The Resurrection Community Part 1: Standing in the Midst (John 20:19-23)

This was my prepared message for worship last Sunday. It is the first in a series looking at what it means to be the church in relationship to the final resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Gospel of John.

_behind locked doors

What is the first thing we can learn about this res. community?
The doors where they were, were locked.

Okay, so let me get this straight, there’s Jesus, he dies, every one’s totally crushed, then he appears in the garden to Mary, she runs back to tell everyone, and everyone gets super excited and starts dancing, throws a party, invites all their friends, and sends out some facebook statuses, maybe they even run around the street — woohoo Jesus didn’t die after all…

Nope, that’s not how the story goes, the doors are not open, they are closed, in fact they are locked. How can this be? After all they’ve gone through, after all that they’ve witnessed, after all that has transpired before their eyes, they are behind locked doors.

It says that they were afraid, they had fear of the Jews, which is the Gospel of John’s way of saying the religious elite, in a modern paraphrase we might say they are afraid of those in the church, those in control of religion, those who killed Jesus and who were more than likely not too happy to find out that Jesus’ body turned up missing. So they’re behind locked doors because of some legitimate fears.

Has this ever happened to you? Have any of us ever had it good, but were still behind locked doors out of afraid, sometimes because of legitimate things, sometimes maybe not. And we can be too.

I mean what about this week? Everything that’s taken place around the world and in the news with bin Laden, there’s a lot of emotions circulating, from relief, to sadness, to a kind of introspection and looking back. There are of course those who were celebrating his death as well, but I’ve already written all of you (on email) with comments about that. But this entire event from September 11th on shows us just how deeply fear can be a motivating factor for many ways of responding to something.
And I won’t lie, I had a sense of fear for the potential of retaliation under this kind of tit-for-tat cycle of violence that we as human continue to perpetuate. This plus seeing some of the responses and anger generated not just by Americans but those who consider themselves Christians left me feeling fairly hopeless and locked up.

And yet, this seems to place us back in the biblical story. Didn’t we too just celebrate resurrection? Did we not just stand together here and proclaim that Jesus in the Risen One and that he is the one who calls us by name, speaks to our condition and gives us hope? But within a week, within a matter of moments, it’s easy to be grounded. One moment we’re soaring, the next we’re wondering what we’re doing on the ground. I think we can all identify with how easy it is to move from the garden of Easter morning to a locked door.

_jesus in the midst

So, there’s this Quaker painting it’s called the Presence in the Midst, we actually have a print of in in our library here:

It was painted in 1916 by James Doyle Penrose…it pictures a meeting for worship of [the] earlier years [of the Quaker movement] taking place in Jordans Meeting House (in Buckinghamshire, UK), with Jesus…standing in the [midst of the] meeting. This reflects an understanding that the experience of meeting for worship is an encounter with Christ, identified with the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth. (http://www.quaker.org.uk/swarthmore-lecture)

It’s a powerful image of the reality of Jesus standing among Friends, and this is similar to what happened on the evening after Easter with the 1st disciples.

Laurel A. Dykstra writes:

“When Jesus appeared to his disciples, they were hiding upstairs in a locked room—the friends who knew him best, who had betrayed him, who had pretended they didn’t know him, who had run away when he was dying, who hid when he was arrested, who were frightened and ashamed. He appeared among them and greeted them. He didn’t say, ‘What happened?’ ‘Where were you?’ ‘You screwed up.’ He greeted them saying, ‘Peace.’

 

Isn’t this astounding? Literally the text says:

Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them “peace.”

In the middle of deep fear, a sense of aimlessness and inadequacy, the disciples are hiding behind locked doors and Jesus comes and stands in the midst and says to them peace.

In the middle of absolute choas, a settling presence arrives and tells us to calm down.

It is important to recognize that there is no accusation here at all. This peace is an invitation. No matter how much they are ashamed of their own inadequacy, no matter how bad they think it might be “outside,” no matter how far they think they have failed God:

“Jesus stood in the midst and says to them peace.” Which is like him saying, “You are not accused, you are invited. You are good enough. Now unlock the doors.”

His presence is the calm in the storm. This is a classic picture of what some call a “non-anixious” presence. A person who is a non-anxious presence is someone who has an inner calm, not matter how conflictual the situations surrounding him or her might be. It means someone who is centered, who is focused and present to the task and people in front of him or her. These are people who have been honest about their own stuff and work to cultivate a peaceful presence and sticks with you in the tough times.

Jesus was this non-anxious presence to the disciples. He is the same for us. He invites us in, and helps us to center. Maybe you are this kind of presence for others, maybe you need someone to be this for you.

We all experience times when we are locked up inside. When we are unsure of ourselves, when we feel like we’ve failed God and others, when we are deeply motivated out of fear. Many of us have had events in our lives that have happened to us that were completely out of our control and left us worse for the wear?

Here’s a quote I read this week that’s hanging up on the walls at Twighlight Pizza:

“Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve travelled a long way, and some of the roads weren’t paved.”

Isn’t this the reality of the thing?

“Jesus stood in the midst and says to them peace.”

First then, we recognize that Jesus invites his disciples, his would-be followers to unlock their own doors. To open themselves up to the impossible, to open themselves up to the reality of the resurrection.

And here’s the kicker: He invites them to “unlock the door to your heart and receive the peace that I am about to give you, because what I am going to call you to is to take that peace and invite others to it as well.” These early disciples are called to open up to the world.

There’s an interesting situation around the translation of this passage that is worth noting. If you’ll notice, in our passage it reads that the doors of the house they were were locked. But what’s interesting here is there’s nothing in the Greek about the disciples being in a house or a room. The text literally reads:

“And the doors having been shut where the disciples were because of the fear of the Judeans.”

So as one commentator put it:

[This story] is not a matter of [Jesus] mysteriously passing through locked doors of a room, but of prayerfully opening the locked doors of our hearts, that allows the community to perceive the presence of the Risen One.” 456-57

Locked or Shut in this context means to be closed off, to be clenched tight. Jesus’ standing in the midst of this community is an invitation to unlock the door of their hearts and be ready to receive.

This is invitation rather than escapist:

“Peace is not the mere absence of fighting or repression of conflict. Instead it is a centeredness that comes from acknowledging fear but simultaneously trust in God’s victory over the world.” Jesus presence in his community is “The antidote to this fear” (Wes Howard-Brook).

Some of us desperately need this. But this isn’t all. Because the invitation turns to a sending. He says: “As the father sent me, so I send you.”

_open out to the world

There’s another powerful picture that circulated a lot back in Jan. and February during the Egyptian revolution. Maybe some of you remember seeing  it.

It is an image of Egyptian Christians surrounding their Egyptian Muslim brothers and sisters as they prayed. Offering them a buffer zone, a bodily protection from those who might try and harass them.

And then Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them “Peace.”

The movement of this text is to open out into the world. So that in accepting the invitation to peace, they are able to receive holy spirit, and in doing so they become a community that is sent out to proclaim this same peace and forgiveness. The peace we hunger for is the same peace our world hungers for.

And when the Jesus stands in the midst of chaos and fear in the world today, it is through us, the resurrection community, fulfilling this first Spirit-empowered “sending.”

That is why this the text then turns then to Jesus breathing on them, and saying the words: “receive holy Spirit.”

This is his way of giving this little band of disciples what they need, the empowerment, the peace, the forgiveness so that they can hoard it all for themselves. Or so that they can use it against others? No, it is so they can turn around and be that same peaceful presence, that presence of forgiveness in the world around them.

This breathing should remind us of something else too? Jesus breathing on his disciples mirrors Genesis 2:7:

“then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Gen 2:7 NRSV)

This is the birth of the church in mission. They are called to open up the door, turn back and open up into the world. Jesus breathes (literally) “holy spirit,” or “the breath of life” into this fearful community. He animates them, gives them new life, and empowers them. You thought you were inadequate, but now you are full of what you need. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

And so Jesus sends them back out into the world of which they have been hiding. To go and proclaim this same peace to a fearful world in need also of the peaceful presence of Christ. They are called to offer peace and forgiveness in the most fearful of situations they, and we, have been commissioned, to go and be his presence in the world.

Just as Jesus stands in the midst of us, the res. community is called to go and do the same in the world around us.

 

Query: To what have we as individuals and a church been called to stand in the midst of and offer the same peace and forgiveness that Christ offers us?

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.