The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s105g15  Second Sunday of Easter   12/4/2015

‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear’   John 20:19

Locked doors are a sign of fear and fear is a sign of lack of faith.

In Revelation we are told: ’I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.’  (1)  I was taught that this shows the risen Jesus is the perfect gentleman; Jesus waits to be asked.

However the risen Jesus did not knock on the door of the house where the disciples were; he came and stood among them, unbidden, uninvited.

The risen Jesus has to overcome locked doors, closed minds and lack of faith, especially among those who are supposed to be his followers.  Centuries of church doctrine are no barrier; bullying, marginalisation, alienation, condemnation, all are overcome by Jesus insistent incarnation: ‘before your glance the rocks shall melt like wax’. (2)

If our Easter celebration serves to reinforce our belief that the church has been right all along and everyone else now has no option but to agree, then we fail to appreciate how self-serving this is, and I suspect we haven’t got the Easter message.   If our Easter celebration reinforces the barricades between us and others, the risen Jesus comes and subverts them.   It is not just the church’s doors which are no bulwark against the risen Jesus, but also other people’s doors.   So we are as likely to find the risen Jesus in someone else’s sacred space as in ours, just as unbidden, perhaps even unrecognised.

Jesus comes and says: ’Peace be with you’ and he says this not just to us, but to everyone.   God’s gift is peace, and it is up to us to make it a reality amongst humanity.   If we don’t make it a reality, if we condemn others for using a different name for the divine, how are we any different from those who loved the Lord so much that they had Jesus killed?   If we (as christians) don’t make peace a reality for all people will not the pain and death of Jesus be for nothing?

Perhaps these words capture their import better:  ‘the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of gays and lesbians .. and Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you’.   This is not a quiet reassuring ‘There, there, let me kiss it better; it’s alright now ..’   No, it’s ‘put your finger here’: feel the pain of exclusion and marginalisation of millions.   ‘Touch’, become unclean, so that you can know the reality of the uncleaness that you charge others with.’   It is the same message as confronted Saul on that road to Damascus: ‘why are you persecuting me?’

In the lead up to Easter we have been reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah as the first reading for morning prayer - a good Lenten discipline!   Again and again this has reminded me of the eternal propensity of religions of all hues to bully, marginalise, alienate, condemn and kill others, and if our version of ‘christianity’ does the same thing is it likely that we will receive divine approval over others?   So if christianity is anything other than peace for each and every person, anything other than affirming and inclusive of all, for all it might be personally convenient and reassuring - it is not especially of God.   If our religion is all about our personal relationship with God, independent of anyone and everyone else, it is simply not christianity, it is selfishness.

The whole of the bible is a litany of the religious persecuting the prophets - from Abel to Zechariah   (3)   Time and again, God has to do something about people who believe that they are entitled, even obliged, to hurt or disregard others, in the name of their ‘god’.  Jesus tells us this will continue: ‘They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.   And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me.’ (4)

Again, the whole of Paul’s ministry is a litany of him being chased from town after town, from Jerusalem to Rome, by people who believed that they loved the Lord their God with all their hearts and minds and souls and strength.   It is they Paul who, following Isaiah’s example (5), describes as those who ‘God gave .. up to degrading passions.   Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.   Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.’ (6)  The unnatural passions are murder not intimacy!   Where, pray tell, is there anything written in the Bible about God being offended by adults finding pleasure in one another?

Some of the church’s doors may be closed rather than locked.  So the ‘holy communion’ we celebrate conveniently denies it has any relationship with those who are not there; criticises them for staying in bed or mowing their lawns.   It has become an unholy ex-communication which is, of course, all THEIR fault!  

The words of Jesus are explicit: ‘If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’   We are given authority to propagate this peace - or not.   We can’t blame God if the world is still in a mess!   The wages of our sin is the death of someone else.  (7)

The peace that the risen Jesus bestows is not to remain stationary for he immediately says: ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’.   The peace of God which passes all understanding .. passes understanding because it impels us to go to others in affirmation and inclusion.   If we ask for God’s peace we cannot but be affirming and inclusive of others.

Traditionally the peace of God, which passes all understanding is bestowed in the name of ‘God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit’.   More recently, to gently relieve the consistent patriarchal imagery, this has been changed to: ’God our Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life.’   But my favourite dedication is the late Fr Jim Cotter’s: ‘Earth-maker, pain-bearer, love-maker’.  (8)  The peace that Jesus bestows is active - it makes love - it comes naturally to people of good-will - to those who, whether they recognise it or not - have the risen Christ in their lives.  St Paul calls it ‘natural intercourse’ in Romans above.

1.  Revelation 3:23
2.  Judith 13:16
3.  Matthew 23:35
4.  John 16:2-3
5.  Isaiah 1:10-11
6.  Romans 1:26-27
7.  Romans 6:23