This Thursday we will gather in our home for our first HouseChurch gathering of the spring. We will share a meal, fellowship, hear the apostles’ teachings, celebrate the eucharist and pray for Thy Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. The shades will be up and our doors will be unlocked and wide open. Not so on that first Easter Sunday when the disciples met in a house behind locked doors, cowering in fear and filled with anxiety. John sets the scene:
“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, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.”
Let every Christian or church that has decided to plow ahead in life or ministry without Jesus’ presence “among them” live in fear and hide behind closed doors. Such a person or ministry should have no peace of mind or blessed assurance. Until Jesus enters our heart, our homes, our sanctuaries and says, “Peace be with you,” we have no grounds for peace. Without evidence that there’s a Light that can dispel the darkness of the world outside our doors, we have little reason to unlock the doors and go out into the night unafraid.
But the good news is that there is a Light that “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). As soon as Christ “came and stood among them and said ‘Peace be with you’, they began throwing open the shutters on the windows, opening up the doors, and facing the world outside with a new posture of Resurrection optimism and New Creation hospitality.
But the Resurrected Christ gave them far more than a benediction and feeling of optimism. He gave them a new commission (or, actually bestowed onto them the original vocation of Adam and Eve in the Garden) and a new power to get on with it. Listen to the Genesis echoes in John’s account:
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”
A second helping of peace, a double scoop of ‘shalom’ is pressed into the shocked company of disciples like salted caramel ice cream on a cracked sugar cone that will hardly be able to hold all of it! Jesus turns a funeral into a “going away party” for newly commissioned ambassadors for the Kingdom. “Let’s lift up a glass, and toast to the Resurrected One! Let’s have a drink in honor of this exciting new mission Jesus is sending us out on!”
Most importantly, however, is not the words that come out of Jesus’ mouth, but the Holy Spirit power he breathes onto them! When hardships and tragedies strike our lives, we have an expression: “I feel totally deflated.” We sometimes feel like a punching balloon punched one too many times and popped. We feel like our life—job, family, future, joy, purpose—is pulled over by the ditch with flat tires. Deflated and stuck. This was the experience of the disciples in that house before Jesus came in with Heaven’s air compressor and began to inflate their dashed dreams and pump up their deflated souls with New Creation oxygen! “He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit!”
We know just how far they would go in the days and years ahead on those newly inflated Resurrection tires! These “fraidy cat” disciples hiding behind locked doors here, would soon be standing on street corners under the nose of the authorities, boldly sharing the good news and facing whatever consequences resulted—prison, beatings, and eventually death. That’s quite a change from hiding in the dark with the lights off and shades pulled.
What made all the difference? What drives all fear away? What can bring peace in the middle of the raging storm? What can transform a person from a coward to a Christian soldier? Answer: Jesus must enter the room, throw open the shades and breath into your life or ministry or marriage or soul, and raise his nail pierced hands up to bless you with his Easter benediction: “Peace be with you.”
Ponder your current circumstances for a moment: Are you hiding behind locked doors? Are you living in fear? Name that fear out loud. Where is Jesus in your own situation? Has he entered into your house and stood with you? Has he picked all your locks and wore down all your defenses meant to keep out the bad (but also end up keeping out would-be help)? Are you trying to muster up your own strength to carry on without him? When was the last time you heard (and really felt) the powerful words, “Peace be still”? Have you received—I mean, really received, the power of the Holy Spirit he wants to breathe into your life and current situation?
Finally, did you notice a person missing when Jesus showed up in that house? One of the disciples went off on his own, momentarily broke off from the pack. John wants us to know:
…But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. (John 20:24)
We don’t know why, and shouldn’t read too much into it, but let me just offer this word to a church culture that is growing increasingly lax and lazy in our commitment to Christian fellowship and regular worship attendance: What might we be missing out on when we aren’t found in the company of other disciples when Jesus shows up? I don’t want to be the person who “was not with them when Jesus came.”
This Thursday night, a small gathering of 21st century disciples will gather in our living room. I can’t promise that Christ will manifest his presence among us in a dramatic, life-changing way. But I can promise you this: We will have the doors unlocked, the shades wide open, and be waiting and ready to welcome Him among us. We will open our hands to receive Him in the eucharist. We will open our ears to hear his reassuring words, “Peace be with you.” We will open our hearts to receive afresh his life-giving breath/spirit. And we will open our will to obey his Easter commission: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!”