April 16, 2023

The Disciples were behind locked doors

The Disciples were behind locked doors

At San Pedro we read the following sermon, first preached by James Leggett in 2002.

The disciples were behind locked doors because they were afraid. They were behind locked doors on Easter Day, and a week later, they were still huddled behind locked doors, frightened, hiding, and, at least in Thomas’ case, filled with doubt. They hardly appear to be the beginning a movement that will transform human history. But there they were.

In one way or another, we all know what the disciples were doing. We know how it feels to be in exile, or cowering behind strong, locked doors, hiding from things that frighten us. For us, this usually takes a different form than it did for Peter and the rest. What locks us in tends to be things like our fears and insecurities, our illnesses, our compulsions or addictions, our past-the hurts we have experienced and the hurts we have caused — the relationships we have or do not have, our doubts, our self-righteousness, our uncertainties, and our sin. Stuff like that. It is because of these that we know about living behind locked doors. It is because of these that we can place our selves in this story.

And we are not alone. In a lot of ways, this is the human situation. What it is like to be a person is like living behind those locked doors, confined by our “stuff,” whatever that stuff may be.

Sometimes we stop there. Sometimes we decide that our stuff is what matters most, and that living behind those doors is, if not inevitable, at least the best we can have. So we stay there, and there we are.

But the story of Easter doesn’t stop there — it goes on. It has more to say. The central thing the Easter story has to say is that God has gone through our locked doors, just as he did in the Gospel, and God has come to us. Just like that. God did this before we were fixed, even before we were better. Jesus didn’t wait for the disciples to figure out that they didn’t need to be afraid any more and unlock the doors themselves.

Jesus didn’t wait for Thomas to stop doubting. He didn’t wait for any of them to do anything different, or to be anyone different. He showed up. And loved them. That’s all. That’s what he did, that’s what he does now. He comes through the doors that are there, and right into the middle of whatever the stuff is; and he loves us. That’s what the resurrected Lord does.

We know that, too. Again, we know it, but probably not in exactly the same way as the disciples. Still, we know that somehow or other, in some way or other, God has come through our locked doors, into the very middle of whatever our stuff is, and loved us. We might or we might not know with any clarity exactly what happened or precisely when it happened. We might or we might not know what that means. We might not even like it. That doesn’t matter very much.

But in one way or another, we know that God is up to something, or that God might be up to something, as far as we are concerned.  So we know a little bit about what it is like for Jesus to come through the locked doors, and to love us.

Now, this is not magic. When God comes to us and loves us, everything doesn’t suddenly become perfect. Remember, all of the disciples lived and died in ways we would probably consider tragic. Legend has it that all of the Apostles died young except John, who spent his last years in exile. Our stuff is still there. It doesn’t vanish. The desire and the reasons to stay behind the locked doors are still there. But things are different. Even if we don’t realize it, or totally believe it, things are different.

If we stop at our stuff, at whatever keeps us locked up, then the Easter story goes on, but we don’t. But even if we go farther, even if we admit that, yes, we have been met wherever we hide, and, yes, maybe God is up to something with us, even then, if we stop there, the story will still go on without us.

Because when God loves us God doesn’t stop there. God does something to us — actually, God does at least two “somethings” to us. The first thing God does is the first thing we just heard Jesus do for the disciples on Easter Day. God gives the gift of the Holy Spirit.

God gives them God’s power, God’s grace and God’s guidance. This is what Jesus gave to the disciples when he breathed on them. This is the Spirit we were given at our Baptism; and this is the gift we have been given, over and over, as God reaches out to us and makes of us a new creation — whether we are aware of it or not.

This is real — it is a part of who we are right now. We don’t have to know it for it to be true. When Jesus first breathed on the disciples, nothing much happened to them right then. A week later they were still hiding behind locked doors. The gift just sat there. It sat there because it took them a while to understand, and because, for whatever reason, it took them a while to begin. (That happens to us, too.)

You see, when Jesus came to them through their closed doors, and when Jesus loved them, and gave them the gift of the spirit, he did one more thing — to them and to us. He said, “as the father has sent me, even so I send you.” He gave them mission; he called them to service.

And what the disciples discovered was that it was only as they tried to live out that mission and ministry, it was only as they tried to follow the Lord’s command to be servants, it was only then that they discovered within themselves that ability and strength that Jesus had given them. It was only then that they discovered that the spirit Jesus had breathed on them was a holy spirit of power, and of fire. They didn’t discover that until they stepped out from behind those locked doors. It wasn’t there until they really needed it.

Then things changed. It still wasn’t magic. They still weren’t fixed, but things were different. Most of their stuff was still there, but there was also something else. They discovered that it was possible to be more than they had imagined, and to do more than they had imagined. In this way the story that had started with Jesus continued as the disciples’ story.

That is where we are, each one of us. Jesus has walked through our locked doors and come to us in love. He has breathed on us the breath of the Spirit, and he has sent us into the world as he was himself sent by the Father. That’s who we are. That is who you are. What you do with it is up to you; but that is what is real.

You are a people loved, and given power, and sent into the world. Always remember that. The Easter story continues, and we can continue to be a part of it.



The Rev. James Liggett is the retired Rector of St. Nicholas’ Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas.
He has served parishes in Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma and has been a contributor to “Sermons That Work” since the 1980’s.