Closed Doors

John 20:19-31

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 and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

heart

I had many family rules as I grew up, but there was one that seemed to be reiterated more often as I grew into my teenage years… when a boy was over at the house, we could hang out in my room, but I had to leave the door open. Okay, for transparency’s sake, I want to let you all know I don’t think I ever had a boy over in high school – ever. So, it was a good rule, but unnecessary for me, personally. J

I think most families have similar rules though. This particular one was a simple rule that didn’t have to mean any more than what it said, leave the door open. But in preparation for this sermon, I found myself thinking about it in a deeper way. There is another truth that lies underneath that rule. Things happen behind closed doors.

Behind closed doors we hide. Behind closed doors any number of things can happen. Yes, beautiful, wonderful things happen behind closed doors. Yes, privacy is a necessary piece of keeping healthy boundaries for our lives. Those are the things we tell ourselves. Those are the things we choose to imagine as the overwhelming truth. But when we allow the thought to settle deeper, when we allow ourselves to reflect further, even of our own lives and our own stories, we know much more can happen behind closed… locked… doors.

These doors can be found anywhere: any tropical island, warm with sun and festive music; any random bathroom at the subway or movie theater; any hotel intended for a wholesome, spiritually uplifting youth event; any neighbor’s house, filled with dolls or video games; any hip new bar with music so loud you can hardly hear yourself think; in any number of places, there are doors. And behind that one door, or hidden away in the shadowy corner, anything can happen. Things do happen.

I can see that you all understand where this is going. Right now I want to take a second to make a promise to you. Yes, I am bringing up an uncomfortable subject and awful reality. But I ask you to stay with me in this, hang in there. Listen, pray, and think with me, but also wait. I promise that this is not the only thing you will hear in this sermon. I ask you to listen for it and wait for it. The light of Christ is here. Christ is risen! This truth and reality will not be forgotten. But to know the risen Christ, we must face the cross. And because of the risen Christ, we can face the cross.

 

When we take time with difficult subjects and realities such as this, we are facing the cross in our midst. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. April is also child abuse prevention month. The facts tell us that these things are not morbid fantasies, but awful truths that affect 1 out of every 6 women who are victims of attempted or completed rape; the 44% of sexual assault or rape victims under the age of 18; the 1 in 5 high school females who are victims of dating violence, the 1 in 10 victims of rape who are male; and, the American Indians who are twice as likely to experience sexual assault and rape than any other race. And these are just statistics from the United States… We are called to face the cross in our midst while also remembering that the resurrected Christ stands among us too. Take a moment to silently face the cross. In this moment of silence, consider the places where Jesus leads you to take up the cross, consider where Jesus calls you to stand with those suffering the horror of this world. Take this moment to pray for those who are trapped in the various cycles and systems of abuse in this world.

These are the living truths kept locked behind closed doors. These are the truths often kept hidden and secret for fear, shame, and pain. These are also the truths we tell ourselves are someone else’s business. Like Thomas, we would rather tangible proof before believing. These awful truths are overwhelming. The statistics seem to go on and on. It is much easier to shield ourselves from reality than to face it. But in doing so, we forget, ignore, and deny the foundations of our faith – that these problems, these people, these issues, are not far away, but are in fact very near to us, connected to us, as members of the body of Christ.

We say we are the hands and feet of Christ, but we forget that these hands and feet are wounded. Jesus was tortured, assaulted in ways we do not know or wish to imagine, and finally left to death on the cross. We know of the physical wounds he bore, but do we know what marks were left unseen? He suffered betrayal and denial from his closest friends. He suffered the weight of humanity’s sin. He suffered the hatred and lies of those who tortured him. We cannot forget that abuse awareness includes recognizing that which goes unseen and unmarked. Sin is insidious.

Jesus the Christ was wounded and broken, but we know that was not the end. The mystery of resurrection is not just life after death, but the physical body of Christ that met the disciples behind that locked door. In the resurrected Christ, the marks of his wounds were not shameful or denied, but remained as part of the new life of resurrection. This is a mystery to me. I do not fully understand it, but I am struck by its profound implications.

While we hide away like the disciples, denying and ignoring the truth, Jesus passes through closed and locked doors to stand with us. Jesus reaches out with scarred hands and calls us to touch and feel the reality of the wounded Christ in our midst. Jesus, who was abused and wounded, passes through the closed doors in our world to stand with those who are abused and wounded. Jesus passes through the closed doors in our world to breathe peace and forgiveness; to show us that the abuse and sin is not the end of the story or what defines us; to bring the physical and spiritual healing that only the Resurrected One can bring.

The resurrected Christ shows us not only the promise of eternal life, but the promise of wholeness. The Resurrected Christ is not just an embodied miracle, but the embodiment of life that God wants for us – a life of wholeness. We too easily forget this life that God wants for us. Instead, we are distracted by the never-ending quest for perfection.

But wholeness is not a matter of perfection. If that were that case, stories of Jesus’ resurrection would have been all about his flawless skin, perfect teeth, flowing hair, perfect words that made so much sense they brought enlightenment to all who heard… No, it was not perfection that the resurrected Christ brought to his disciples, but wholeness, as exemplified in Christ’s presence with his disciples – The wounds on his hands, feet, and side; the breath of the Holy Spirit; the sharing of peace; and the necessity of forgiveness. In the midst of today’s horrific realities, oh how we need this wholeness. Oh, how we need an embodied presence of Christ among us.

Celebrating Easter resurrection is an opportunity to live and rest in wholeness. But peace and forgiveness seem to be the most difficult tasks for us in this very broken world. How do we forgive those predators who attack our most vulnerable? How do we forgive those who have wounded us so deeply in ways seen and unseen? How do we forgive those who have hurt someone we love? How do we forgive ourselves for the ways we have denied or looked past each other’s needs?

God we need your wholeness. We need the forgiveness that only you can give.

Lutheran Theologian, Mary Streufert, describes a God incarnate that looks like this: “radically disruptive of human expectations and radically relational.” I cannot imagine something more disruptive of our expectations of ourselves and each other; or something more committed to true community, than the transformative gift of forgiveness. Let our faith cling to the wholeness and healing of forgiveness that can only be found in Jesus. We do not have the strength or ability to forgive on our own. That is why Jesus stands among us. Jesus shows us that the possibility of forgiveness can be – and is – a reality.

Do not doubt, but believe. Look beyond the closed doors of our world to find the body of Christ standing there. Do not turn away in fear or sadness. Reach out to one another. Believe and live. Live as a connected, whole, body. For when we live in this way, we truly are the marked hands and feet of Christ that bring healing, forgiveness, and peace to one another As we gather together we are called to live as the body of Christ, God incarnate, creating safe spaces not just for worship and learning, but healing, transformation, trust, and faith.

Jesus stands among us saying, “Touch. See. Do not doubt but believe. I am here.” And as we individually reach out in newfound belief, we see the body of Christ anew, standing not only among us but within us, in our community. When we embrace the wounded Christ, we embrace one another – our wounds, our sufferings… We are the scarred and wounded body of Christ. Visible and invisible wounds mark us, but as the body of Christ we also live in resurrection wholeness – the new way of Christ. Together.

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