Locked Inside (John 20:19-23)
Rev. David French

How quickly things can change. In the last three weeks, we have seen what must have been an incredibly emotional roller coaster for this small group of disciples who we find locked inside a room. After the highest high, felt with the welcome Jesus had received on Palm Sunday when the disciples must have thought things were finally going the way they thought they should, down to what had to be the lowest low they had ever felt as they endured the betrayal by Judas, the denial by Peter, and finally the death of Jesus. 

Wow, what a ride these last weeks must have been for this small group of believers, known only as followers of Jesus. I mean, I’ve had my ups and downs in life like all of you, but I’ve never experienced anything that could even come close to what this group of men and women had been through in the last month. How comforting the words the Lord spoke to them on this day must have sounded in their ears.

And while it’s true that none of us have had the same experiences the disciples in our lesson had, I’m sure that, like me, you’ve had to deal with things that have left you wanting to just hide in a room behind a locked door so you simply don’t have to deal with whatever it was that drove you there in the first place. The rooms and doors we hide in or behind may be different than the one in our lesson, but they are there, and we do go to them. It’s often a room, if you will, inside our minds, behind a closed mouth, instead of a door that we go to; but the hiding is the same, the confusion is the same, the fear is the same, and the need for peace is the same. 

You may not fear physical attacks, but like me, you probably know or have known the fear of being attacked for saying what you know is true; and so, to avoid those battles, we simply say nothing and live, as it were, in our own little room. The problem is, while we know in our heads that’s not how Christ wants us to live the life that has come to us through His sacrifice, and that’s not the peace He died to give us. We feel like it’s at least a way to avoid conflict, and we settle for the appearance of peace so that everyone who looks at us will think being a Christian must be wonderful, when the truth is, we’re hiding our fear behind the mask of contentment. 

It seems we often settle for the appearance of peace and forgo the real thing because we don’t want to face difficult situations or, theologically speaking, we don’t want to take up a cross that we know will be painful. Sadly, whether it’s a child afraid to speak to his parents, a wife afraid to speak to her husband, an employee afraid to speak to her boss, or a parishioner afraid to speak to his pastor, we all know what it’s like to decide it’s safer and easier to stay locked inside and pretend everything is fine, but the truth is, we’re hiding -- just like the disciples were in our lesson. 

So, what should we do? What did the disciples do? What we see in our lesson is, again, no matter what situation we find ourselves in or where we hide, it is Jesus who comes to us. The truth is, our flesh and bone can no more keep Him out of our lives than wood and stone could keep Him away from those in our lesson. The truth is, Jesus has never stopped coming to His people and still offers to us the same key to true peace that He offered to the disciples. You see the key that unlocks the doors we hide behind is the forgiveness earned and freely offered by Christ. 

Did you know that this is the first time in the Bible that the words “Peace be with you” are spoken? Why do you think that is? Why did Christ never say to His disciples the three years He was with them, “Peace be with you”? The answer is this: there could be no peace with God until sin had been paid for. 

With Christ’s resurrection we are assured that there is now nothing to stop us from having the relationship with God the Father that we were created to have. And so, it’s to their hiding place behind locked doors that Christ comes to them and shows them by the wounds on His hands and side that the words He speaks, words that they had never heard Him speak before, truly meant something had changed. They could see for themselves that death had been defeated, that the grave was no longer the last word. And with these words of peace that Jesus spoke, He was assuring them they were forgiven, and they were overjoyed. 

Did they then understand all things? No, but Christ says His peace surpasses our understanding. The truth is, we don’t need to understand why God forgives us in Christ alone, we only need by His grace through faith to believe that He does. And that is what He continues to do today. He comes to us by the same spirit, through His Word and sacraments, strengthening and reminding us that no matter how bad things may seem to be in our lives, we are still His children, we are never alone, and we are loved with a love that can not be expressed with words, but you see by His dying on the cross for you.

What we learn in our lesson is that Jesus then gives them the Holy Spirit with the breath that carried His words as we read, “He breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit.” Dear brothers and sisters, God has given you that same spirit with His word spoken to you connected to the water of your baptism, and He continues to offer His spirit to you through His Word connected to the bread and wine of His Supper every time you come to His table. 

Dear children of God know that the true blessing and peace offered to you and me in this lesson are offered in the words, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven.” With that promise, Christ sent His disciples out into a world that history shows would persecute and execute them up to this very day. And so, it is the confidence that we are God’s forgiven children worked in us by the Holy Spirit alone that enables us to come out from the places we hide - not to fight, but to forgive as we have been forgiven. God’s Word is clear. If we are to be free from the things that rob us of God’s peace, we must forgive as we have been forgiven. Jesus put it this way, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

You see, the truth is we’ve all been given the keys to freedom and peace because we have all been forgiven by the blood of Christ. But as we grow in our faith, we not only learn how much we have been forgiven, but we also learn through trials and tribulations what a blessing it is to forgive others, and so, share the peace we have received. My friends, it is then that we truly begin to live, not just with peace, but also with the joy that we are promised, and so the fullness of the life we have been given in Christ.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.