Jesus Can't Be Locked Out: Reflections on John 20:19-29
Locked out is how you feel when your adult child is trapped in an addiction or job situation and you can't break through to make it all better.
Locked out is how we feel when someone we care about is filled with guilt and self loathing and we keep assuring them they are forgiven and they just aren't buying the fact that this good news is for them.
Blue Link Technology in my new Hyundai Sonata provides roadside assistance, turn by turn navigation, automated emergency response in event of crash, and immobilization of car if stolen. All that is great, but when I lock myself out, the only feature that matters is that a call to their hotline will quickly unlock my doors.
There are no walls thick enough to block the Risen Christ's entry into the inner sanctum, the safe room the disciples had created at the center of their fears. He is no apparition who pops in for a visit to wish the disciples well. He had a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15:44) or a transformed body (1 Cor. 15:51). Bob Kysar in The Gospel of John describes it as neither purely spiritual nor physical, but a unique sort of personal identity. The resurrected Christ passes through locked doors but then shows the disciples his hands and his side (John 20:20). In Luke 24:31, he disappears as mysteriously as he appears to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus.
He has a body, and he has come not just to visit but bearing gifts that can heal a hurting, hostile world.
The first gift is peace. He promised in John14:27 to give his followers peace, and now, as the risen Lord, he does so. Three times in this passage, he says, "Peace be with you." An ordinary greeting. An extraordinary greeting. The number three is a familiar number in the gospels. Jesus undergoes three temptations by Satan. Jesus prays three times in Gethsemane that "this cup pass from me" in Mark's version. Peter denies Jesus three times. Then, at the end of John's gospel, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, and offers him forgiveness. Jesus offers peace and forgiveness even when we've yielded to temptation.
"I send [from verb apostello] you into the world. As my Father has sent me so I send you." Jesus commissions the disciples to be those who are sent, just as he has been sent to bring God's love to the world.
Then he breathed on them and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit." This is John's Pentecost. No rowdy crowd. No tongues of fire. Just a resurrected savior with a spiritual body who can pass through walls breathing the Spirit into our tired, fearful bodies.
"Knock on any door in your community," says Gordon Lathrop, "and you'll find some kind of agony." We are called to knock, emboldened by the knowledge that we bear the peace and purpose and power of one who bears the scars of his own pain but who can pass through walls. We knock, empowered by the one who has never been locked out. He is the one who stands in any fearful situation, with any fearful soul, bringing peace, purpose and power.
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.