As Christians who just celebrated Easter last week, rejoicing in Jesus’ resurrection and all that his resurrection means in our lives, you would think our gospel lesson would be a little more victorious. You would think the next step after the angels appear saying Christ is not in the tomb but is risen would be the disciples hitting the ground running, doing the work of spreading the good news or at least throwing a raucous party. Instead, we find the disciples huddled in a locked room, cowering in fear. They have not taken the good news from Mary Magdalene as reason to celebrate. Instead, they are paralyzed by fear.
I have often wondered what the disciples were afraid of. The text says they are afraid of the Jews, perhaps afraid that the same people who killed Jesus would try to kill them too. But I think there is more to their fear. I think they are afraid to face others, because they feel as if they have failed. Perhaps they believe that their pick for Messiah did not seem to be the Messiah after all. I think they are also behind those locked doors because they are ashamed that they failed to protect Jesus, to keep him alive.[i] Those locked doors are not just for safety – those locked doors are for hiding the shame, the disappointment, and the fear of facing others that the disciples have.
We know a little about what the disciples feel like. We all have things about ourselves for which we are ashamed. There are things about ourselves that we lock away, praying that no one every finds out because we are not who we fully want to be or even who we pretend to be. Garrison Keillor once said, “We always have a backstage view of ourselves.”[ii] Most people only see the carefully arranged stage we have assembled for others to see. But behind the curtain, in that backstage view that only we have, there are all sorts of things hiding: old failures, hurts, guilt, and shame. And Eastertide is one of the most difficult times for this dichotomy because we feel like we should be at our best – wearing our best clothes, coming to church as perfectly functioning families, showing forth nothing but happy alleluias. We are working overtime to ensure that our stage is especially carefully arranged at church.
But to this frenzied, harried behavior, what does Jesus say? Peace be with you. Jesus comes to those fearful, ashamed, embarrassed disciples, finding them behind their locked doors of protection and offers them peace. Jesus barges backstage and says, “I see you in your fullness, and I offer you peace. So forgive yourselves and now go and forgive others.” This is why Jesus died on the cross – that their sins might be forgiven. And so, before the disciples get too mired in wallowing in fear, shame, and self-pity, Jesus demands they recognize that they are forgiven – and that they share that good news with others. For no one should be locked inside a room of shame and fear. The peace Jesus offers is not some “greeting-card platitude about the sun behind the clouds. [Jesus’ peace] is the beginning of a new world, the long-awaited world of God’s shalom. [His peace] comes with freedom from fear, sin, and death. Jesus opens the door that the disciples had locked…and he shows the way to resurrection reality.”[iii]
This is our invitation today as well. Our invitation is to offer the same forgiveness to one another that Christ unabashedly offers to us. In so doing, we invite not only ourselves, but others, to take down the pretty stage trappings, and to recognize that we all have backstage versions of ourselves, which are all in need of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. This is good news for which we can really shout alleluia. This is the kind of good news that makes us want to be in church. Because this sacred space is not sacred because we made our stages look sacred; this sacred space is sacred because we are fully ourselves, and fully forgiven. Peace be with you. Amen.
[i] M. Craig Barnes, “Crying Shame,” Christian Century, vol. 121, no. 7, April 6, 2004, 19.
[ii] Barnes, 19.
[iii] Kristen Bargeron Grant, “No Joke,” Christian Century, vol. 120, no. 9, April 19, 2003, 18.