I do not know what your experience of the lockdown in the midst of this pandemic has been like. Maybe it has been wonderful. Some families have rediscovered time together, around the dinner table, doing things with their children, and learning to take their place as their first teachers. It’s given people time to slow down, think about life, faith and what matters most. But maybe for you this confinement has been a terrible experience. Maybe locked in with those you just about got on usually, has brought out the worst in everyone and every day brings more misery and despair.
Doubting of St Thomas by Duccio di Buoninsegna
Today, the Octave day of Easter, we find the apostles locked in like us, in the upper room in Jerusalem. The Church believes that the Octave day is when the fullness of the Easter festival is made available. Rightly, it is Divine Mercy Sunday. The Mercy that pours out from the Risen Christ reaches its summit. And rightly, Christ comes into a locked room and greets his disciples with Peace.
Jerusalem means ‘city of peace’ but they find themselves in anything but peace. How things have changed for the disciples. The twelve that Jesus picked couldn’t have been more different from each other. Matthew was a tax-collector – widely considered an outcast due to their collaboration with Rome – and Judas, a Zealot, was as far right as you could be. And there was everyone in between. The only point of unity between them was Jesus himself, who held them all together. In the first years of his ministry, Jesus was the most popular Rabbi in Israel. They had the best seats to everything that was happening. When things are going well, it’s easy to be united. Everything in the world at this time seems to be working as they imagine it should. God seems to be doing his part. He’s performing miracles, standing up against the bad guys, and they’re doing well. It does not mean that the disciples had no faith or love or anything like that. But it is difficult to know how much of our life is truly built on faith. Our faith life can be easily mistaken for one of self-actualisation. It is an ego-drama, as one popular preacher often puts it. This drama changes, dramatically, even as Jesus starts making his way to Jerusalem. The prediction of the Cross brings about all kinds of tensions within the disciples. They keep arguing with each other about who is the greatest as their egos clash. Finally, at Gethsemane, they all crack open and run away from Jesus.
And now, they find themselves together again, not necessarily because they want to be together. They are locked in ‘out of fear of the Jews’. But there’s a lot more locking them within themselves. John mentions twice that the doors were locked. Bolted from within. They are terrified at all that’s happened and probably have nowhere else to turn. They feel threatened by their enemies without and torn by guilt within. Fear and guilt by themselves can bring out the worst in people and here, they have a potent mix. They are in mortal fear and bearing the burden of betraying, abandoning the one whom they loved. In this locked room, you look around, already hating yourself and you see the faces of the people who exemplify the same thing you hate. And that, is what hell is like. No escape and surrounded by the worst of yourself and others. And into this locked room, this space of Hell, from which we, and the disciples are unable to escape comes and stands the Risen Christ. He shows his wounds which now heal and breathes on them his peace and his forgiveness. Right into this experience of hell itself. He is the one who in his death has descended into hell, kicked down the doors of Hades itself and released Adam and Eve from their prison.
Lift up your heads, O gates;
rise up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may enter (Ps 24:7)
Maybe this is the situation we find ourselves in today. We resent ourselves for things we have done and hate what we see in others. A virus and the turn of events we find, doesn’t cause all this, it just brings issues to the surface. We can find ourselves locked in with all kinds of fears; of different people, of situations, of the future, of what not. Some of these doors, gates which shut us in, are ancient, as the psalm says. We’ve lived with these fears for the major part of our lives. Whatever we do, they refuse to give way. And maybe it is out of a hopelessness or despair or whatever other kind of fear that might keep us locked down, we find we are unable to make the least effort to open this door. We are too weak to even pray, and ask God to come to help us. It is into this locked prison, which we are unable to open, that the risen Christ comes. No gate, no door can resist his advance. In his free and complete self-offering, he has descended into the very depths of Hades; he has won authority over every gate that resists him. The final gate that resists is of course, our own freedom. And even in this, our self-imposed prisons, Christ can touch us. The Psalmist continues
Who is this king of glory?
The LORD, a mighty warrior,
the LORD, mighty in battle. (v.8)
He has won this, not by simple right or fiat, but by waging a terrible battle, one that would cost him everything. He would do that all by himself, waging the war you, I and the disciples were all unable to fight, out of love for you and me. In that fight, he would be mortally wounded and die, but would conquer death and every spirit of death. Now, risen again, he will live forever, to pour out that life, that love, that freedom on all who would receive it.
Jesus could do all that because he would identify himself only as the beloved Son of the Father; it would be the Father’s will that mattered, not his own. Everything that happened to him – the torture, the terrible betrayals, the cowardice and what not – Jesus would accept all as included in the Father’s loving plan. Jesus’ life would be lived in a theo-drama, the loving will of God.
Now the wounded and risen Christ would stand among them, as the serpent raised on the pole (John 3:14-15). In seeing his wounds, the disciples and we can see the marks of his victory of love over our hatred and death. In the disciples recognising themselves in his wounds, as those who have caused it and as those who have been wounded, they can receive his forgiveness and be set free. They can find their place, through the love of Christ in this great theo-drama as those loved and chosen by God. All of their life now has meaning, far greater than they could have made for themselves. I can recognise myself, for who I am as I see myself through Christ’s eyes, and his love for me. And I can recognise the other, seeing them through the eyes of Christ. Simultaneous with their being forgiven is Christ’s commission to send them forth – the doors are thrown open as the mission of the Church is inaugurated; they are free to carry this love and forgiveness to a world locked down, bolted from the inside.
This Sunday, Christ wants to come into our houses which have been locked down, but even more, the locked rooms of our lives and open the doors which imprison us. When we see his wounds, we can know that he has battled and continues to do so for us. We can let go of trying to defend ourselves. Christ’s wounds are the assurance that God’s love for us is certain. In them we have a refuge, whatever we might go through in life.