Text - John 19:19-31
This Easter season, we are diving deeply into a resurrection story and staying with it long enough to hear some of the richness, the beauty, the complexity and the power of what the Gospel of John contains for believers today.
We’ve dealt with the surface story of how Jesus quieted Thomas’ doubts. We’ve explored the nature of the “peace” that the Risen Christ offers. Today let’s pick a little different aspect of this story: Let’s pick the lock.
I’m talking about the fact that the disciples, on the night of Jesus’ resurrection, were hiding out. Even though several of them had been to the tomb and seen the stone rolled away, even though they had heard from Mary Magdelene the Good News “I have seen the Lord”. Even though they weren’t stupid: they could count and they knew that this was the third day -the day Jesus had told them he would be raised from death,
they were hiding out. Behind a locked door. I like the touch that the door was locked. Not just closed. Not just watched carefully. Locked up tight. The Greek work for “locked” is kleiso. Sounds like “close” doesn’t it? That’s how I remembered the few Greek words I managed to remember from seminary. Sounds like something close to what it means. Kleiso. Closed. Locked.
Locks are meant to make us secure. Or make us feel secure. When we go in the house, and lock the door, when we roll into a neighborhood that seems a little tough, and we hit the door locks, when we go into the bathroom stall and slide the bolt - the lock is supposed to keep threats to our privacy and safety out. Out there. The bad stuff. Or the stuff we don’t want to deal with.
Being locked in is being safe. And the disciples have some reason to fear for their safety. They had a lot to be afraid of. They could be accused of stealing his body. They could be punished for guilt by association with Jesus. It's dark out there. They locked themselves in.
Do I look like tired this morning? I might. Because I didn’t sleep much last night. After I finished up the sermon and bulletin yesterday afternoon, I went to a movie last night at Ebertfest. And of course, when I came home I had to completely rewrite the sermon - because the movie showed me something about the scripture that I hadn’t seen before.
The movie is about Curtis - a good looking family man who starts having strange and threatening dreams. In his dreams, the sky turns dark and there is a terrible storm, during which nightmarish things happen. And the dreams happen over and over. Soon the vision of the storm invades even his waking hours.
So Curtis risks everything to build a storm shelter in which he and his family will be safe. He stocks it with food, water, lanterns, gas masks . . . even installs plumbing.
The storm comes. The sirens blow and his family heads through the vicious winds into the shelter, where the doors are secured against the threat. They wait out the storm, but when it comes time to leave, Curtis refuses to let his family out. He has the key, but the storms that have been raging inside him have become so real that he cannot distinguish between the danger inside and the danger out . . . there.
It was a truly chilling scene. And one that made sense of a phrase in this scripture that has always embarrassed me: John says - the doors were locked on account of the Jews. Well, that seems a little anti-Semitic, doesn’t it? It wasn’t “the Jews” - they should have been fearing. It was the political and religious authorities who killed Jesus and who, possibly, might be after his followers. But Jerusalem was full of Jews. Perfectly harmless folks who had their own reasons for worry about the Romans who were occupying them. In fact, not just Jerusalem was full of Jews - but the room where they were locked in was full of Jews, too.
The fear that caused the door to be locked was not just about fear of dangers outside. It was also about fearing the evil and darkness within.
( All of this next part came from an article by Craig Barnes. I just put it in my own words, mostly.)
It’s so cool that the kids have been thinking about how the disciples felt. Ethan mentioned that Judas, who betrayed Jesus was so ashamed of what he did that he killed himself. And the other disciples, well, they hadn’t exactly done themselves proud, either. They had deserted Jesus, denied him, failed him. They had plenty to be embarrassed about. Even ashamed.
Like the disciples, we try to hide when we’re ashamed. Some people think people don’t feel shame anymore. But I don’t think that is right. I think we are ashamed of ourselves. We just try to hide it. But shame gets us when we overstep our abilities, or when the kind of person we wish we were, want to believe we are comes smack up against the behaviors that show who we really are.
Garrison Keillor said, "We always have a backstage view of ourselves." You know how when you go to the theatre, what the audience sees on stage looks like . . . an office or a train station, or whatever. That’s what you see from the front. But have you ever been in a play? Backstage, the actors and crew are stepping over props for the next scene, and costumes from the scene before. There is a script someone dropped on the floor and didn’t bother to pick up. It’s a mess.
Well, we know the backstage truth about ourselves. Things are not as they appear. And it makes us ashamed, and fearful that someone might find out. We lock up more and more doors, sealing off more and more of our true selves. We try to lock the world out, but what is happening is that we are locking ourselves in.
Left to our own devices we become kleiso people. Locked in by threats without and shame within. Fearful of those outside, and unable to understand that we are what they are. They are what we are. Imperfect. Frightened. Occasionally confused. Or hurt. Or in pain. Those are outside the locked doors are also grieving losses, trying to make sense of things, trying to build relationships and figure out how to do the next right thing.
You know, people sometimes say they wish we could have a New Testament church. Be just like those early believers. And if we are not careful, that is just what church tends to be - like these early disciples who are locked in a room together, so afraid of the outside and unwilling to admit what is inside that they lock the doors and make the lock the defining characteristic of their fellowship.
Keep out - sinners!
No weak people allowed.
No clue. No connections. No service.
Of course, the air inside those storm shelter churches gets a little stale, what with no fresh breezes blowing through. Locked down lives - even individual lives that are lived on lock down - become less like shelters and more like tombs. But that is the price that has to be paid, isn’t it? For thinking that our security depends on our ability to lock things out.
In the movie last night, Curtis’ wife tries to bring him out of his madness, convince him that it is OK to unlock the storm shelter. That if he opens the lock, it will be OK. She says, “I could open it, but if I do, nothing will change. You have to do it. That’s what if means to go on living.”
That line made me cry. It sounded so true. We have to be the ones to turn the key and open the doors of our hearts and our lives and our churches. And that would make a nice “application” for this sermon, wouldn’t it? I’d go for it. It sounds like the Gospel according to Cindy, doesn’t it?
But, friends, the Gospel of John has something much better, much more hopeful, much more grace filled to say:
While they were locked in, Jesus came and stood among them. Hey - there is something wrong with these locks! They don’t keep out Jesus! There is no dead bolt, no combination, not padlock that can block the Risen Christ’s entry into the dark and hidden places where we take shelter when we are afraid. The Risen Christ passes right through the locks on our hearts, our lives, our churches, and makes the resurrection real.
The resurrected Christ is present in renewed relationships.
In forgiveness given and received.
In gestures of kindness extended to the community and the world.
In recovery from habits of life that cut us off from one another.
In the spirit of peace and joy that wells up inside us during prayer.
The Gospel is not about opening the doors and letting Jesus in. The Gospel is that Jesus opens the door. Jesus’ devotion to us is so strong that there is no way to keep him out. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
That’s what being church means. Remember the word for lock? Kleiso? Well, you know what the Greek word for church is? Ekklesia - Ex - “like exit” kleiso - “the lock” We are God’s “Unlocked” people.
Thanks be to God for this inexpressible gift.
How can we live that unlocked life? - each of us personally, and all of us together?