The Key to Unlocking Fear
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:19-23)
Have you ever just wanted to lock the door? Have you ever wanted to just disappear into a locked house and insulate yourself and your family from the world? I cannot say I have ever been the target of religious persecution nor have I been on the run from the authorities. My situation isn’t that close to the apostles’ situation. But I have felt like retreating into my own safe environment and containing my family therein. I do not mean a spiritual retreat or a getaway from the stress and grind of the work week. No, I mean a bona fide hermitage from the world. And yes, though I am reluctant to admit this, there may be just a bit of fear fueling that feeling because the world can be a scary and dangerous place.
The fear and danger come in a wild mix of varieties. There’s the schoolyard bully who threatens you when you are young. And even though he no longer scares you when you are grown you fear what he and his ilk may do to your children. There’s the reckless, inconsiderate speed demon who races down your street to avoid a stoplight. He or she gives no thought to the life that may be stopped in its tracks because they cannot be bothered to stop. There’s the drug dealer in the neighborhood who may be inviting more evil and terror into the community. There’s the disgruntled supervisor who can take your career away without breaking a sweat. There’s the other person targeting your spouse with attention. This predator seeks to devour your home and heart. There’s the unforgiving, heartless, faceless super-conglomerated corporation that will ruin your credit and force you into financial bondage for 151 years because you failed to easily understand their micro-printed "legalese." There are those who are offended by your well-intentioned and heartfelt efforts to praise your creator in the simple worship of everyday living. You mean them no harm but they launch a preemptive strike to make it clear that they will "write you up" and label you with a category so constrictive that it will define you before all others. It is a fearsome and perilous world out there. Gather the children together. Bring your family together. Gather them in! Lock the door! Everybody huddle together on the big couch and let’s turn on some soft music and read a book. It’s not so bad. It’s safe in here. Let's check the lock one more time.
Because of the resurrection, Jesus has a wondrous ability to move past locks. Not simply the chains, hooks, and latches of the front door. He can also move across the padlocks and deadbolts of our minds and hearts. When Jesus appears among us in our hovel of safety he may find the air stuffy and stale with anxiety, distress, and regret. So he brings the fresh air of the Holy Spirit which enables us to breathe in peace. Real peace and not the cheap imitation manufactured by our urge for self-preservation.
Jesus' departure from the sanctuary and peace of oneness with the Father must have been like our trial of leaving the zone of safety. Jesus could not have been sent into a less friendly place. He was hated. He was unwelcome and unrecognized. He was despised. Fearful people crucified him. The risen Jesus sends his disciples into a world that may be only slightly friendlier and only a little less perilous. The toxic atmosphere of the curse still pollutes the air of this world, but the fresh wind of the spirit is blowing some of it away.
Peter is finally bold enough to leave the locked house if only to go fishing (John 21). But he still needs a bit more time breathing the pure air of the Holy Spirit to help him think clearly and realize that he has chores to do before he goes fishin'. Namely, he needs to feed his master’s sheep. Working in the sheep pasture sounds rather peaceful, but it can be dangerous work. There are predators out there. Even though the day will come when Peter will be "led somewhere he doesn’t want to go," he isn’t going to be troubled by it because he has peace knowing that the Lord has already sent him out of the false safety of his own making and given him the real peace and serenity of the Spirit.
Christ’s peace and the Holy Spirit are the wondrous keys for unlocking the anxiety and fear that compels us to gather up our loved ones and lock out the world. I admit that I am not familiar with the precise mechanics of these keys, and I am not as deft in their usage as I would like. I have learned so far that it has something to do with trust. These keys are gifts of the risen Lord and I am happy to let the Lord keep these keys in his pocket as I enjoy the privilege of coolly following him through the barriers and barbed wire of this angry world. But the other keys on the key chain, the ones that lock and unlock forgiveness, are keys that Jesus wants me to carry. He makes it clear that we have to take responsibility for using them. I can use either key and he won’t interfere. I can unlock the chain bolt of guilt, shame, bitterness, and remorse; or I can lock it down tightly and retain sin. It’s a good strong lock, too. I can bind it on all those bullies and villains who want to ruin me and mine. However, I am not the only one who has copies of these keys. Many of you have the same set of keys and you may be binding them on me. The cleverness of these unforgiving deadbolts is that I think I have locked myself in a safe room away from you but you think you’ve locked me away where you do not have to deal with me. We had better use these keys wisely.