It’s the Fear of New Life
“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear (of the Jews), Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.'” – John 20:19
According to John, it was fear “of the Jews” that made the disciples huddle behind locked doors. Not only have such statements spawned Christian anti-Semitism for centuries, but I think John got it wrong as to the root cause of their fear. They weren’t just afraid of the “other” (aka “the Jews”) nor even of death. I think they feared new life. I know I do sometimes. Perhaps you do, too.
The truth is, such fear resonates through the Resurrection stories. The women ran from the tomb in fear. The guards trembled with fear, “like dead men.” When the disciples saw the Risen Christ by the Sea of Tiberias, they were afraid to ask who he was because, John states, “they knew it was the Lord.” If that were true, their lives would never be the same. Now there’s a scary thought.
So perhaps they locked the doors out of fear of the religious leaders or the Romans or anyone else they were afraid would do them harm. But perhaps they also shut the doors because they were afraid of him, the Resurrected One, the one who promised them new life. Because if he lived, they would have to live, too. Really live.
No wonder they bolted the doors. Of course, if he were strong enough to break the bonds of death, he could make it through their doors—and their fears. He probably could make it through ours as well.
Risen Christ, break through our defenses and our doors. Give us the courage to be open to your new life.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Worship for Vital Congregations, published by The Pilgrim Press.