’ve basically called him Doubting Twin for all these years.

Even though they don't call him by his actual name, his friends are excited to tell him when he returns that they have seen Jesus!

But he missed the party. I think maybe Thomas said, “' Yay' for you, but I can’t jump on that train 'til I see it myself."

I wonder what that week was like for Thomas. Have you ever missed out on an experience that your friends had together—and they keep talking about it—and you keep being reminded of how you missed out?

It had to be a hard week for Thomas. Because even though the church unfavorably labeled him Doubting Thomas for years, Thomas really wasn't a skeptic. He was not a reluctant follower of Jesus. When Jesus was with the group, and they were headed towards the unfriendly territory of Bethany, Lazarus’ hometown, some disciples discouraged Jesus from continuing. But Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we might die with him.” At the Last Super Thomas said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” He was ready to go…he just needed a plan. He had a few questions about the journey.

Maybe this is why I identify with Thomas. Maybe Thomas is my “twin”, our “twin”. Thomas brings his doubts to the church and shares them openly. He asks the questions publicly that others are hiding behind locked doors. I remember having a hard time in seminary understanding many of my classmates. I chose really great professors who asked challenging questions. I remember sharing with a mentor that I didn’t know how some classmates sat in the same lectures and read some of the same books yet walked away with such a different idea of God and people. He said, “Well, they are there seeking hard and strong answers. You are there for the questions.”

Shouldn’t those who follow Jesus’ teachings honor those of us with doubts? The church should be the place where those who struggle with the difficult questions of life and faith are invited to come in and see and touch and hear words of peace and receive love and support.

It begins here with Doubting Thomas. Thomas, who was the only one not in the room. The only one not locked in, hiding behind closed doors in that crowded room.

Verse 26 tells us a week later Thomas is with the group, and interestingly John points out that the “doors were shut”. It doesn’t say the doors were locked, just shut. The fear had not magically disappeared, but the doors were not locked anymore. They had moved towards the door and unlocked them.  Again Jesus comes and speaks peace to them. Jesus offers Thomas the opportunity to touch him.

I'm reminded that faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is a mystery. In order for faith to be faith, does there not have to be an element of something unknown?

Barbara Brown Taylor in her memoir Leaving Church says, “I wanted to recover the kind of faith that has nothing to do with being sure what I believe and everything to do with trusting God to catch me though I am not sure of anything.”
When we say we have faith, it doesn’t mean we don’t have questions (or some of us doubts). It just means we trust God enough to unlock the doors and leave the room.

Jesus may barge in uninvited into the locked rooms of our lives, but we are always invited to his table. The doors are always open for communion and community. Jesus invites us to move towards the door, to unlock the doors and step outside. To step out of our tombs and breathe new life...into others. 

Let us be about the business of unlocking doors and speaking peace and forgiveness to those needing someone to breathe on them. Peace be with you.

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