Acts 2:14a,22-32; Psalm 16; 1 Peter 1:3-9; John 20:19-31
This past week I attended a breakfast fundraiser for DAWN. DAWN stands for Domestic Abuse Women’s Network. As the name suggests, this organization supports women in abusive relationships with resources that help them and their children find safety from violence.
Over 200 people attended this year’s fundraiser. But what impresses me most is not just how many people attended but who attended. The state attorney general was there. So was the King County Prosecutor. Mayors and city officials from Renton, Seatac, Federal Way, Kent, and other South County municipalities were present. And police! A dozen or more uniformed police officers from various South King County cities showed up to offer their support of DAWN’s work.
There can be great power in numbers. Even more power when those numbers include people who have considerable influence to defend and protect those who have little power. But what about when the forces of law and order don’t speak up for people who are victimized? What about when the powers-that-be actually are the victimizers?
That was the situation leading up to Jesus’ arrest and execution. It’s not surprising that his followers were holed up behind locked doors. They saw what had happened to their leader. They knew they were next. It’s pretty easy to accuse these guys of being cowards but I can pretty easily imagine myself running for cover as they did. How about you?
It’s one thing to stand up for persecuted people when you have the law on your side, but–what if you don’t? Thank God for those government officials and police officers who work to protect the rights and safety of vulnerable women and children! I left that breakfast fundraiser this past week feeling inspired, encouraged, and grateful for their work.
But I’ve spent a lot of time this week also remembering that it doesn’t always turn out that way. Sometimes the forces of law and order in our own time are more like the Roman authorities, the Roman soldiers, and the religious institutions of Jesus’ day. Think of the police dogs and fire hoses that were turned on unarmed civilians during the civil right era.
I saw a TV program this past week that told the story of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. Back as recently as the 1960s and 70s there were laws that targeted the gay community. One night in 1969 gays were being harassed by the local authorities but the people were being harassed decided they’d had enough. They fought back. It was the beginning of the gay rights movement.
But the deeper question for me is, Where were Christians during the American civil rights movement when the governing authorities weren’t respecting basic human rights? And today, to what extent are Christians risking a public stand for the sake of vulnerable people when it’s not the popular or socially acceptable thing to do?
The image of those eleven disciples holed up behind locked doors should feel very familiar. Since Jesus’ time that is the choice that Christians have made, often as not. Sometimes we’re more interested in law and order than justice and compassion. Sometimes, we feel our world is falling apart so we support whatever seems to restore a return to former times. One thing’s for sure: When courage fails us, as it did Jesus’ disciples, fear has taken hold of us. As the disciples were afraid for themselves, so also we sometimes are afraid for ourselves.
But if that’s all there is to the story it would be pretty grim. Into that locked room steps Jesus, one who was victimized, partly because no one was willing to speak up for him—including his best friends. And to these frightened friends Jesus says, Peace be with you. He shows not just Thomas but all his friends his wounds and they see that it’s him.
Jesus was willing to show his wounds because this is how we identify the presence and power of God among us. By his wounds. We have to see the wounds in order to see God. Wherever we find wounded people we find God’s presence. But especially where we find people who have little power, for whom even religious people will not take a stand—in their wounds we find the wounds of Christ, the one for whom no one would take a stand. Jesus knew what it was like to be left to fend for himself while those who had pledged to follow him hid behind closed doors.
Who in our world needs Christians to take a public stand? Where might there be risk involved? I was thinking about the Seattle Pride Parade coming up in June. Churches from all over the Puget Sound region will carry a banner, stating publicly their support for the gay community. Maybe this year we’ll be there, too. That would’ve been risky—even dangerous— at one time. Today–not really that risky, although for some it might feel like a big risk. Any little risk we take for the sake of others makes us better equipped to take a stand when the risk is greater and the stakes are higher.
But who else in our world needs Christians to take a public stand? Who gets left out and ignored? Who doesn’t have a fundraiser backed by corporate sponsors and local government officials? Where in our neighborhoods and our world do you see the wounds of Jesus?
When we see the wounds of Jesus in the people around us we have a chance to see ourselves in his friends behind locked doors. When have we kept silent out of fear? Or, when have we taken the side of law and order instead of justice and compassion? The good news of Jesus Christ is that we don’t have to pretend or deny our failure to take a stand. The sooner we see where we’ve failed him the sooner we open ourselves to his forgiveness!
There’s something about forgiveness that sets people free. When we know we’re forgiven we become people of gratitude. Gratitude can lead to joy, and joy can lead to courage. Think of Peter. He was one of those locked behind closed doors. But he was also one who opened himself to forgiveness. And the joy that he experienced as one forgiven was the courage to take a public stand for the sake of Jesus. It’s Peter’s resurrection courage that we witness in today’s second reading.
May we also discover where we’ve locked ourselves behind closed doors. May we find where we have failed Christ. And most of all, may we discover the power of forgiveness, for ourselves and for the world. AMEN