First Mennonite Church
April 24, 2022
Behind Closed Doors
Text: John 20:19-29
You have heard the saying in one version or another, “Who knows what happens behind closed doors.” Most often, this statement is used to express suspicion about what people might be hiding or that something bad happening is being kept a secret.
Theologian Gordon Lathrop, once said, “You don’t have to knock very hard on any door in your parish to find some sort of agony behind that door.”
Behind closed doors are women, mothers of young children suffering abuse and domestic violence. Behind closed doors are young boys being homeschool by their violent fathers to become future domestic abusers too.
Behind closed doors are parents agonizing over one of their children who is an addict of some kind. Behind closed doors are families torn apart by disagreement, resentment, or selfishness among siblings. Behind closed doors are households divided over politics.
Last Sunday, our Easter scripture ended with Mary Magdalene telling the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” And what they do? They locked themselves behind closed doors. We remember that Peter and John did see the empty tomb. They knew the body of Jesus was no longer in the tomb, yet they could not believe Jesus was alive. The empty tomb was not enough evidence for the disciples to believe Jesus had been raised from the dead. In fact, it only deepened their fear of the fallout of Jesus’ perceived intentions as seen by the Roman and Jewish authorities. The disciples were dreading the consequences they could suffer for having been associated with the Lord, especially after his death. So, they did what was expected of them to do. They locked themselves behind the doors, pulled down the window blinds and huddled together, hardly breathing. In other words, they entered into their tomb of fear.
Since the empty tomb did not convince the disciples but only added to their already stressed hearts, Jesus came to them in the evening of that very Easter Sunday. He said to them, “Shalom! Peace be with you.” And he said it twice to them. He then proceeded to show them the marks of the nails and of the spear that had pierced his body at his crucifixion. The disciples were overjoyed to see the Lord, bearing the marks of the nails in his body. It was the same Jesus they had followed, but now, glorious and unrestrained by any means, not death, not tomb, and not even locked doors. But Thomas was not there with them when Jesus came. In other words, Thomas got locked out. He missed the marvel, the excitement, and the restoration Jesus gave his disciples.
There is a feeling frustration when you find out you have been locked out. Catherine has rescued me here is church. After various occasions strangers had entered the church to use the restroom and didn’t want to leave, I started locking the door. One day shortly after I started doing that, I went out and as usual allowed the door to close. Then I remembered the door was locked. I had to go over to the preschool to borrow Catherine’s key to the church. Only one time, we have been locked out of our car. And again, it was frustrating.
Where did Thomas go that he missed out on Jesus’ Easter eve visit with his disciples? Did he go to have a cup of coffee? Or, for a walk to clear his mind by looking up into the skies gazing at the stars? John only tells us Thomas was not present when Jesus came.
Most likely, when Thomas came back, he could not believe his fellow disciples were the same group of depressed people he left just a while ago. The Ten were all over the place with excitement. They could hardly wait their turn to tell Thomas what had happened and what he had missed. But Thomas was no easy guy to be convinced. He was and had always been a man with his feet on the ground. He was and had always been a man who used his reason for everything.
There are two previous incidents where Thomas revealed his down-to-earth character of a man he was. In John 11, Jesus was called to go see his friend Lazarus who was dying, but Jesus waited for two days before he went. And when he told his disciples that he was going to wake Lazarus up, Thomas said, “Well, if he is sleeping, let him sleep. He will wake up on when he is fully rested.” But Jesus said, “No. Lazarus is dead.” Thomas sarcastically said then, “Right! Now you want us to go there to die as well?”
The other time was the night Jesus gave his farewell speech to his disciples. Jesus began by saying that he was going to prepare a place for his disciples and that once it was ready, he would come back to take them to be with him. And he added, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” And while all the other disciples did not dare to admit they had no idea what Jesus was talking about, Thomas said, “Lord, I have no clue what you are talking about. How can we know the way?” Thomas’ honesty led Jesus to declare one of the most fundamental declarations about his identity. Jesus said to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”
So that Easter evening, Thomas listened to what his fellow disciples wanted to tell him, but was not convinced. And in his usual exaggerated way he revealed what it would take for him to believe Jesus was alive. He said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” If you notice, Thomas increased the intensity of his demand if he were to believe. Thomas went from seeing the marks of the nails, to putting his fingers on the wounds of the nails, to putting his whole hand into the pierced side of Jesus. Thomas’ demand was thorough; nothing less would suffice. He wanted to believe, but his demands could only be met by Jesus himself.
One week later, Jesus presented himself once again to his disciples, even when the doors were locked. And this time Jesus singled out Thomas. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe,” Jesus said to Thomas. Poor Thomas, he either forgot what he had demanded or was so overwhelmed at the presence of Jesus that his only reaction was that of worship. “My Lord and my God,” Thomas exclaimed.
Let me go back to the image of locked doors. Jesus visited his ten disciples on that Easter eve. Seven days later, he came again to show himself to Thomas, but again the ten were still behind closed doors. Why were these ten, who had already seen Jesus, face to face, still behind locked doors? We know they were filled with fear.
In her book, Any Day a Beautiful Change, Katherine Pershey describes what it’s like to be locked into a prison of fear:
Fear is a physiological response to tomorrow. It is almost always about death. Fear causes us to live in a perpetual state of anxiety. Fear is exhausting and depressing. Generally, the calamities I expect do not come to pass. So I replace them with new ones. Time and energy that could be used constructively, for prayer, dishwashing, learning to quilt, I sacrifice to cultivate apprehension (The Christian Century, “High Anxiety: The Terror of the Dark Unknown,” March 7, 2012; partial paraphrase).
Just as there are real wooden or metal locked doors hiding human pain, domestic violence, family discords, etc. there are also metaphorical doors—the doors of the heart. Fears of what hide in our heart? Sometimes, the monsters of worry, fear, or sense of helpless creep from under our bed at night and keep you from sleeping.
In the case of Thomas who was locked out because he missed Jesus’ visit, we too can have feelings of being locked out. Families with loved ones struggling with depression feel locked out. Even though they shower their depressed loved one with love and affirmation, they feel helpless in bringing light and joy into the mind and heart of their loved one. We feel locked out when we helplessly look at the atrocities committed against the innocent. We feel locked out when no matter how much we counsel with an abused woman, yet she continues to defend her partner and blame herself for the abuse. We feel locked out when we see the statistics of more people slipping into poverty, despite the hard work they do.
Easter is the reminder that Jesus, on the other hand, is never bound or restrained by anything. The burial clothes could not keep him immobile. The stone in the tomb entrance could not hold him inside the tomb. Death could not keep him a victim of decay. Even thick walls and locked doors could not keep him outside. Hallelujah, He is the one who can enter into our heart and make us free. As he said, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). So, if you know someone who is locked behind a closed door or who has been locked out, pray for that person this morning.
Jesus sets people free. But here is a caveat. The only door Jesus that cannot enter in is of the heart that shuts itself to him. When he comes to us, he gently knocks at the door of our heart patiently waiting for us to open it. If we open it, he proves himself to us of being the most marvelous guest we could ever have.
Jesus is knocking at our door. He wants to give us his peace and to empower us with the Holy Spirit. Let us open to him the door of our heart. He wants to revive our heart and renew our faith like he did to Thomas. Amen!