Easter 3: Luke 24.36b-48Saturday 21 April 2012 at 6:59 pm. Used tags: eucharist, mission, persecutedchurch, ressurrection
A locked room is something that frequently we seek to escape from. There may be a few doors in our houses with locks, often to the smallest rooms; we may lock our front doors at night, but certainly where we live we may not need feel the need to do so when we are in the house during the day.
Today’s Gospel reading however happens in a room with the doors firmly shut. Indeed if you read John’s similar account of the resurrected Christ’s appearance we learn:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
John was the last gospel to be written, and the writer clearly felt that the locked room was an important detail that Luke had omitted. Why lock the doors? For fear. By the time John was being read in the scattered churches of the first century religious intolerance towards the Christian faith, no longer a minor Jewish sect but quickly becoming a religion in its own right, had grown beyond the earliest persecutions we read of in Acts. Those first hearers of John’s writings would have understood the meaning of locked doors, as increasingly they had to lock their doors to worship.
However much retired Archbishops seem to think so, we do not face that form of persecution here today - our church doors are open, and we enjoy a privileged position in society and our communities. Yet elsewhere in the world Christians do not enjoy such freedoms. There is the confused state in China where believers must make the difficult choice about belonging to the state church. There is the worsening situation in the near East, with stories from Syria of the ancient indigenous Christian communities being driven from their homes and cities by factions within the uprising against the admittedly oppressive government. In Egypt too the Copts face an uncertain future. The Ancient churches of Iraq are almost completely desolate following the recent war, and in Iran Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani still faces the death penalty. Even in Turkey Christian leaders express concern over shifting attitudes towards their communities.
Painfully these persecutions are often indirectly rooted in the actions of our western governments, retold in bitterness by extremists. Some feel they go unreported in our press – creeping sharia? – I doubt it – but perhaps a more subconscious sense of guilt that we are to blame, and also sensitivity towards blaming Islam outright rather than extremists.
The fact remains, that in nations only a holiday flight away Christians are increasingly finding themselves behind locked doors.
We must not lock our doors towards them - In prayer or in awareness. Neither should we buy in to the idea that we are persecuted as they are and lock our doors to our communities. At times we may feel low in numbers, beleaguered by petty infighting, financially struggling, but we must keep our doors open. I recently read that there is a difference between a welcoming church and an inviting church. Even in the midst of persecution the first Christians were the latter, inviting others to come in and be part of what they had witnessed in Jesus Christ. Sometimes this requires our own hearts to be unlocked; as we too need to receive the Peace of Christ.
There is however one particular time when the early believers gathered behind locked doors – to celebrate Christ’s presence in bread and wine. The parallels with the Gospel passage are strong. Christ appears with the sharing of the peace, an ancient Christian practice we have seen restored to our churches. The opening of the disciples minds to the scriptures, continued today in the liturgy, the reading of the word and preaching. The presence of Christ – resurrected but still bearing the wounds of crucifixion, continued today in the breaking of the bread.
As we make our communion this morning Christ is as present with us as he was with those first disciples. Let us invite him to enter the locked rooms of our hearts and minds and bring us peace. Let us continue to open our doors and invite others to share Him, knowing that we too are witnesses of the resurrection.