When I was a kid, my grandparents would have a fourth of July gathering for the entire family every year. My cousins and I would swim all day, only leaving the pool to eat. After sunset, my grandfather would setup fireworks, which was my cue to go in the house because I was 100% afraid of them, I was fine watching through the window, but I did not want to be outside when they went off, to this day I have no idea why I was afraid, I just was.
Following the death of Jesus, we are told several times, that the disciples were gathered behind locked doors because they were afraid. I cannot explain their fear anymore than I can explain my own and it is not fair to them to try because fear is a very powerful and real phenomenon, it is very personal, and we should never presume that we know how to fix someone else’s fear. However, I do believe that we can learn how to overcome our own fears by looking at the lives of the disciples.
The disciples were clearly afraid of something, exactly what we will never know, but they overcame those fears, and we know this because we have the Book of Acts, which is an account of how the disciples went about spreading the Good news of Jesus Christ to the world. So how did they get from cowering behind locked doors to boldly proclaiming the Gospel? There are clues in the gospels, we just need to piece them together.
Last week we heard that the disciples were brought out of their fear by being able to see and touch the wounds of Jesus, this confirmed for them that he was who he said he was. This week we heard a different account of Jesus appearing to the disciples, and he once again offers to let them touch him, and he asks for something to eat, presumably to indicate that he is indeed alive. This time “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures”, which is important because this allows them the ability to piece together the clues about the messiah that God has passed to us through Moses, the prophets, and the psalms.
In the coming weeks we will hear more stories of the disciple’s encounters with the resurrected Jesus, and in them we will hear more examples of how Jesus helps them to realize their mission, their call, to spread the gospel. This will culminate with Pentecost, which is when the Holy Spirit descends upon them and empowers them, cementing their eternal relationship with God. While the series of events from the resurrection to Pentecost make sense when viewed with reason and logic it does not help us understand how they get from cowering behind locked doors to being able to boldly proclaim the gospel. It also does not help explain what it has to do with us.
We have all hid ourselves from time to time. We have all experienced things that have made us fear exposing ourselves, we have all in a sense cowered behind locked doors, afraid to speak or act. The disciples were brought out of their hiding through the gentle urging of Jesus. They emerged ready to be the church. We could argue that they had the advantage of having Jesus right in front of them, and that is true, but if we were to accept that argument then we would be denying the truth that scripture and the Holy Spirit provide us all we need for salvation. Jesus could have come back with thunder and fanfare, but did not; instead, he revealed himself slowly, giving the few people he chose the chance to become comfortable with the idea. When asked to see his wounds, he showed them, he gave them the proof they desired; later he helped them to see that all the proof they needed was right at their fingertips in the form of the scriptures; and finally, he calls the Holy Spirit to dwell within them, to guide them, to give them the courage to come out of hiding and be the church.
Jesus can help us do the same. We do not have Jesus right in front of us but we do not need him to be because we have scripture, we have the Holy Spirit, and we have each other. Scripture, the bible, is not a book, it is the lifeblood of the church; of us. It binds us together in a common understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ Jesus, which is why it is so important to look at it on a regular basis. Not because we forget its message, but because it is how Jesus is able to be in our lives.
I have heard many people speak of how they can still feel the presence of a loved one who has died, how they can sense that person as being a part of who they are. I have experienced this myself and I believe that the reason for this sensation is because our relationship with that person, the love that we shared with that person has become a deeply rooted part of our very being and it, in part, defines us. Defining yourself based on a shared sense of love is what it means to have a relationship with God; but like the connections we have with loved ones it takes time and energy to build that relationship; it requires us to get to know one another, which admittedly is much easier when we can see, and touch, and speak to the other person; but thinking that because we can’t see God or touch God is nothing more than hiding behind a locked door, because its not true. Every time we hug our parents, our children, our friends, we are experiencing God; no, we are not touching God directly, but we are experiencing the love God has for us through the intimacy of that moment. We are, in that moment, binding ourselves together in love, even if only for a moment. But to realize that we have to be open to the idea that God is present at all times and in all things and we learn that, we remember that, through scripture.
Once we open ourselves to an intimate relationship with God, we will likely find a great deal of courage; the courage necessary to unlock the door and be the church. Scripture can be confusing, it can be boring, but so can any lifelong relationship. How many times can we hear the same story about how cousin Sally ate a spider? Or how Grandpa Willy liked to sit on the porch and yell at the neighborhood kids? We all tell the same stories repeatedly because they bind us together, they define us, they are a part of us. The same is true of the Jesus story, the more we tell it the more we become a part of it and the more we come to realize the love we share with one another and with God. So, the disciples were able to go from cowering behind a locked door to boldly proclaiming the gospel because they opened themselves to God through the story of Jesus, they told the story, they wrote down the story and by doing so they gave us the gift of knowing Jesus, of knowing God; not distantly, not abstractly, but personally and intimately. Amen.