Jesus said: “In my house there are many rooms” (John 14:2). That is a mark of his hospitality. It’s the sort of thing that any good host will say to his/her guest. “We’ve got loads of room. We can easily make up a bed.” Good hosts say these things because they want their guests to feel at home – they want their guests to stay with them – they look forward to their company.
As Christians we love what Jesus said. We draw strength from the generous hospitality which says “In my house there are many rooms” – we want to dwell in that house where there is so much room and where there are so many openings.
Today’s Easter gospel is set in one room in which there are an abundance of openings – too many for us to get our heads round.
- The opening of the door
- The opening of Jesus’ mouth
- The opening of Jesus’ hands and side
Each of them begs for an opening up of ourselves.
In Jesus there is so much opportunity for openings and the resurrection begs of us a reformed hospitality within ourselves. An RSVP is called for from each of us.
A little about each of the openings – the openings could well be a whole sermon series – but today a little on each.
Opening the door
The opening of the door – the disciples had locked themselves in because they were afraid. And Jesus stands amongst them. How did that happen? The open door is a powerful Christian image because of this resurrection appearance.
I have fought a couple of battles in parish ministry. One was about church keys (and who should hold them) and the other was about trying to keep the church open. Like the disciples in today’s gospel the two churches were afraid – they wanted to lock themselves in because they were afraid of their communities.
I don’t know whether you keep this church open. I hope you do. And if you don’t, I hope that you give it some thought allowing Jesus’ words to those first disciples to ring in your ears. “Do not be afraid.” Just imagine the signage – “this church is open” (and all the ambiguity of such a sign!)
There are many metaphorical rooms that we retreat to – in fear, in shame. This gospel story is told time and again to encourage us to open up, to not be so afraid, to not be so ashamed – to let the spaces we move in reverberate to the sound of Jesus’ words.
And that takes us to another opening.
Opening his mouth
Jesus’s opening words were “Peace be with you” . Three times in this short passage Jesus greets the disciples with “Peace be with you”. To his anxious and frightened friends he says “peace be with you”. We repeat those words in our greetings in the Peace. “The peace of the Lord be always with you”. (Always try to exchange the peace with at least three people to remember this Easter exchange that we celebrate this morning).
John doesn’t just say that Jesus spoke to his friends. He also tells us that he breathed on them. When he breathed on them they received the Holy Spirit. “The Lord is here. His Spirit is with us.”
Some ancient liturgies included a mouth to mouth kiss as part of the Peace to pass the breath of the Spirit, the breath of the post-resurrection meeting room – a recall of the intimacy of that meeting with the risen Jesus. (See here.)
And what does that make of our hospitality?
The third opening is that demanded by Thomas, doubting Thomas, Thomas the scientist who wouldn’t believe without seeing the evidence. Thomas said “I won’t believe until I see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger in the mark of the nails, and my hand in his side.” And Jesus showed Thomas the nail wounds in his hands, and the spear wound in his side.
I have copied a picture of the wounded side (pictured above) by Jan Richardson from her Painted Prayerbook. It is called “Into the Wound” and I offer it as an invitation for your prayer and wonder. I see it as a tear, as an opening, as a doorway.
Medieval artists gave great attention to Jesus’ wounds. They were often the subject of their art. Such attention for us seems gruesome – but we might be missing an opening.
Eamon Duffy, writing in 15th/16th century England: “the wounds of Christ are the sufferings of the poor, the outcast, and the unfortunate” – according to which acts of charity (foodbanks, nursing, hospitality) become a tending of the living, wounded, corporate body of Christ.
The wound is on his side. Maybe those of us who are on his side can see our own wounds in the wound of Jesus (the ones we’ve inflicted and the ones inflicted on us). Is there an invitation on this door? Is Jesus inviting Thomas, the disciples and all those on his side into the wound, to feel around the space, to know the love, to know the other side?
And is there a reciprocal arrangement, whereby we don’t hide our wounds but invite others into our hurting world so that we might find wholeness and healing? Jesus stands at the door and knocks. If his wound is our way into him, are our wounds his doorway to us?
This is what Jan Richardson writes:
“In wearing his wounds—even in his resurrection—he confronts us with our own and calls us to move through them into new life.
The crucified Christ challenges us to discern how our wounds will serve as doorways that lead us through our own pain and into a deeper relationship with the wounded world and with the Christ who is about the business of resurrection, for whom the wounds did not have the final word.
As Thomas reaches toward Christ, as he places his hand within the wound that Christ still bears, he is not merely grasping for concrete proof of the resurrection. He is entering into the very mystery of Christ, crossing into a new world that even now he can hardly see yet dares to move toward with the courage he has previously displayed.”
Thomas’s RSVP was “My Lord and my God” – his mind blown open, he believed.
Belief in resurrection is often thought of as a rational process. That is how Thomas approached it. But belief isn’t only about our heads. Belief isn’t a rational response but an emotional one. Belief comes from the German word which gives us beloved. “Belief” is “belove” – a believing disciple is a beloving and beloved disciple. When Thomas believes he doesn’t just open his mind, he opens his mouth (as RSVP), his heart and his very gut where all our anxiety and fear find their home.
Jesus opens the room, he opens his mouth, he opens his wounds. We are invited through these open doorways, into a new life that without this gospel would be unimaginable.
The image Into the Wound is copyrighted to Jan Richardson and is used with permission – www.janrichardson.com