“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors were locked where the disciples were, for fear”—What are we afraid of? What are you afraid of? How are you locking the door these days, physically or spiritually or emotionally?
The year was 1999, and I had just arrived as the new priest at Christ Church in downtown Dayton. One of the things I quickly discovered was that the doors were locked every day except on Sunday morning. At that time there was a bus stop in front of the church. That bus came right down Salem Avenue on the city’s northwest side, crossed the Miami River, where Salem became First Street. The Church, at 20 West First, was the closest to Main Street—and, as I used to say, that made us the downtowniest of the downtown churches.
So people coming to downtown Dayton often got off at our bus stop—either to shop or to transfer to another bus. This was all before the creation of the bus hub at Third and Main some years later. And that also meant that our doorbell was constantly ringing—people looking for directions, wanting to use a bathroom, get a drink of water, get out of the heat or cold while waiting for the next bus, and sometimes looking for assistance with food, prescriptions, gas, utilities, rent, bus fare. Occasionally, people were looking for a church home or wanting someone to talk with about a personal matter or someone to pray with them.
But the doors were locked. Why? Plain and simple. They were locked out of fear. As I got to know the community and went around to get acquainted with other churches and pastors, I discovered that all of their doors were locked as well. Out of fear. In fact, I was told many times that folk wouldn’t come to the downtown—even for concerts, plays, or a Dragons game—let alone for church—because downtown Dayton was so dangerous. And that’s why the doors had to be locked.
Some said that it was out of my naiveté. Others thought that I was just plain crazy. But I opened the church doors. Any time that there were two or more staff in the office, Monday—Friday, the doors were unlocked. The Vestry agreed to hire a receptionist whose primary job was to greet people and attempt to address their needs. People noticed! We became known as the church of the open door.
For the next 19 years the door was open from 9-4 daily. No staff person was ever mugged, robbed, or injured. But I tell you this. Jesus came through that door almost every day. Sometimes he came dressed in rags and at others Jesus arrived in fine clothes. Gay, straight, transgender, male, female, black, red, yellow, white, brown, old, young, middle aged, sane, mentally ill—Jesus came.
The disciples had every reason to be fearful and to have the door locked. After all, Jesus had just been crucified. We, too, have so much to be afraid of.
What are you afraid of?
For many of us here it is our health or our mobility or the health of a spouse.
For others, we fear for our families. Just this week I heard from a friend who tries to keep her child from listening to the news . . . so he won’t hear about the latest school shooting, and be fearful of going to school. “Lock down” is the by-word of the day and school children have to practice for a tragedy, because they happen far too frequently. People are afraid to go into public spaces like banks, civic and community events, movie theaters, even their work places.
We fear for our nation where the politics are toxic and meanness is commonplace, where democracy and human rights and decency are mocked and denigrated.
We fear for our world where demagogues rule nations and anti-Christs have fingers on nuclear weapons. There are rising tensions in the Pacific. Global climate change: tornadoes in the south and Midwest and two feet of rain in the Fort Lauderdale area being just the most recent.
My way of dealing with a lot of this is to lock it out. I find myself listening to the news a lot less…the less I know the less I have to fear.
And I find myself at times preferring Pandemic isolation mode, meaning that I try to stay away from crowds—church attendance notwithstanding. I do like it when we have a 103 people here like we did last Sunday.
Jesus doesn’t condemn our locking the doors. He didn’t stand outside pounding on the door and berating the disciples about being afraid and anxious. He didn’t let the locked door be a barrier between them. He just walked through it.
What would it be like to pray for Jesus to enter through our locked doors? What is the risk? What might his “Peace be with you” look like?
But more than just coming through the barriers we might erect because of our fears, and more than not condemning us, Jesus does challenge us to confront them—to move beyond the fears and face them directly.
“Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side.”
In the wake of the resurrection, we’re apt to look away from the wounds of Christ. But we are the body of Christ—Christ’s wounds are in us and in our neighbors, and in the greater world. I’ve just catalogued some of them.
How can we as Christians look at those wounds and even put our hands out to touch them in a way that honors them? That makes us loving witnesses, not gawkers or pitying observers staying at a distance?
How could honoring the wounds of God’s people help us be more whole as the body of Christ?
Help us know the resurrected Christ more fully?
Help us receive the Holy Spirit?
Help us to know God’s peace?
I don’t have answers to these questions. I wish I did. But this I do know, that despite wanting to shut myself off from the pains and wounds of the world, Jesus always has a way of breaking through. And he is continually inviting us to touch those wounds with compassion, empathy, and love.
Many years ago I heard a Bishop from Pennsylvania tell about a time that he took some college students to Calcutta, India, to visit Mother Theresa and to volunteer in one of the clinics where people were dying of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and leprosy. The place was too poor to afford clean water and other sterile equipment. So people made do as best they could.
One hot and humid afternoon the Bishop knelt beside a dying woman whose open sores were crawling with insects. She said that she was a Christian and wanted the Bishop to lay hands upon her head, anoint her with oil, and send her on her last journey to be with Jesus. He turned to the nurse/nun/translator and asked if it was wise that perhaps he shouldn’t touch the patient. “Bishop,” she replied, “You’re not getting an excuse from me.”
He anointed the woman and she died almost immediately, peaceful, smiling. The Bishop reflected, “That was the moment of my true conversion, when the risen Christ lay before me, wounded and dying, and simply asked to be touched.”