On every side, almost, we’re being assailed by stories of people coming out. This phenomenon could be regarded as the new vogue, the new table conversation piece but, in the church, since it’s also called resurrection, I don’t suppose it’ll make the social pages.
John sets up the whole thing for us. In fact, by the time we get to this week’s version, there already have been two other comings-out: Lazarus was the first, then the one about The Man himself, and we’re still getting over the chocolate of the latter, I suspect.
Today’s event is more like a coming-in than a coming-out but, in the long run, I guess the direction doesn’t matter all that much. The point is fairly obvious: something spectacular has occurred and the scars are still visible. Moreover, we want to check them out.
It’s the same for everyone: there’s something about scars that define who we are as a person, what risks we’ve taken, what things matter to us, what gifts we’ve given, what sacrifices we’ve made.
John gives us a reminder, too, that Jesus’ own identity is now defined by the sacrifice he made for us. The scars of that Friday afternoon are the ones he bore on his hands and side, probably for the rest of his life. They were certainly on Thomas’ fact check-out list.
However, rather than running the risk of either demonising or sanctifying Thomas and his actions (plenty of people have done both before this, and with greater alacrity), I want to settle on another, deeper, scar that Jesus wore and continues to wear.
That scar centres around the scene about which we are reading, the setting of today’s Gospel. “The doors were shut …” it says. Shut, the opposite of ‘open’.
Here they were, God’s chosen ones, locked behind closed doors, suffering post-traumatic stress, scared stiff because of the Jews (methinks John’s anti-Semitism slip is showing here.)
John is presenting us with a place we are not expecting; a closed room and a community closed by fear; here John shows us what such a family, perhaps one with closed minds, looks like. It’s scary and, at the same time, awful to see what fear does to people.
Then I started digging around, and discovered that the word for ‘closed’ in Greek – it looks like ‘kleiso’ – has some links with the Greek word for ‘church’ (‘ek-klesia’). The difference is that ‘church’ is ex – or un – closed (i.e. ‘open’). Hmmm.
The “Open Society” of Greek democracy was one of the greatest gifts this culture gave to the world. Not closed but unsealed, outted, free. It was a concept that celebrated freedom from systems of dominance and oppression.
It’s amazing, then, that the Church Fathers (and Mothers) chose ‘ekklesia’ – called out, not closed – to describe the community of Jesus’ followers. In this upper room encounter, it was clear that The Man was not to be cocooned by fear. Neither were the disciples to be.
Have you ever thought that that must be why Jesus breathed his life-giving spirit breath onto (or into) them? It was as if he was saying to them “You are not to remain closed (’kleiso’), you are ‘ecclesia’. Come out!”
I wonder if the somewhat ghettoed and fearful church of 21st century can still feel the coming-out breath on its cheeks? I have no doubt that the risen Jesus is still breathing on us. Closed doors don’t stop him.
Breathing isn’t the challenge of ecclesia, although sometimes I wonder. It isn’t the doors, either, as we have seen. I suspect it’s what’s between our ears and in our affections that’s the challenge.