Witnesses At the Door

I’ve been reflecting on that moment in the life of the Christian movement when we believed our every hope lay buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. We get glimpses of this moment in Luke 24:1-12 and John 20:1-31.

The disciples are huddled in a room in Jerusalem, hunkered down, worried about their respective futures, anxious about the future of the fledgling messianic movement to which they have been attached for three years. Their charismatic young teacher was crucified by the Romans. He has been in the cold grave for three days. We can only imagine the topics of conversation in that room, the tension and fear thick. “Is this movement to suffer the fate of John the Baptist’s followers after his death? Will we just scatter?” “Are the Romans planning, even now, to come after us? Will we share the fate of Jesus?”

So much they had hoped is clearly over. Their aspirations have evaporated. Peter, perhaps, contemplates buying a new fishing boat. Levi wonders if he can return to his tax business. Simon the Zealot eyes his political prospects.

What a contrast to the room in which they met the night before Jesus’ execution, when they dined with Jesus and prayed with Jesus, and pledged themselves to walk with Jesus. Now he is dead, and so are their hopes.

The irony is that even while they were huddled anxiously in that room, the resurrection (which was simply too big for their hopes to contain) had already happened. Jesus was already raised from the dead. Even as their hopes strained out the message of his death, their hopes also could not stretch large enough to conceive of resurrection.

It’s so easy to blame those disciples for not having a hope big enough to encompass resurrection. But that’s really a cheap shot. They merely knew what they knew. Dead is dead. Gone is gone. Impossible is impossible. “Let’s get real,” you can almost hear one of them say, “Whatever dreams we had are buried in Joseph’s tomb.”

Whenever I hear someone say that the situation we face is graver, more challenging, than any we have faced before, I have to stifle a laugh. Our low point surely was at the beginning of the Christian movement. And as we muttered and worried in that room long ago, we could not imagine that Christ was raised from the dead, risen with healing in his wings, and that his death and resurrection had judged even our highest aspirations as inadequate, and had pronounced our greatest hopes as infinitely too small.

There was a knock at the door of that room in which the disciples huddled. Women knocked at the door, fresh from the tomb with incredible news.

Do we hear the knock at the door today?

There are witnesses fresh from the empty tomb. They have run here. They are out of breath. They have news for us. Christ is raised from the dead. This is news too big for our hopes. This is news that makes our doubts and anxieties obsolete. This is news that requires new plans.

Rather than returning to their fishing boats and tax offices and swords, the disciples long ago spread out across their world with this good news on their lips, building communities of persons whose worlds were turned upside down by this impossible good news, communities baptized into the death of Christ so that they were raised into a new life, a new identity, that trumped every old difference that divided them in the world.

Do we hear the knock of witnesses at the door?

“What’s next for the church?” we ask again and again. Just this, this is what’s next: Resurrection, resurrection which has already happened, which has the power to overcome and overwhelm everything around us, to make all things new.

Do we hear the knock of witnesses at the door?

Do we have the courage to open the door?

- Michael Jinkins, President of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, in an email sent out by the seminary, April 19, 2011.