Locking up the Church

By Cindy Koch

I know I’m guilty. Keys in hand, given even to me, this is my responsibility. It’s a habit now to double check every last door handle as I walk by, pulling just a little bit to make sure no one can get in. It’s part of the culture of the church, diligently protecting the gifts that have been entrusted to us. It’s part of my frustration now when I find a door left ajar. Someone might misuse this sacred place I have grown to love so much.

I know I’m guilty. Shivering just like the disciples in the upper room after Jesus had died. Wondering what to do with all of the Words that Christ leaves for us to remember. Fearing what would happen if someone were to unlock those doors. So, confused with the disciples, we think this is our purpose—double checking all the locked-up doors. Diligently protecting the sacred gifts of God from the outside world.

But today I hear I’m guilty. Against every good intention I have to keep the doors safely locked, Jesus enters. Strangely, He doesn’t make me unlock the door. He doesn’t confiscate my keys for his purposes. He doesn’t even knock to see if I’ll answer. Jesus shows up and stands directly in the midst of his people, his disciples, even behind their fearfully locked up doors.

“Peace,” our Lord says. Because he knows my worst fear was coming true. The external Word stepped right in the middle of everything I thought I could control. No longer could I keep His death and resurrection at a safe distance. No longer could I protect myself and this place from his radical, non-sensical mercy. No longer was Jesus just a nice story to remember; He was here for me.

But today, I listened to the Words of Jesus in the locked-up room after he raised from the dead. He gives the most absurd and appropriate gift to his fearful people. He tells his disciples to unlock the world from their sin. He tells them to open all of the doors so that His forgiveness can free the world. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:23). Even though Jesus could certainly burst through any locked door or any sealed tomb, He hands over the only keys that really matter at church. And the disciples, his people, are responsible for unlocking the doors.

“Peace,” our Lord says. Because he knows the incredible responsibility that he just breathed on the disciples, his people. The external Word gifted His heavenly keys of free forgiveness directly into our ears so that we will give it to others. No longer could I keep his death and resurrection behind locked doors. No longer could I diligently protect a sinful people from their undeserved eternal life. No longer is Jesus just a nice story to remember; He is here for you.

I know I’m guilty of locking the doors at church, but the Promise of God is greater than me. He breaks into the midst of His people constantly, freeing even me from my diligently protective fears. It’s a hard habit to break, double checking every last door to make sure no one can get in. Sometimes I forget that I’m even doing it. Even if someone might misuse the blessed forgiveness I have grown to love so much, this is the radical gift from Jesus Christ that has been entrusted to us. Keys of forgiveness in hand, given to even me, it is my joyful responsibility to continually unlock the church.