2nd Sunday in Easter: Behind Closed Doors

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 22-32

14aPeter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed [the crowd], 22“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know—23this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. 25For David says concerning him,
 ‘I saw the Lord always before me,
  for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
26therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
  moreover my flesh will live in hope.
27For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
  or let your Holy One experience corruption.
28You have made known to me the ways of life;
  you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
29“Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. 31Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
 ‘He was not abandoned to Hades,
  nor did his flesh experience corruption.’
32This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.”

Psalm: Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
  I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.”
2All my delight is in the godly that are in the land,
  upon those who are noble among the people.
3But those who run after other gods
  shall have their troubles multiplied.
4I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods,
  never take their names upon my lips. 
5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;
  it is you who uphold my lot.
6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
  indeed, I have a rich inheritance.
7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
  my heart teaches me night after night.
8I have set the Lord always before me;
  because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 
9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
  my body also shall rest in hope.
10For you will not abandon me to the grave,
  nor let your holy one see the pit.
11You will show me the path of life;
  in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are     pleasures forevermore.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:3-9

3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Gospel: John 20:19-31

19When 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, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  When I taught a nursery school  in Kenya, one of the songs that had hand motions and taught language was “Going on a Lion Hunt.”  Repeat after me

Going on a lion hunt, going to catch a lion.  (congregation echoes)

Put on your shoes (motion of putting on shoes)

Put on your hat (congregation puts on hats)

Let’s go

Oh no, tall grass. (place hands by face as if in dispair)

Can’t go over it (motion with hands trying to reach over tall grass)

Can’t go around it (motion with hands going out to left and right)

Can’t go under it (motion with hands scooping under)

We have to go through it ( motion parting grass, swish sound)

Going on a lion hunt, going to catch a lion.

Oh no, a river.

Can’t go over it, can’t go around it, can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it (splash, splash, splash  swimming motions).

Going on a lion hunt, going to catch a lion.

Oh no, a cave.

Can’t go over it, can’t go around it, can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it (make a creeping motion with your feet)

Oh No! A Lion!  Run.

Stomp your feet for retreating back through the cave.

Swim your arms for recrossing the river.

Swish your way back through the grass.

  (The children meet a lion and have to race home going running out of the cave, swimming back across the river, and swishing back through the grass.) 

 Whew!  We are safe at home.

Let us pray.  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         We are all on a lion hunt.  We all meet barriers to reaching that dream that is out there that we want to achieve.  Perhaps Mr. Wonderful doesn’t realize we exist.  Perhaps the ideal job is not delivering as we thought.  Perhaps a different doctor will give a more hopeful path to recovery.  Sometimes we meet barriers we just cannot jump over, go around, or dig under and we just have to go through as best we can.  Our disciples today have met a barrier.  They have followed Jesus believing he was the Messiah and expecting him to usher in the new kingdom, rid them of those bothersome Romans, and return the good life.  He could do it.  He had healed, fed, resurrected, taught and done so many wonderful, hopeful deeds.  But suddenly they met a barrier.  The crowd that shouted, “Hosanna,” on Palm Sunday turned to shouting “Crucify him” on Good Friday. They walked through the horror of Gethsemane, the injustice of the trial, the cruelty of the cross and the death of their leader and dreams.  Today we see them disoriented and hiding in fear.

           Last Sunday we heard the news, “He is Risen.”  We greeted each other with those words, “He is risen indeed.”  We hear Jesus is risen but the Romans are still in power and we still face death.  Houston, we have a problem.  During the Easter Season for the next six weeks we will look at the tension and reality that Jesus resurrected but we are still in this world.  We will be challenged to redefine the lion we are hunting for.  We use words for Easter like “conquered the grave,” “is alive,” or “saved us” but what does having a resurrected Savior mean to the nitty gritty of our everyday lives?

Inward to Outward

         Our first reading today is telling us how Peter gives a rousing sermon on Pentecost to an audience of people gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world.  People hear the sermon in their own language.  3000 become followers of the Christ.  Any pastor would be overwhelmed if 3000 people responded to the sermon!  Today we call it a revival when suddenly people are touched by the Holy Spirit, confess their need for salvation, and cry out to God.  There are reports that revival is “breaking out” around the United States today.  Even as revival broke out during the “Jesus Revolution” when I was a young adult in Los Angeles and as recorded in the recent movie by that name, revival is happening today.

         BUT…but we find our followers huddled behind closed doors in fear.  Something happened between Easter Sunday and Pentecost, between resurrection and revival.  We call it the Easter season.  We look at proofs that Jesus Christ is alive in our world today.  Easter Sunday starts with the women going to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus.  They are looking inward at their grief.  They are locked within themselves and the events that have taken place.  The angels tell them that Jesus is risen.  Don’t look in, look out.

         The two people on the road to Emmaus meet a stranger who walks with them but they are so absorbed in the shock of the crucifixion they don’t recognize their companion.  Shocking events turn us inward in disbelief and possibly grief.  Easter teaches us not to look in but to look outside ourselves.

         That evening the followers gather behind closed doors in fear.  I am sure they are wondering if they would be the next to be crucified, the next to catch Covid, the next to be shot randomly in a public “safe” place.  When we meet barriers on the road to catch that lion, we turn inward with questions like how to get around the challenge, with fears of vulnerability, and with grief at the challenge.  The cross and Lent turns us inward acknowledging our limitations.  Easter and the resurrection challenge us to reframe our understanding and turn outward.

         The tomb is empty.  Life without Jesus is empty.  The Scriptures are empty unless we turn to the living Word that transforms our understanding of our history.  Our meetings are empty and perhaps fear ridden when we meet behind closed doors for fear of the forces that threaten to overwhelm us.  So I think the first thought for us to ponder this morning is to honestly ponder what doors, what barriers close us inside ourselves in fear of the future?  Perhaps we fear what the new pastor might be like.  Then again it can be illness, finances, family squabbles, and that is not to mention the national politics and random violence in our culture.  We all have “doors” that lock us inside ourselves in grief, fear, and vulnerability.  Easter challenges us to look outward to a new reality.  Jesus is risen.

Fear to Peace

         The followers meet with each other and do not isolate.  As they share their stories Jesus suddenly stands in their midst.  His first word is, “Peace.”  As we turn from inward chaos outward to Jesus, we are able to regain peace, not from finding the lion but because of Jesus’ presence.  Jesus gives us peace.  Peace comes not from achieving our goals but from realizing his presence in the midst of the struggle.  Our eyes and minds turn from inward preoccupation to outward awareness of who is with us and what he is saying.

         Resurrection is not just about Jesus being alive and so we will be alive in heaven.  Our text gives us more texture than our joyful Easter greetings about the defeat of death.  Jesus tells the followers they are now being sent outwards.  They become followers with a purpose.  Life is meaningful and the events we walk into are not random nor are they punishment sent by God because we skipped church or didn’t tithe enough.  We are a sent people.  We have purpose and meaning.  That does not mean the barriers, the tall grass, the rivers, and the caves we will be challenged to pass through should not scare us but we are not alone.  We go in community with other followers, with Christ, and also with the Holy Spirit that he breathes into us. We are sent and we are not alone.

         Secondly Jesus tells us that the key to looking outward, to unlocking fear is forgiveness.  This seems like a random statement in the text but it is important.  The followers fear life and possibly potential disaster.  When life does not go the way we expect, it is easy for fear to take residence in our hearts and for us to turn inwards.  Forgiveness frees us to turn outwards.  God will bring justice.  Forgiveness is not easy but it is the Easter message of the resurrection.  We are forgiven and we are called to forgive.

         Let us think this morning of some situation we would rejoice that Jesus enters into with us this week because he is alive and active.  Is there a person we would love to have a heart to heart chat with?  Is there an encounter that has us terrified that we need to remind ourselves that we are not alone?  Then again there may be a situation we need God’s help us to forgive. Perhaps we need to ask for prayer for the “lion” we will be facing this week. Certainly we need to pray about the lions our country is dealing with!

Seen to Unseen

         The crucifixion was a highly visually impacting experience.  The tomb could be seen and the rock feared.  The gathering behind closed doors was a three dimensional experience.  That which is seen whether it is the pictures of war on the news, the documentaries on disease, or the absence of a beloved at gatherings impacts our sense of reality.  The resurrection moves us from that which we experience with our physical senses to that which we experience with our spiritual senses.  Thomas was not with the other followers that first Easter Sunday.  The others reported about seeing Jesus and believing, but Thomas was unconvinced.  He wanted to touch and feel Jesus to know the truth.  And there we have the rub.  We want to see and believe.  Learning to believe and trust that which we cannot see, which goes through closed doors, which gives commands that are counter intuitive is sooooo hard.  It is a journey of growth.  There is a reason for Easter season because for most of us we don’t just jump from believing to living the faith.  The reality of the resurrection, of maturing, of truly grasping what relationship with Jesus means, takes time.

         I think all of us who were ever married know the “I do” did not at all explain the reality of living into that relationship.  The first day of work while exciting to have a job, needed to become a work routine.  The check deposited after payday is not the bank balance later in the month.  Jesus closes our text today acknowledging the challenge of going from inward to outward, of going from fear to peace and of going from seen to unseen.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

         We are going on a lion hunt.  We want to achieve those goals, defeat those lions that scare us, and be heroes and heroines.  But we will encounter barriers.  There will be tall grass, rivers, and caves that we cannot go over, around or under.  We will have to go through.  That lion we finally meet will be bigger than we thought and often scarier.  True security comes when we retreat away from the inward fears to the reality of the risen Christ.  When we turn over the fears that paralyze us and receive the peace Christ gives us.  And when we learn to trust his unseen presence with us daily in the lives of our community, his presence in his Word, and learn to use the key of forgiveness that unlocks the future.  The Lord is risen and walking with us as we venture out to tackle lions!

Let the people of God say, “AMEN.”

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