Lord God, mercy is in your hands, pour me a little. And tenderness too. My need is great… When I first found you I was filled with light, now the darkness grows and it is filled with crooked things, bitter and weak, each one bearing my name.
-Mary Oliver, 21st century
Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
-John 20:19, “The Message”
Easter was great! It was a grand celebration of the Good News of the Resurrection of Jesus; a celebration of the power of life over death; of God’s love triumphing over hate! The lilies were in full bloom. The choir was in full-throated voice. There were Easter Eggs for the children to hunt. And the day was glorious and bright!
Now we find ourselves almost a week gone by and the question is: is the affect and impact of Easter still echoing through your life? The lectionary Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday shares the story from John of those first disciples later on the day of the first Easter and the story of Thomas a week later. The verse above is the beginning of that lesson.
The lesson begins by informing us that we are still on the same day that Mary Magdalene found the tomb of Jesus empty and then later saw and spoke with the risen Jesus. Now we are later in the day and all the disciples have gathered together again. Then Jesus appears to them all and speaks a blessing of Peace to them.
Those are the details we usually notice and focus upon. But back up a bit and notice what else John says: “fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house.” That is an intriguing comment. For they have already heard from Mary Magdalene that she had met the risen Jesus. Peter and John had already raced to the tomb to investigate the story that it was empty and had seen the grave clothes, no longer needed, lying in the tomb.
What if they had believed the Good News Mary shared, but still found themselves fearful of the Jews? What if they do believe Jesus is alive but not powerful enough to protect them from their Jewish opponents? After all, if he had not been powerful enough to protect himself while alive, what assurance did they had that he would be able to protect his followers now?
Perhaps this story speaks to our own struggles today. Perhaps you have experienced moments when you did not doubt the existence of God, but you clearly wondered whether God was powerful enough or compassionate enough to help you? Perhaps you have had those times like the poetess Mary Oliver when the “darkness was growing and filling you with crooked things, bitter and weak.” Those experiences can clearly lead to behavior like locking the doors against whatever feels like a threat.
The Good News is that even though we might lock ourselves in or the world out, we can never lock God out. The risen Jesus still appears to them and will appear to us. Especially when we are gathered together with others, who share our struggles and our journey trying to be faithful to the call of Jesus to share the love of God. Again, this is the power of community. Together we discover we are stronger than all the death-dealing forces of the world and we are stronger than anything that creates fear within our hearts. Together we can face the future and together we will experience the New Life God offers through the resurrection.
R. Steven Hudder
Pastor, Christ Congregational United Church of Christ
Palmetto Bay, Florida