“On the evening of that first day of the week, the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear…” (Gospel of John 20:19a)
The time: Passover week.
The place: Jerusalem.
The scene: An upper room. Locked doors. The stale air is thick with uncertainty about the future.
This past week I personally lived out that scenario with a very uncomfortable specificity.
I was leading a tour group from the congregation I serve as pastor. After exploring colorful biblical sites throughout Israel, we were all eagerly anticipating our return home. On our final day, we gathered at the hotel for official Covid-19 tests (the U.S. requires negative results 24 hours before entering the country). Vaccinations, boosters, and three rounds of testing are mandatory for travel to Israel in the first place, so it all seemed routine.
Then, reality. Excited chatter about our trip subsided into stunned silence as, one by one, 14 members of our group––including me––were shocked by positive test results. This meant immediate individual lockdown.
The attending physician ordered each of us back to our rooms with no chance to gather anything or speak to anyone. We were required to isolate for a minimum of five days, after which negative tests and a doctor’s check could stop the quarantine. In the end our isolation stretched to a full week, followed by more bureaucratic hoops until we could return home.
I’m grateful that very few of us had symptoms. But still, we were alone. Locked in our rooms. Uncertain of our immediate future. Even a little afraid of the power of the authorities, if I’m being honest.
Those very first disciples were quaking in their room because the worst outcome they could imagine had just happened: Their teacher and friend was dead, crushed by the remorseless force of the Roman Empire. Now they assumed they were next. So their fear led to locked doors, as fear always does. Yet just a few days later those same people rocketed out of that room and changed history, facing the threat of death with confidence and even joy. What changed them so dramatically and permanently? How did they go from locked to unleash?
“Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” (John 20:19b)
The gospels tell us they still didn’t quite understand it all, but they knew this: Jesus was alive. That meant they were not alone. Evil had not won. The worst thing was not the last thing.
I can’t quite find the words to describe it, but I can tell you I just lived it: this past week the living Jesus Christ came into our locked rooms and spoke peace to our souls too. I was flooded with a serenity I did not and could not conjure. It was a gift from a gracious God. I felt an assurance that in our own small way we were living the same story arc as those original Jesus followers: Palm Sunday, with its triumphant Hosannas. Good Friday, with its shocking setbacks. So far, that’s just life, as anyone can attest. But faith promises another chapter: Easter Sunday. Our story does not end with destruction but with resurrection.
I gained so much comfort during my quarantine from an Easter sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I felt he was speaking directly to me when he preached: “Some people feel that life is nothing more than a pendulum swinging between frustration and futility, and ultimately, has no meaning. But then Easter comes to us and tells us that that isn’t true. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of the disappointments of life can be transformed into meaningful experiences. Are you disappointed by something? You’re just in Good Friday now, but Easter is coming. Don’t give up. Don’t despair. This is the thing that people through the generations have learned when they live close to Jesus Christ, that Easter can emerge, and that all of the darkness of Good Friday can pass away.”
When situations are truly out of your control, it can be frustrating and pointless to try to control them. But there is still hope when you truly believe God can redeem even those crises. My unwanted quarantine turned into an (all too rare) opportunity for the kind of personal growth possible only in extended solitude. We all emerged from our Covid hotel lockdown feeling closer to God and to one another, and returned to Santa Cruz this week. I’ve never felt more grateful to be healthy and home.
But that experience got me thinking. The Covid lockdown of 2020 has turned into a kind of permanent psychological state for many. I get it. The last two years have been bleak. The world has endured global disease and death, war by a tyrant, scary inflation, division, and unrest. Polls suggest pessimistic views about the future have exploded. Many people are living in a kind of emotional quarantine, listless and hopeless.
Listen. A voice is whispering.
You may feel you don’t fully understand Easter. That’s ok. Neither did those first disciples. But can you receive the simple yet powerful words of the living Christ?
“Peace be with you.”
You are not alone. Evil does not win. The worst thing is never the last thing. All the Good Fridays can turn into Easter Sundays. Because He is risen.
René Schlaepfer is senior pastor of Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, www.tlc.org. His views are his own and not necessarily those of the Pajaronian.