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Check out the church ads on the religion page of the Saturday edition of most big city newspapers and you find some impressive sounding places of worship. There, with sleek graphics and Madison Avenue phrases, a few select churches boast of their assets — their choirs, their friendliness, their powerful preaching, their singles ministries, their ample parking, their family life centers, their sensitive child care, and their compassionate spirit. Some churches, it seems, have it all.

Other churches, however, appear by contrast to have nothing, absolutely nothing. Take, for example, the church depicted in our text for today. Here, we get our first glimpse of the disciples gathered together after the resurrection, the first glimpse, in other words, of the church in its earliest days, and, all in all, it is not a very pretty picture. Near the end of his life, Jesus had carefully prepared his disciples to be a devoted and confident fellowship of faith. They were to be a community of profound love with the gates wide open and the welcome mat always out, but here we find them barricaded in a house with the doors bolted shut. They were to be the kind of people who stride boldly into the world to bear fruit in Jesus’ name, a people full of the Holy Spirit performing even greater works than Jesus himself (John 14:12), but here we find them cowering in fear, hoping nobody will find out where they are before they get their alibis straight.

In short, we see here the church at its worst — scared, disheartened and defensive. If this little sealed-off group of Christians were to place one of those cheery church ads in the Saturday newspaper, what could it possibly say? “The friendly church where all are welcome”? Hardly, unless one counts locked doors as a sign of hospitality. “The church with a warm heart and a bold mission”? Actually more like the church with sweaty palms and a timid spirit.

Indeed, John’s gospel gives us a snapshot of a church with nothing ­ no plan, no promise, no program, no perky youth ministry, no powerful preaching, no parking lot, nothing. In fact, when all is said and done, this terrified little band huddled in the corner of a room with a chair braced against the door has only one thing going for it: the risen Christ. And that seems to be the main point of this story. In the final analysis, this is a story about how the risen Christ pushed open the bolted door of a church with nothing, how the risen Christ enters the fearful chambers of every church and fills the place with his own life.

Whispering The Lyrics, Thomas G. Long, CSS Publishing, 1995

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