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The Rev. Duane Steele The Rev. Duane Steele

The Rev. Duane Steele is pastor emeritus of Gladesboro Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hillsville, VA

Member of:

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Representative of:

Gladesboro Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hillsville, VA


Behind Closed Doors

John 20:19-31

April 06, 1997

The church year calendar says that today is the second Sunday of Easter because the story of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ continues. However, for most Christians, even devout ones who attend church just about every Sunday, this is the Sunday after the main event. Churches, which last Sunday were crowded with worshipers and visitors, might just as well be closed for repairs today. Even pastors breathing a sigh of relief now that the long Lenten pilgrimage is over, wouldn't even be available for comment right now because they're taking some vacation days while others fill in for them at church this morning. But don't turn your radio off just yet because for those who do go to church today, the resurrection story of hope addresses all the doubts we harbor about this seemingly impossible defiance of natural law.

Now, it's true that it continues behind locked doors. For the disciples were afraid that the crucifixion of their Lord might be only the beginning of terror for them. So they gathered behind the locked doors of a crowded upstairs room, as though they were hostages trapped by an impending crisis. They were afraid of the authorities from the temple police. They were afraid of one another. But mostly they were afraid of the consequences if what they had heard and seen concerning a risen Jesus might really be true. What then? Better to remain hidden behind locked doors that offer safety and keep out reality. Many who attended church last Sunday experienced a rush of Easter Joy because the church was full of singing and flowers. But when it was all over, they returned to the shelter of doors locked against acceptance of the story. People might laugh and ridicule us if we actually voiced our belief in the resurrection. Better to keep our doors locked.

But the locks can't keep out the reality that in the scriptures from which we draw the stories of our redemption in Christ Jesus, angels appeared to women who wept whey they discovered that the borrowed tomb in which they had so carefully laid the body of one they loved was empty. They body was gone! The distraught women heard voices exclaiming, "You will not find the living among the dead. He has risen, just as he said he would." The women had run from the scene, both overjoyed and terrified. They had gone to find the disciples who cowered behind their locked doors. Peter and one of the other disciples had ventured forth to see the tomb. Yet even they went back to the safety and security of the upper room.

After church services ended last Sunday, what did we do? Did the story of our Lord's resurrection change our lives in any way? Or did we simply go back about our business, content to leave Easter where we had found it ~ inside the churches where we had worshipped? Is not every Sunday supposed to be a reminder or Easter, thus a Sunday of Easter? Perhaps the time has come to unlock the doors that keep us from believing what the scriptures clearly tell us is true. Jesus Christ rose from the grave to show us that we shall do the same, each in our turn. At every funeral service we are told that there shall be reunions with people who have died because death is not the final word, but is a portal through which everyone passes on his/her way to eternity beyond.

I believe that inside us all there is a spark of hope which, like a keyhole, allows us to peek out from behind our locked doors of doubt and fear and confusion to catch a fleeting glimpse of the Risen Lord. We find ourselves most able to identify with Thomas because doubt is the simplest door to lock and hide behind. Human nature does not allow us to probe the possibilities beyond our present mortality. We barricade ourselves behind the doors of our minds which refuse to open to things we cannot yet understand. Modern skeptics, like the ancient Sadducees, who denied the possibility of resurrection, scoff at a possibility that defies medical science and challenges us to walk by faith which would crash through our closed doors. Scholars scour the centuries in search of physical proof. "If we could touch the wounds or see the nails that pierced him, then we would believe." So Thomas's disbelief makes the most sense to us.

But certain realities which feed and strengthen our souls and spirits are matters of the heart. We believe even though we have not seen. Thomas was forced to wonder and doubt because he had been locked out of the upper room and would not accept the unanimous declaration of the others who emerged from the upper room no longer afraid, but changed. Thomas could have seen the change and believed. But, locked out of the upper room, he was behind the barred doors of his own imagination and doubt overran that imagination. When, at last he came to believe, his faith would, from now on be open and real.

The reason so many have left Easter in the churches where they found it last Sunday is that faith doesn't just happen. It is nurtured throughout our lifetime of Easter celebrations. Those who truly experienced that first Easter, and the days that followed had come to this point in their life ~ journeys because they had followed Jesus through his earthly ministry. All that he had said had come to pass. Yet Jesus knew that their minds were still closed and bolted as tightly as the doors in the house where they huddled hidden and afraid. He came and stood among them. They saw him and touched him and spoke to him.

Once Thomas and the rest experienced the full impact of Easter, their lives weren't the same as before. They shared what they had seen as best they could with us. The borrowed tomb of Joseph of Aramathea is still empty. The shock waves of that first Easter Day bring us all out from behind our locked doors to crowd into churches around the world because we really do want to believe. And, just as the upper room of darkness and doubt was filled with His light and presence on the first Easter night, and on that night one week later when Doubting Thomas became believing Thomas, our deepest darkness can be illuminated by his presence today in the hymns and lessons and anthems.

We can find the reality of His risen presence in broken bread and poured wine as he embraces us in the sacramental supper. As our minds and spirits are unlocked, we shall discover that life is more than we see, or think we see here and now. Then Easter shall go on beyond last Sunday. When we realize that life is more than today, and that death is not the end, but is a beginning, we will be touched by Easter throughout our lives. Its promise of hope and life will strengthen and sustain us through every trauma and crisis. We may not see visions of angels; and we may not touch The Savior's nail-pierced hands and feet. But we will know He lives just as Thomas knew. I shall experience Easter in the delight of my grandchild discovering spring dandelions. I shall see the risen Jesus at work raising others to life beyond hip replacement surgery. I will know Easter really happened when a friend, battling the horrible ravages of cancer, attains peace of mind, anticipating eternity free of pain, and filled with new adventures beyond what our eyes can see. The reality of the resurrection does not center upon evidence, but centers in hope and trust in the Savior whose Holy Spirit is in our hearts.

Easter isn't just a day on the church year calendar to be celebrated once a year. It is a way of life which unlocks all doors and, most especially, the door of death. I like to suppose that some day, we shall all proclaim with Thomas, "My Lord and My God!" So let us pray daily to Jesus who rose from the dead, asking him for the faith to believe. Then we can step out from behind our locked doors, free at last to live and die and rise again just as Jesus our Lord lived and died and rose again. When we believe this, all our doors will be open. Amen.


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