Resurrection Freedom … from Fear

Apr 07, 2024

Second Sunday of Easter
Text: John 20: 19-31
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
     I’m glad it’s still the Easter season, so that we can do the Easter greeting together, in person. I missed that last Sunday. In case you are unaware, for the first time in 35 years I did not lead Easter Sunday worship last week because I had severe laryngitis, accompanied by an annoying cough. I am so thankful that Pastor Rick Gordon was able to fill in at the last minute, and that I was able to watch the service from home. BUT, I missed being here!
     I learned from the ELCA clergy Facebook page that I wasn’t the only Pastor to miss Easter worship unexpectedly. One pastor posted that she missed all of Holy Week and Easter due to Covid, and another ended up in the hospital early on Easter Sunday morning. In each case there were no retired pastors available to step in, so the congregations’ lay people did so, worship happened and, guess what, Jesus is risen! I have no doubt a meaningful lay-led service could happen here at FLC too, and what a blessing it would be!
     I’m also glad it’s still Easter so I can share with you my resurrection joke, I mean story, which fit so neatly in last week’s sermon. First, though, does the name Joseph of Arimathea mean anything to you? He is the secret follower of Jesus who asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, wrapped it in clean linen and laid our Lord in his own new tomb.
     It’s said that Pilate questioned Joseph about this, asking why he would go to such effort and expense to have a tomb hewn in a rock for himself and his family and then give it away for use by Jesus. Afterall, a tomb was valuable, passed from generation to generation. It’s said that in response to Pilate’s question Joseph said, “Oh, I’m not worried, he said he’d only need it for the weekend.” HA!
     It’s true, Jesus only needed that tomb temporarily, which is a reason to celebrate. Yet, both last week’s Easter Gospel from Mark, and today’s reading from John, do not describe a scene of rejoicing. As Pastor Rick noted last Sunday, the Mark account described Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome fleeing the tomb after encountering a young man (who was that guy?) who told them that Jesus had been raised and they should go and tell his disciples, and Peter, that Jesus was going ahead of them to Galilee. The final discouraging verse is, “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
     Then, in today’s text from John, which takes place later that same day, begins with this description. “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews….” In both cases, fear trumped celebration.
     It’s more likely than not that by the time evening arrived on that first Easter, the disciples had heard - in spite of Mark’s description - the women’s report that the tomb was empty and Jesus had been resurrected. So, why are they afraid, hiding behind locked doors? Was it really that they feared retribution by Jesus’ enemies? Or perhaps they did not believe the women, particularly Mary Magdalene who had encountered Jesus. Maybe they just did not know what to do next, or they were stunned into inaction. Or, this remarkable idea is suggested by commentator Scott Hoezee, perhaps they were afraid of running into Jesus.
     Peter would have had reason to be concerned; just a few days earlier he had confidently proclaimed his commitment to Jesus, and soon after denied even knowing him. But, it was not just Peter, the others also had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. So, perhaps they were afraid to see Jesus and ashamed to face their own shortcomings.
     Here’s how Pastor Hoezee describes it: “If that first Easter began with the lamentable sadness of death’s reality in our world…then that same day ended with the lamentable sadness of shame. The disciples were ashamed of what they had done, they were ashamed of what their cowardice revealed about who they simply were as men.” And since fear and shame often go hand in hand, “they locked the door, telling themselves they were keeping the Jews out when really they were keeping themselves locked in.” (1)
     But Jesus, at least in Mark’s Gospel, gave a hint concerning what will happen next. Consider what the “young man” at the tomb said to the women, “…go, tell his disciples, and Peter, that he is going ahead of you to Galilee….” Why mention Peter particularly? Perhaps it is because Jesus is anxious for Peter to know that he is looking forward to seeing him, in spite of all that had occurred, and will accept and forgive him. So it is that Jesus shows up in that locked room.
     Quoting Pastor Hoezee again, “But then Jesus did what he always does for anyone locked up in his/her own shame: he comes in anyway. He enters the room, he enters the heart, he breaks into the shame. He says, “Peace”. He says, “Shalom.” He says it’s all right. He speaks a word that is opposite of fear and squelches shame….” (2)
     Then, amazingly, as if to show that all was well, Jesus sent them on a mission to announce forgiveness of sins, which meant they would have to unlock that door and go! No wonder Thomas was upset to have missed it! Thankfully for him, Jesus returned and gave Thomas what he needed to believe.
     It’s true that the promise of Easter is hope of a life that extends beyond the grave. But, the promise of Easter also is freedom from fear and shame in this life.
     Perhaps some of you remember an old painting of Jesus knocking on a wooden door, which represented the door of a person’s heart. A print of it hung in the hall outside of my childhood bedroom, and at my home church there was a large stained-glass window with the same image. My family usually sat where I could gaze at it when the sermon was especially boring. The idea was, of course, that if Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart, you should let him in; that’s what one does if there’s a knock on the door, right? You get up and answer it.
     But, what if someone was too afraid or ashamed or depressed or angry or sad to open the door? That’s what was happening in today’s reading. Jesus did not bother to knock; he did not stand there, tapping on the door, imploring that they let him in. Instead, he walked in; the locked door did not stop him, he came in with a word of peace.
     The simple but profound truth is this: a heart locked by fear and mind closed by shame does not stop Jesus. In various ways, for different people, even if it’s not until the point one enters eternity, Jesus comes into our lives. His word to us is peace, do not be afraid, all is well, you are forgiven. Now…go, tell someone. AMEN
  1. “John 20:19-31 Commentary” by Scott Hoezee, April 28, 2019,
  2. Same as #1