I walked past a house the other day, a couple of different houses really (well there many houses but a couple of particular houses I noticed!). The reason I noticed them was that they were somewhat large and new and surrounded by iron and stone fences. One had a relatively low fence of iron bars that allowed me to see into the yard and admire the house. Never-the-less it was sufficiently high to prevent anyone entering the yard. It had one of those electric gates and the structure ran right across the front of the house. The other house is a very large house around the corner from us. It has high walls of brick and concrete and iron mesh with spikes in top. You cannot see in, let alone get in. There is an intercom and electric gate at the front and a dog that roams the yard, a big angry looking dog.
I wondered why these homes in suburbia have such solid structures that refuse entry to anyone coming into the yard and knock on the front door. Why this absolute obsession with security? Why hide behind this rigid, solid structure? I thought of these houses when I read this week’s Bible reading (John 20:19-31) where it says the disciples were hidden in a locked room out of fear. They were locked away from the world behind solid doors, afraid that those who killed Jesus would come for them. I wonder what the families behind these locked houses are hiding from or afraid of? Perhaps it is theft? Or violence? Or…?
It’s interesting how we hide ourselves behind structures, whether solid, rigid, physical structures or metaphorical structures – rules, laws, ideologies… We hide ourselves behind facades lest others see something of who we are, vulnerable people with strengths and failures. We bleed, we hurt, we have moments of insanity and anxiety, we are physically weak or feeling ill or hurting inside over insults or comments taken to heart. We are people who grieve and feel helpless, powerless or even useless before the big world of successful, beautiful people so much greater than our little selves… Ah the psychology that convolutes itself around us, distorting our orientation and leaving us vulnerable or weak – and we hide!
Our small black dog often hides himself in places where he can see out but feels safe from the big world – under tables or chairs, under the bed or hidden in a rug. This is especially prevalent when a storm arrives and he shakes with his fear. We hide ourselves from things we can’t deal with or cope with or understand. We hide ourselves from information and realities that seem too hard or scary – climate change and refugees are two head-in-the-sand issues Australians hide from and allow the insanity to go on.
The disciples were afraid, really afraid and the burly fishermen locked themselves away from the world. There were others with them, of course, hidden in grieving fear behind doors that locked tight and held fast. The mystery of the story is that Jesus came into their midst. It doesn’t say he knocked and tried to convince them to open up – would they have? He came and stood in their midst and offered them peace. He revealed himself through vulnerability – scars and wounds – that they recognised or identified with. He offered peace into this room of grief and fear. He confronted the honest doubt of Thomas who didn’t, couldn’t, fathom this mysterious presence and needed to see, hear, touch in order to believe and grasp. This mysterious presence of the Risen Christ, the Spirit of God in and through and around these disciples in a palpable expression of Love that transcended death and grave and powers of Empire, brought peace.
The next story in John’s book is about fishermen on the lake, returned to normal life that was no longer normal. They left the fear-filled room and the city of pain and returned to the back blocks of Galilee and engaged in life – a new life filled with this Presence, the Risen-Christ Presence of God. This Presence infused itself into their being, their living, their family and communal life. This Risen-Christ Presence was there to not only quell fear but fill them with risk-taking courage. The early church was built on the faith that Jesus was in them, around them, through them, alive and not dead!
I read an interesting fact this morning. It took the church 1000 years before the crucifixion, the death of Jesus, became prominent in art and the depiction of Christianity. The first 1000 years before we became infatuated with death, the images of Jesus were about life and love. Jesus was a presence of life in the life of people that imbued them with hope, courage, subversive and countercultural zeal and love. Jesus was alive, not dead but the Empire swallowed the Church and killed Jesus and his movement again by enveloping it with fear and violence and wealth. Credal faith arose to replace the living faith of active love and activity built on Jesus’ thirst for justice and peace for all people in the Way of God. The church hid itself behind the power of Empire, the control of creeds, the order of rules and we relaxed because it felt safe behind these solid walls!
BUT, the Risen Christ always comes into locked rooms and unsettles our security with outrageous love and insane mutterings that question the ways of life and the world and the culture that dominates us. The Risen Christ enters the closed minds and nibbles away at our facades – we can hide from the world but God always sees the face behind the face, the hiddenness we protect and value above all else. Through locked doors and solid walls, the Risen Christ comes and shatters our hidden peace by giving us the peace of God that won’t settle for personal security and egoistic longings when the world is filled with oppressive injustice and violence.
Do you get it? This ‘Prince of Peace’ who offers us peace sends us to the wolves, vulnerable and weak to love them and expose their violence and ignorance and offer them peace! This ‘peace’ is one that transforms us and distorts our distorted views and naïve understanding to see a new world where God is present in a Risen Christ who comes and goes when we least expect it, unsettling us and sending us weak and afraid into the very world we fear!!??! BUT, we go with this strange ‘peace that passes all understanding’ that melts the raging hatred and violence of some (many? But not all!) and identifies the vulnerability in the other and offers friendship and relationship, reconciled and freeing. It builds a community of trust that breaks down the fences and barriers that separate us from the world and lives fully, lovingly and hopefully before this world that yearns for life and freedom and hope – but fears what it might mean. This is indeed a risky adventuresome path that will not endure barriers of any kind – anything that bars love is brought down in joyous abandon and reckless faith. Peace be with you!