04/08/18 – Locked Room Syndrome


April 8, 2018
2nd Sunday of Easter
Psalm133, Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2; John 20:19-31
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Your worship bulletin marks this day as the second Sunday of Easter. Among clergy and church musicians this day is called “Low Sunday.” If you look around at all the empty spaces in the pews, you can see why. The low attendance, particularly compared to Easter Sunday, is logical based on the values of the world, but theologically it doesn’t add up. We’ve worked hard during Lent to prepare ourselves for the transformative power of Easter. We wanted to be disciples who experienced the Risen Christ and could not remain the same: yet here we are – we still have wounds that have yet to heal and we still live in a world that seems hell-bent on wounding as many as possible.

The texts for today extol the virtues of unity, yet we live in a time and place which breeds division. This past week marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Following Christ’s example, he organized peaceful, non-violent protests the unjust discrimination of African-Americans. Words from Scripture flowed effortlessly into his speeches. But, 50 years later his dream of unity and justice seem as far away as ever in this country. Like the fearful disciples who locked themselves in a room, we are a society that continues to hover in fear behind locked doors. Visible or invisible we want to live our lives within walled borders and gated communities. The psalmist’s joyful observation: 1How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” seems to fall on deaf ears.

Our Acts passage describes the early Christian church as a place where all:

“who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private
ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in
common.  There was not a needy person among them for as many as
owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was
sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as
any had need.”

Yet, in this country and throughout the world, the “haves” keep getting more and the “have-nots” less. ” The top 1% of the U.S. population in wealth holds more than a third of the overall wealth in the country. The top 10% hold 75% of the overall wealth. The top income bracket has the lowest tax rate ever. The U.S. ranks at or near the bottom for income equality in the developed world. Doesn’t sound much like a model for a Christian nation does it?

the epistle writer from the Johanine community wrote:

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God
and obey his commandments. 3For the love of God is this, that we obey
his commandments.”

God delivered the Ten Commandments to the children of Israel to help them live and thrive together in community. No matter where these commandments are posted, we don’t seem to be following them in this society any better than the ancient Israelites. We can easily relate to the disciples’ letdown after the crucifixion.  Jesus was dead, and the world did not seem to be changed.

What changed for the disciples was meeting the Risen Christ. The resurrected Jesus gave them hope and, with that hope, Jesus also gave them strength and power with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Yet, even after their encounter with the Risen Christ they were still behind closed doors.

Thomas had already moved on, back to his old life. After the other disciples encountered the Risen Christ they first spread the Good News to Thomas, and they brought him to where they were staying so he could once again be part of their fellowship. Jesus came to Thomas both literally and figuratively. Jesus came to the place of Thomas’ greatest need. Thomas needed to see and touch the post-Resurrection Jesus.

Though Jesus offered to let Thomas touch his wounds, the author of John’s gospel does not tell us that Thomas took him up on the offer. Why was the sight of the wounds so important? If Jesus had come to Thomas with no signs of having suffered, how could Thomas – or the other disciples – follow where Jesus sent them.  The wounds assured them that he had suffered as any human would. Jesus was not like a comic book hero who escapes unscathed from his super-human feats. If Christ could come out on the other side of pain and suffering, so could his disciples. The Risen Christ came to the disciples, as he does to us, to give them the peace that could withstand the trials and tribulations of the world.

This is what is distinctive about our Christian faith: we believe in an all-powerful God who chooses to be vulnerable; a God who came down to earth as a helpless human infant. A God who shows no partiality except for paying the most attention to the plight of those most in need. A God who suffers with those experiencing pain in body, mind or spirit. A God who can redeem the condemned, free the oppressed and resurrect the dead.

Might it be that the world and our lives have not changed is because of the locked-room syndrome. Fear, anger and resentment are mighty bricks to build a wall or seal a soul.  We might be comfortable hanging on to the things that protect us, or even define who we believe we are; but we are not free. Within these boundaries, we cannot experience new life. We cannot share with others and experience life-giving unity and connection. Jesus spoke to Thomas and the others about forgiveness. God’s forgiveness and forgiving others opens the locked door that separates us from God, unblocks our view of Christ’s presence, and infuses the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus came to his disciples where they were – in their fear, their grief and loss of hope. He showed them that new life was theirs for the taking. However, that new life wouldn’t let them stay safe and comfortable from the challenges of the world outside God’s kingdom. He appeared to those first disciples as he comes to us – to equip us for the journey through this life into the next. Jesus meets us to demonstrate that God’s promises can be trusted – God keeps covenant with us, even when we fail to keep covenant with God. Jesus spoke no words of judgment to the disciples, he spoke to them in words of relationship: “peace, receive, forgive, go to, bless.”  That is what the church, the body of Christ, was commissioned to do – not to establish rules of admission into God’s kingdom, but to create, sustain, and nurture relationships with God and with one another.

Early Christians went through a period of training and preparation to be baptized on Easter. After Easter they were encouraged to experience a sacramental life – to seek and find Christ’s presence in their lives and their communities. And so, we come to Christ’s Table after celebrating Christ’s Resurrection. It is here we experience being one with Christ and with one another. It is here that the Spirit of Christ feeds our spirits, nourishes our faith, and sends us out to fill the empty tables in the world. May you rediscover Christ at his Table, follow him out of these walls as you have been sent.

All power, honor and glory to our Triune God!



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois