Penetrating Locked Doors
In the Midst of Community
by David H. Rommereim
I would like to share with you how difficult it is to communicate these days. Not only is there a lot of information coming your way at every instant, but it is also critical to discern the quality of that information. What are your sources? Are they reliable? Can you trust them?
These questions are only for public news and information, advertisements and essays. If you try and share those thoughts with another person, things get even more challenging. At those points of interaction we tend to have two minds, two experiences, two hearts, two language systems to deal with. It is very challenging. Then, for starters, think about our telling of the story of the resurrection. We, the gathered community, don't have it easy. People just can't imagine what this resurrection means. They say, in Brooklyn, "what r ya takin' bout... re-sar-ek-shun?"
The stories of the resurrection are especially hard in an age when scientific detail takes the limelight. Wonder, mystery, awe, inspiration, and imagination are infrequent guests in our contemporary experience. We continue to prefer to be precise and calculated with hard, cold facts. We call for proof. We explain the resurrection as a hard cold fact, rather than a witness passed along through the lens of trust and faith. It was as hard then for Mary Magdalene to inform, and become a trusted witness to Jesus' resurrection, as it is for us. Even Mary Magdalene was stunned with the terror of the crucifixion. After she was visited by the one she supposed to be the gardener, it was the Resurrected Jesus Anointed who became present again, after death.
Words are hard. Communication is hard... especially when all we utilize is words. It would be a lot easier if we could draw pictures, or paint stories with our bodies. Or perhaps be good at reading body language. Then art, theater, dance, music, words, poetry, story, and narrative could all fit into a great panoply of truth.
The one I love to refer to in this conundrum of words and communication is the American icon of elemental sayings, and sneaky wisdom sayings, Yogi Berra. I know Yogi was not a saint, but that is the very reason he can almost become saintly. He was full of holes and redeemable. Lutherans call this, simul ustis et pecator (same time sinner and saint). For those of us who realize that there were others who had as difficult a time communicating as you and I do, Yogi becomes very special. I was reminded last week of some of his famous sayings that exemplify his forgiveness. Yogi seemed to say the right things at all times. But,... only according to Yogi. That means he was not always totally clear, but he spoke from his heart, and that made the difference.Remember the Yogic saying: "I really didn't say everything I said." Or, when pertaining to Yankee Stadium Yogi said, "It gets late early there." Or, to the players he was coaching he was known as have said, "All right you guys, pair up in threes." Or, "The future just isn't what it used to be." Or, "If you can't copy 'em, don't imitate 'em." And finally, when Yogi learned that his friend Mickey Mantle died he was offended, and when asked why, he said, "'cause the Mick an' me always promise to attend each other's funerals."
Communication can be as hard or as simple as those types of Yogic statements. It is hard because the words one person uses are received differently into the ears of the other. But, if, or when the heart comes alongside the words there seems to be a major accomplishment. The thoughts get through to the heart of the matter. Words with heart tend to speak truth whether they are absolutely perfect or not. Just before the Easter narrative from John 20.19-31 we hear about the resurrection through the lens of the apostle Mary Magdalene (John 20.11-18). She had an encounter with what she thought was a gardener just outside the tomb of the assassinated Jesus. The story takes place early in the morning. Mary's grief is obvious. Her tears are filled with fear, sorrow, exhaustion, and bewilderment. No wonder she didn't recognize Jesus. "Despite her temporary grief-induced tear-blindness her, eventually open, eyes remain for all time the first to see what all people yearn to see: evidence of life beyond the bounds of death."
John wastes no time and heralds, calls, you and me directly into the middle of the huddled, fearful, disciples (Greek: mathetai). These disciples are also called learners. It appears that they have been on a journey with Jesus learning about The Way which is a call to live a life that puts God first, makes justice resonate into every part of society. They have been learning about this God, who has anointed the Nazarene Jesus to usher in an age of love, mercy, justice, and forgiveness. But these learners, at the end of their course work, after their most severe trial, are locked behind closed doors. Everything they learned about the anointed one, Jesus, seems to be locked behind the dark door of despair, depression, fear and uncertainty. This text, John 20.19, is one of the saddest descriptions of the disciples. It confirms their failure. In a blink of an eye it announces their fear. The phrase, "behind locked doors" places these followers with other kindred spirits across the Christian community.
We like to lock the doors out of fear. We want to be secure. We want things to work out without trouble. This little verse, behind locked doors is not referring to the locked doors that we tend to use when we are seeking to keep a secret. The Gospel writer is not referring to the secrets that the disciples may be keeping to preserve their own sense of well-being. The fear, locked in this little room, refers to the risk that Jesus took and which led to the crucifixion at the hands of Rome and a recalcitrant religious institution. The disciples had cause to be afraid. Jesus took on the economic disorder of his age. He sought to alleviate poverty and the discrepancy of 1% owning the vast majority of the cash flow and wealth. Jesus spoke often about money and the unequal distribution of wealth. He spoke about the widows who were not cared for by the community. He placed the most vulnerable into the highest realm of God's reign, the little ones we call children. Jesus leveled the playing field between women and men.
The first apostle, Mary Magdalene, is the living example of this resurrection of the status of women in the community of those who follow Jesus Anointed. It ushered in God's reign over both indecent religious hegemony stuck on its own empty, fussy, and unworthy traditions as well as the sacrilegious and unjust political systems of Rome. It had been just a few hours since Jesus taught them on their way from Galilee to Jerusalem; through their rural campaign for empowering the hard working people of the land into the city campaign at the seat of power. Could it be that the disciples, those learners, forgot their lessons? Or is it that they just got the life kicked out of them. Fear took hold of their message. They were hell-bent on silence... stuck in a little room behind locked doors.
But it is at this point the Gospel comes home. We know how fearful life is at times. Each of us have been scared out of our wits, at some point in our lives. We know a little about what is at stake with these huddled disciples. They are afraid of being found out, noticed, and captured by those who have been offended by Jesus' Anointed ministry of justice-love. Here in this room the community of the Gospel is gathered. Then, wonder happens. It is the same wonder that happened to our apostle, Mary, in her tear-blinded eyes. But here these disciples are fear-blinded. And Jesus Anointed enters their midst... no door, no window, no magic trick. Just Jesus.
In the famous book of Job, the book which seeks to understand the injustice of the world and the suffering of good people, the poet of Job wonders in the 42nd chapter, “who can open the doors of his face? Or, how can the door be opened in this grief? It is the response from Emerson which makes most sense. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, There is a crack in everything God has made.”
Jesus Anointed appears as if nothing can keep away the silence of God. Not even fear can lock God away from the now. Jesus enters in their midst and brings them peace. For a Hebrew it is Shalom Alechem.
 This comes to me in a book by David James Duncan called God Laughs & Plays, Triad Books 2006, chapter 1, page 9
 Becoming Children of God, John's Gospel and Radical Discipleship, Wes Howard-Brook, Orbis Books, 1994, page 455.