Jesus’ friends were in lockdown for fear of the Jews. We have been locked away in fear of COVID 19, afraid that we might catch it and die or pass it on to those we love. Fear is at its worst when it separates us from loved ones and neighbours, placing a wedge between us.
Fear paralyses us impacting our thinking and decision-making in negative ways, leaving us susceptible to intense emotions and impulsive reactions. Physically it can leave us with a weakened immune system, increased cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, impaired formation of long-term memories, sweating, fatigue, clinical depression, and PSTD.
Emerging from lockdown it is becoming apparent that many are suffering with poor mental health.
Those sheltering for health reasons living on their own have been particularly vulnerable. Some have slipped into dementia, some are no longer confident enough to go out or drive the car, some have lost track of time, their sense of purpose and place. Many have lost hope and vision for the future.
We have been told that our way out of lockdown is science. Whilst this is true to some extent, (I am grateful for the vaccines) it does not address our psychological and spiritual needs.
It is not surprising that the disciples of Jesus were afraid. They had witnessed the shameful humiliation of Jesus and had ran away so that they wouldn’t have to witness the horror and brutality of crucifixion. In the brutal society in which they lived, they would have witnessed this horror many times and they knew they could be next. Their Jewish neighbours knew they were disciples of Jesus, so they had hidden themselves away for protection.
In our gospel Jesus starts bringing healing to the 120 men and women disciples upon whom the Holy Spirit would fall at Pentecost.
Mary Magdalene had excitedly told them that she had seen the Lord and Peter and John had witnessed the empty tomb. We do not know what their thoughts were at this time. My guess is that they were in emotional turmoil, too afraid to think, to believe or disbelieve.
Sometimes we feel like that, too exhausted, ill, fearful or depressed to pray. It is too great a risk to open the door of our lives and our hearts to Jesus.
Jesus recognises when we are fearful and vulnerable and comes alongside us even when we don’t recognise him or have the power to respond.
He asks that we don’t lock him out and when we recognise him we invite him in.
Jesus came to his frightened friends, through locked doors in the evening of the day he rose from the dead. He stood among them and used the normal Jewish greeting, ‘Peace be with you,’ used throughout our church services and still used by Jews and Moslems when they greet each other. Shalom! Salaam Aleichem! All that is good for your flourishing in life be yours, healing, mental well being, love, joy, children, good finances and wealth.
Jesus could have come with recriminations for the way his disciples had failed him before resuming a relationship with them but this would have been more than they could have coped with, even if it might have been what they expected.
Jesus then showed them his hands and side. I do not believe that was just to prove that he was their friend who had been crucified and was now alive. There would have been easier, less gory ways of proving who he was.
He was saying suffering is not the last word. He was showing them what it meant to be fully alive, healed, delivered from death, full of the Holy Spirit, full of love, joy and peace. He was also opening the whole of himself up to them.
Whilst Jesus’ body still bore the scars of crucifixion, his body was not like ours. He had not knocked on the door and been let in. His spiritual body had come through locked doors.
When the disciples become less frozen, they rejoiced. Jesus repeated, ‘Peace be with you,” to disciples more able to receive the gift he brought.
When we offer one another the peace in imitation of Jesus we are offering both the gift of ourselves and the peace of Christ within us. How can we hurt or mistrust someone with whom we have shared that peace?
Jesus’ next words were not designed to assuage fears. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ Jesus had been sent among us to show his Father’s love and die so we could be forgiven. Now he was sending his friends to continue his work and most of them would become martyrs. By hiding in the upper room, this was what they were trying to avoid. It was dangerous to be associated with Jesus.
Jesus was giving them a purpose and an identity, a reason to get up in the morning. They would not have to return to their old jobs. To enable them to succeed in their mission, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.”
There is no evidence that the lives of the disciples were transformed at this moment. They didn’t rush into the streets to preach the gospel. They stayed in the upper room where Jesus visited them again a week later with Thomas present and were still there until the Day of Pentecost 50 days later.
The gift of the Holy Spirit would make a difference in their lives enabling them to be like Jesus in the world. Like the breath of God breathing life into Adam and the dry bones that came alive again in Ezekiel, these disciples were receiving the new life Jesus gives.
Jesus calls his disciples to tell the world that we need to be forgiven and that if we refuse the forgiveness of Jesus we will not shown God’s mercy.
That is a hard message for fearful disciples to bring yet bring yet they did.
Even Thomas who was out when Jesus appeared the first time and didn’t believe the testimony of his friends was to become a witness and reputedly took the message of Jesus to India
It must have hurt the others when he didn’t believe them. Did he really think that all of them were suffering from mass hysteria and seeing things?
There is stubbornness about Thomas. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Thomas, not surprisingly, didn’t want to believe. He had been willing to die with Jesus and didn’t want to open himself up to that amount of pain again.
When Jesus appeared, he invited Thomas to reach out his hand and put it in his side. Most of us hide our wounds. Jesus opened up the whole of himself to Thomas as he does to us. He invites us to reach out to him and know that he is real. Thomas was convinced.
He responded “My Lord and my God!” From that day forward he was going to do what Jesus wanted. Jesus was his God and he worshipped him.
Jesus comes to us in our fear and failures bringing healing, forgiveness and peace to us so we can minister to others.
He commissions us giving us purpose and breathes his life giving Spirit into us.
Believing in Jesus is more than just knowing that he is alive as a fact, it is putting our whole trust in him, having a relationship with him and allowing him to change us.
To receive all that Jesus longs to give us and to be all that he wants us to be, we need to unlock the closed doors of our hearts fully trusting him as our Lord and friend.
for whom no door is locked, no entrance barred:
open the doors of our hearts,
that we may seek the good of others
and walk the joyful road of sacrifice and peace,
to the praise of God the Father. Amen