Beyond Locked Doors

Apr 08, 2018

by Eric Sponheim, former board member

A Gospel text about Jesus overcoming locked doors has its own special resonance in prison. After all, in a modern correctional facility, with so many controlled access points, barriers between inside and outside space abound.

In John 19: 19-23, the disciples are gathered on the evening of the first Easter. The doors of the house are locked, as the disciples hunker down in fear and anxiety about the future.

 Jesus appears among them, despite the locked door. “Peace be with you,” he says immediately, before showing his wounds and blowing the blessing of the Holy Spirit upon them.

“If you forgive the sings of any,” Jesus adds, they are forgiven them; if you hold them fast, they are held fast” (John 19:23).

 In the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the second part of this verse has traditionally been translated as “if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

 For Jesus to speak of retaining sin, however, so soon after speaking of forgiveness, would be odd. As Pastor Pam Fickenscher pointed out today at St. John’s Lutheran in Northfield, Minn., the Greek text lacks the word “sins” in the second part of the verse.

 Instead, by saying to “hold them fast,” Jesus may be getting at something else. Could he be encouraging us to hold each other steadfastly in community, even amid struggle, uncertainty and individual differences?

After all, that is what people in faith communities, both inside and outside, do for each other. We offer mutual support and encouragement, in many forms, helping to provide strength for the journey.

Jesus models how to do this, finding ways to move beyond locked doors, to transcend barriers between inside and outside space. He empowers us to hold each other fast, to lift each other up, and (in the words of John O’Donohue) to bless the space between us.

Category: community

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