Peace in a Dark Room

An Excerpt from a sermon preached at Northminster Presbyterian Church
Seattle, WA

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them John 20:19

By the Christian year, we are in the stretch of Eastertide. Here’s where we meet the resurrected Jesus - when he walked upon the earth as the one from beyond death. The disciples are in totally unfamiliar territory. Days before, they were in Jerusalem with Jesus present. And now he’s gone. And they are scared, and locked up, like hostages.

Fear does that. It locks us up. But being locked up, not able to get in or out - it ends up doing something to us on the inside that’s not so good. It ends up locking us up. We’ve all been there.
Locked up in a hard job. Locked up in a consuming relationship. Locked up in our own assumptions. Locked up in our own physical limitations. Locked up in our fear, our longings, our unfulfilled dreams.

I remember staying at my dad’s apartment, and I had forgotten the key. I wasn’t locked up, I was locked out. And instead of simply entering the door, I had to go around the back of the building to straddle the handle of a staircase in order to leverage myself through the window of one of the rooms. It wasn’t the best way forward, but I had to get around the place of blockage.

And this is the metaphor that we will see continue throughout Eastertide. What will Jesus do in the place of blockage? What will he do with the locks? That is the question that we will return to again and again. How will Jesus navigate a world that is under lock and key?

Well, he doesn’t unlock the doors. This is sort of a surprise. Some locks, it seems, will not be miraculously removed. Some locks just stay where they are. Even when God enters the world after the resurrection, the locks still stay in place.

Perhaps the change is not yet in the world. Perhaps the change is in him. It will take time for the change in him to take root in the world. Even now, all these years later, we can still wonder how that change is taking shape. So it’s good to remember that even at the time of Jesus’ first appearance, it was less like an earthquake and more like a new fault line. It didn’t shake the earth with its magnitude, but with its new lines of formation. Earthquakes matter in the present; fault lines matter for the future.

Yet, as the risen Jesus walks into this world under lock and key, some things do start to change, slowly but surely. For one thing, the locks, it turns out, don’t work for him. He comes right through. Jesus is not constrained by their reality. They might be locked in, but he is not locked out. He’s just not. He is thicker than the doors to our darkest rooms.

And even when he comes in, he’s just as interested in helping them restore the past as he is in charting a path for the future. It’s not as if the past has been erased. He still bears the story of Good Friday. As Jesus straddles time here - a risen body, restored to a new biology, and yet . . . congruent with the suffering. We may be into Easter tide, but Good Friday never disappears. The scars don’t win, but they leave a mark. Even on God. As a matter of fact, it turns out, that’s how we know who he really is.

Even with all this, the disciples remain puzzled. Some believe. Some doubt. The fear lingers, the locks stay in place. And yet - like it or not, they have to reckon with this new story that he’s back from death. They are captivated, hopeful, and reluctant all at once.

To me, this is Easter faith. Faith that the story is worth telling again, worth coming back to, and worth telling others - even if the locks aren’t snapped open where we want them to be. This place, this small quiet place of new Easter faith - it’s no small thing.