Second Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Bingham Powell
Today is the second Sunday of our joyful Easter celebration. We get to sing and shout Alleluia again! Yet our Gospel reading today takes us back to that very first day of the very first Easter. And that very first Easter was not celebratory or joyful. The disciples were not yet singing Alleluia. As we heard last week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, early in the morning, "while it was still dark." Dark for the hour, dark in her mind, dark in her soul. In the darkness of her sorrow and her confusion, she encountered the Risen Christ. The Gospel today picks up where last week’s reading ended. Again it is dark. Dark for the hour, it is evening after all. But also dark for the disciples in their souls and minds. They, too, are confused and sorrowful. Like, Mary Magdalene, they were downcast having seen their Lord die tragically on the cross. But they had a new level of confusion, for they had now heard a report from Mary that she had seen the Lord. What could that possibly mean that she has seen the Lord? And could they even trust her?
And this darkness of confusion and sorrow was enhanced by the darkness of their fear. The disciples locked themselves in for "fear of the Jews." That expression "the Jews" means different things throughout the Gospel of John. Jesus and the disciples were Jews, too, of course, so it can’t be a blanket statement of all Jews. You have to examine the context carefully to understand what John means in different situations. Here, he means "the authorities." They locked themselves in out of fear for the authorities, the religious leaders who conspired to hand Jesus over to the Roman government to have him killed in the most horrific manner. This is who they feared. Perhaps the authorities would come next for them. It was very much within the realm of possibility that the followers would be killed along with the leader to really stamp out the movement.
So in the darkness of their sorrow, confusion, and fear, Jesus comes among them, the light of Christ begins to shine. Jesus breaks into their secure, locked space, without breaking a single lock. He appears. Suddenly. Is it a ghost, they wonder? No, he disabuses them of that idea fairly quickly. It is the Risen Lord. Alive, changed, but also the same. Resurrected, but with the wounds of his death still present in his hands and in his side. He shows up, shining light on their darkness.
That is what the Risen Lord does, his light shines in the darkness – in their darkness and in our darkness. He shows up, Risen, Resurrected, in whatever room we have fearfully locked ourselves into. And that is the question before each one of us today: Which room have you locked yourself into? Which doors have you locked, trying to protect yourself from your fears, your worries, your insecurities, your anxieties? Which room? For that locked room is the place to look for Christ. That is the place that Christ will break in and let you encounter him.
And like the disciples, Christ will offer you shalom, a word which rather weakly gets translated as peace in English, but in Hebrew, in Jesus’ linguistic heritage and background, has a deeper, richer sense of wholeness and completeness. For that locked space, by virtue of the fear that causes us to lock it, contains something broken, something incomplete, in our lives. And in offering us shalom, Christ is offering us wholeness, completeness, Christ is offering to heal the brokenness of our fear.
It is fear, not doubt, that is the opposite of faith. For faith means trust. And our fears expose the incompleteness of our trust in God. But neither doubt nor fear keep Christ from coming to us, entering our fearfully locked space and offering shalom, offering to repair our brokenness.
We see an image of that shalom, that wholeness, in Christ's Resurrection. The Resurrected Christ is alive again, fully, completely alive, and yet, Christ's body still shows the wounds. Wounds they can see and touch, as he offers to Thomas. Wounds that have healed, but wounds that are still discernible. Shalom, this wholeness, doesn't mean that the former brokenness is no longer visible, but rather that it has been healed, that it is complete again.
It is not unlike that beautiful Japanese pottery technique of repairing cracks with gold. The gold repairs the cracks so that the pottery is whole again, but in a way that highlights rather than hides the wounds, and creates something that in many ways is more beautiful than the original. Christ's shalom doesn't eliminate the wounds, but heals them in a more beautiful way that might still keep our woundedness visible, but visibly healed.
So, again, I ask, what is the room into which you have fearfully locked yourself? For in that room you will encounter the Risen Lord; and in that room Christ will offer you healing, wholeness, shalom; and from that room Christ will send you out into the world: "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." But here is the trick: to accept the invitation to be sent, we have to unlock those doors to get out. Christ doesn't break the locks to get in; Christ just shows up. But if we want to leave that locked space, if we want to follow Christ's call to be sent, we will have to open the door, and enter the big, scary world with its risk and danger, trusting in God, trusting fully in the one who broke in and gave us his peace.
The Gospel today ends with these words: "through believing you may have life in his name.” That word translated as believing is better translated in this context as trusting: Through trusting, we have life in his name. The choice before us is to be dead in our fears or live in our trust of God. What room have you fearfully locked yourself in today? Trust God, open the door, and live. Amen.