Jesus Can't Be Locked Out: Reflections on John 20:19-29

Lectionary Reflections on John 20:19-29

Note: The following article is from a sermon preached at St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Papillion, Nebraska, March 9, 2012.

Have you ever been locked in?

I was at a Super bowl party at a colleague's home several weeks ago. They neglected to tell me that the door to their guest bathroom swelled in the winter and not to pull it all the way shut. It was at the back of the house. I'd still be there if they hadn't heard my knocking.

In the evening on that same day, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were locked into self-made rooms of rhetoric. "You're a rich big-wig who made millions off the lost jobs of others at Bain Capital." "You're a wannabe bigamist and you're not even the Mormon." "You're a lowbrow who doesn't even believe in higher education." "You're too old and too naïve." They were locked into a mindset of "find your opponent's character weakness" rather than "build our nation's character."

According to the Gospel of John, the whole hostile world to which Jesus the word made flesh, the light of the world is sent is locked in fear in a dark room. But darkness is about to meet light.

"On this same day, just as dark was turning to dawn, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been rolled away" (20:1). Later that morning, she stands weeping in the Garden locked in her grief. She was unable to see Jesus for two reasons: one, tears blurred her vision, and two, she never expected to see him again. She runs to tell the disciples the good news: "I have seen the Lord!" Their response was to huddle behind locked doors as evening falls.

I'm not judging them. They had a lot to be afraid of. They could be accused of stealing his body. They could be punished for guilt by association with his movement. It's dark out there. They locked themselves in.

Have you ever met anyone who was locked in?

Gordon Lathrop, the Lutheran liturgical scholar, 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."

Knock on one in four doors and you'll find a woman who is being or has been abused, most often by an intimate partner. And you'll find little boys with big eyes watching what daddy is doing to mommy; they are being home schooled as future abusers. Boys who observe their mothers being abused are twice as likely to grow up to abuse their partners.

I know young adults locked in low self-esteem.

I know couples locked in miserable relationships.

Most of us are locked in prisons of fear of one thing or another. In her new book called 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.

Have you ever been locked out?

Years ago, the summer before I started my ministerial studies at Duke Divinity School, I was the summer pastoral intern at the Page-Roseland Charge in Aberdeen, North Carolina. I still remember the first Sunday I was to preach. Somehow my North Carolina aunts and uncles found out about it. I pulled up in the parking lot just as the car pulled up holding Uncle Bill, Aunt Catherine, Uncle Horace, Aunt Louise, Uncle Jim and Aunt Lucy. I was so flustered I locked my sermon manuscript and my car keys in my Dodge Dart. I still remember that helpless feeling of standing looking in the car window.

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.

12/2/2022 9:10:34 PM
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  • Alyce McKenzie
    About Alyce McKenzie
    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.