We’re a week into the 50-day long season of Easter, and, once again, I’m so grateful that in the church calendar, Easter is a whole season, not just a day we skim past and move on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I need a whole season to help me refocus on the living Christ and relearn how to live in the joy and celebration of his rising. Especially in a world of war and COVID and young Afghan girls unable to attend school.
I also need a whole season (or a lifetime?) to keep soaking in the wonderful truth of how gentle Jesus is with his children in our human frailty.
This first week of Easter, I’ve been accompanying Jesus and the first disciples through some of the post-resurrection narratives in the gospels, feeling oh so grateful for what I see of Jesus there.
In particular, I’m noticing and celebrating these three things:
What Jesus does with locked doors
While the disciples are hiding in rooms with locked doors, Jesus walks right through the doors and comes to be among them. More than once (John 20:19, 26).
There is so much comfort here for me – the same comfort that I experience when I read S.S. 2:8:
“Listen! My lover!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.”
My weariness, my fear, your illness or financial concern or the relationship challenge that ties you in knots—none of these can keep you from the love of Jesus. What may seem to me like a barrier to a flourishing life is no barrier to him who is the Life. And seeing those he loves hurting just makes him want to be closer to us, to comfort and guide and shield. And so he walks on in, right through those locked doors.
To be clear, Jesus never forces his way into our lives. His gentleness and respect for the choice and agency he has given us is one of the things I most love about him. But he woos and pursues and when we’re needing and wanting him, there’s nothing that can keep him away.
“I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us” (Romans 8:38-39, The Message).
How Jesus responds to our fear
The most remarkable, world-changing event in history has just happened and the disciples, in their humanness and understandable disorientation, are hiding in rooms with locked doors. And Jesus doesn’t chastise them.
Instead, not one time but many, when Jesus comes to his disciples in the aftermath of the traumatic three days culminating in the wonderful but shocking resurrection, he begins the conversation with these four words (or two in Greek), “Peace be with you!” (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 21, 26). Or, alternately, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10).
Sometimes he repeats it twice before going much further in the conversation (John 19:19-21). He knows that damp palms, a racing heart, and a twisting gut are part of being human. And he knows it not just because he has created our humanity, but because he has lived it too, feeling all that we’ve felt alongside the much greater terror which most of us will never face, a terror great enough that he sweat blood.
He knows. And so he is gentle with us in our normal human fear (Hebrews 1:17-18; 4:14-16). He doesn’t just come to be present with us in our fear, as magnificent a gift as that is. Nor does he just speak, “Peace be with you.” As I watch him with his disciples, I see him connect with them in earthy, sensory ways, showing them his wounds, asking them for something to eat, inviting Thomas to touch and see that he is solid flesh and his wounds real. He meets them as compassionate human to human, giving them what they need to help them be less afraid. And I am so glad.
We can’t, of course, put our hands in his wounds now. But I think he still reaches out to us through our senses, now through the hug of a friend, a meal shared, or the scent of the balm of Gilead tree in the fresh spring air. The first disciples didn’t recognize the resurrected Jesus when he returned to them in his Jewish male body. (John 20:15-16; Luke 24:15-16) Might we, too, miss seeing that it’s Jesus when he comes now clothed in the flesh of a friend? (1 Cor 6:15, 17; Gal 2:20)
How Jesus Calls Us
Finally, Jesus doesn’t let his disciples’ fear get in the way of his call on their lives. He meets them gently in their fear, and honors them with a call to share his work in the world.
“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 19:21)
He hands them their vocation. And then he follows it up with precisely what they need to step into that calling:
“And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 19:22).
In another account, he frames the commission to go between a reminder of who is commissioning them—“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”—and the reassurance, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:18-20).
He never sends us off on our own. The call he gives, even when it’s a call to go, is always a call to go with him. To say it another way, the call to go is always first a call to come and to stay close, and then, in the company of the One who is both gentle and strong, to get on with sharing his work in the world.
Christ is risen! Let’s celebrate. And when fears arise, let’s sit long in the presence of the One who passes through locked doors, speaks peace to us in our fear, and calls us to come and sit with him and then to go with him into the world.