Thoughts on John 20:19-23

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.”


It was evening on that day, the same day, the first day of the week.  Earlier that day, before the evening gathering, before the doors were locked, when the morning darkness still lingered, Mary Magdalene approached the tomb–we know not why–and saw that the stone no longer blocked the entrance.  The stone had been removed and the  tomb was–empty.  She ran back to the disciples–who had not gone to the tomb with Mary, we know not why–and Peter and John joined her back at the tomb.  They entered into the open tomb, saw the discarded linen wrappings and the carefully folded cloth that had covered Jesus’ face, but Jesus was gone.  The disciples did not linger but returned to the house.  
The disciples left, but Mary stayed, weeping outside of the tomb, weeping for the lost body of Jesus.  Two angels appear–though Mary does not see them as angels–and ask her why she is weeping.  She tells them and then, right after she finishes speaking, she sees Jesus standing there–though she thinks him a gardner.  She tells the gardner to help her locate the misplaced body of Jesus, but the gardner speaks her name, and she hears–and then she sees, the Lord.  She returns to the disciples, to the house where, later that same evening, the door will be locked.
When it was evening, on this day, the first day of the week, after Mary, Peter and John had entered the empty tomb, after Mary had heard Jesus’ voice call her name and had seen the risen Lord, once the disciples had gathered together, and once the doors of the house where they met had been locked for fear of the Jews, when all of these events had finally lined up (or been strung together), Jesus came and stood among them.
Jesus enters–but not through the door.  Jesus enters through the locked door.  It is no mere demonstration of his power, a new trick, a test drive of the new, resurrected body (I wonder if this thing will pass through walls…).  No, Jesus–whom they now know, or at least should now know to be alive, resurrected–is locked out.  Why?  Fear of the Jews.  
The doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews.  The place of entry–locked.  Unlike the tomb.  The stone was removed; but the doors were locked.  Why was the stone removed–why not pass through it like the locked doors?  Or, conversely, why not knock on the door?  An open passage way and a closed one.  For the one person who needs no passage way, for the one person who is the passage way (I am the gate…).  
The door, the stone.  The place of transition, and mechanisms to prevent transition:  locked doors, covered tombs.  And the fear of the Jews.  Why are they afraid?  And what good do they think a locked door will do?  You don’t have to be resurrected to get past a locked door.  Why are they hiding?  Do they not believe Mary?  Or are they afraid–not only of the Jews, but of Jesus.  Perhaps.  Is it not the case that our fear of others and our fear of God are related?  Our failure to trust God leads to locking the doors against others.  Locking the doors, fearing the Jews, closes us off from God.  The door, the place of transition, is closed.  To “the Jews,” and hence also to Jesus.  To lock out “the other” necessitates locking out Jesus.  
Jesus doesn’t condemn the locked door.  He bypasses it.  He comes into the place he is excluded.  And his first words, “Peace be with you.”  He passes through the blockade and stands in our midst.  He has no need to coerce us into letting him in.  He enters through the locked door, affirms his and our peace, and shows his wounds.  Then the disciples rejoiced.  The order is not peace, rejoice.  But peace, the displaying of his wounds, and then rejoicing because we finally see the Lord (why does Mary not need to see the wounds but only hear her name…?).  
The door that closes out the other, and closes out Jesus, has been circumvented.  Bypassed.  Passed through, and rendered useless.  Peace offered, wounds examined, vision restored–rejoice.  And now, the repetition.  Jesus repeats the peace.  The first peace restored.  What is the point of this new peace?  Is it mere repetition?  No, it is a peace not only to be reconciled, but to be sent out.  As the Father has sent me, so I send you.  Receive the Spirit.  
After passing through the locked door, Jesus sends us out.  Out of the locked door.  With the first peace, Jesus bypasses our locked doors.  With the second peace, he sends us out of the room.  Beyond all locked doors.  Sent as Jesus was sent.  By the Father, through the Spirit.  Sent like Jesus, the one whose wounds were just displayed.  Sent out, away from the locked doors.  Sent out vulnerable, weak, compassionate.  Wounded.  Filled with the Holy Spirit.  
It is not a calling we want.  We prefer locked doors.  We would prefer closed tombs.  The one who left the tomb moves through our locked doors.  The first peace is scary, but comforting.  The one we love–alive, and at peace with us.  But the second peace–to be sent out, like him, that is too much.  We do not want it.  We cannot sustain it.  We like our locked doors.  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.  How can we retain the sins of any if we are sent out in the form, pattern, and image of Jesus, the one sent to subsume all sin?  How can we refuse to forgive sin when we know we would rather lock our doors and hide in our self-created (and hence false!) sense of security?  We who are terrified of that second peace–and thus know ourselves to be sinners–how can we do anything but rejoice in the forgiveness of sins?  
The Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of him who came bypassed all barriers, who is himself the point of transition, the Spirit of this one, the risen Jesus, given to us.  Not offered to us (would you like the Spirit, it’s pretty great, it fulfills your needs and will sustain your life, come on, you know you want it, it will really deepen your piety and liturgical performance and social justice…please…).  Not offered or explained, but given.  Before we have a chance to say no.  Before we think again about what he just said, before we realize what it means to be sent as Jesus was sent.  Given to us–as grace.  As encounter.  Regardless of our locked doors, our fears, weakness, insecurity, bigotry, and sinfulness.  Encountered by grace.  Filled by the Spirit, and told:  step out of your hiding place, abandon your post behind locked doors, and be sent–out, unafraid, weak and vulnerable, into a world radically transformed, a world in which all barriers are meaningless because the excluded One has risen.  Sent out.  To a world where there are, ultimately speaking, no “others” because there are no truly locked doors.  
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One Response to Thoughts on John 20:19-23

  1. I should add, the text from John was read at church last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday. The emphasis on doors (as places of transition, both between peoples, persons, and worlds) comes from some of my Cixous reading (and some Adrienne Rich poetry).

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