This Easter week has me thinking about what most of Jesus’ disciples did, as recorded in John’s gospel, right after Jesus’ resurrection. Just that morning, Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and then saw the risen Jesus (looking a lot like a gardener; John 20:11-18). And now the disciples have gone and locked themselves in a room because they’re afraid (John 20:19-23).
They’re hiding, afraid of what the religious authorities might do if they found them.
I feel like we can look back and read this now and think, That’s silly. Jesus literally just rose from the dead that morning. What do they have to be afraid of? Don’t they know God’s power by now?
But I would also like to say this: Religious authorities can be terrifying.
Perhaps when we blame the disciples for being afraid of them, it’s a form of victim-blaming. Really, it isn’t really people’s fault that they feel afraid. It’s the religious leaders’ fault for making them feel afraid.
A few months back, one of my fellow church elders—another “younger” person in the group (which, in the Presbyterian world, means under forty, lol)—told me, You aren’t afraid of anybody.
I got what he meant. Sometimes I ask questions or share opinions in our elder meetings that could evoke a negative reaction. I took my fellow elder’s comment as high praise.
But, of course, in a literal sense, he was wrong. It isn’t at all true that I’m not afraid of anybody. I’m afraid of most people, much of the time. But I’ll still say potentially unpopular things if I feel like they’re important.
It feels important to me that—where I have a choice, like with churches—I’m not sticking around in environments where fear is a governing force. Sure, it may feel scary to put certain thoughts out there in a room where others might disagree or might not understand. But people’s responses to my thoughts at our elders’ meetings have not reinforced my fear. People have generally been appreciative. No one is trying to intimidate me into silence.
I say this because I feel like there are many religious environments that are not this way. Not unlike the religious authorities that the disciples were hiding from in that locked room two thousand years ago, many church leaders today still try to intimidate people into conforming to particular ways of thinking and living.
Most churches I know of aren’t trying to do crucifixion-type stuff, or Inquisition-type stuff. But the psychological terror of no longer belonging in a community you once called home and family is very real. These are, still, high stakes.
What does it mean, then, for Jesus to appear today and speak “peace”—the first thing out of his mouth when he walked into that locked room so long ago? Maybe it involves some of these things:
Peace, to know that God is more powerful than the religious leaders who claim to represent God but do not.
Peace, to be fully yourself, to be honest about who you are and what you really do or don’t believe.
Peace, to know that you are okay, you are good, you are enough.
Peace, to get out of environments where people are telling you otherwise, where you’re made to feel like you’re not okay, where your honesty is seen as a threat rather than a blessing.
Peace, to no longer place yourself under the leadership of religious authorities who evoke fear in you.
Maybe this is (part of) what Easter means. Maybe a belief in resurrection can help make us fearless—not in the sense that we don’t feel fear, but in the sense that we aren’t controlled by it.
So, peace to you this week.