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Easter Detective Story
4-11-21  John 20:1-23

We’re going to play detective this morning.

As we heard from Larry’s reading, the disciples staying in the locked room got word early in the morning that Jesus’ tomb was empty.

But the next thing we heard was that Jesus came to them in the evening.

Our mystery is, what did they do meanwhile?

They’d gotten word of an unprecedented event involving the man they called Lord … so what did they do during the intervening twelve hours?

Scripture does not give the full answer, so we’re left to be detectives examining the clues … and in this case it feels a bit like that famous story where Sherlock Holmes solved the crime when he noticed that something expected did not happen: the dog did not bark.

In our case, the most obvious clue is that after hearing the report that Jesus had left the tomb, his disciples did nothing.

Why didn’t they go looking for him?

It’s a curious thing, isn’t it?

Like good detectives, let’s review the case.

Larry read the witness statement to us, presented in John 20.

Exhibit A: Under the cloak of darkness that first Easter morning, Mary cautiously went to Jesus’ tomb and found the large stone had been rolled away from the entrance.

“Grave robbers!” she assumed.

She hurried back and got Peter and John, who with Mary in tow returned to the tomb.

A few minutes later the two men returned to the locked room to confirm what Mary had said.

Was it grave robbers?

Or could it somehow be that Jesus had awoken from injuries and a bad concussion and was now disoriented and stumbling around in great pain?

But they didn’t go looking for him.

Exhibit B: Then a bit later, Mary burst back into the room with a breathless, “I have seen the Lord!” but still for that entire day no one did a thing to go find Jesus.

Could it be that, in typical male fashion, they smirked at Mary and dismissed her as a hysterical woman?

But, still, it wouldn’t have hurt to look.

Once, when I was a teenager, I ran away from home.

I was only lost to my family for a few days because my parents were frantic with worry and so my dad dropped everything to track me down and bring me home.

He did exactly what you’d expect a loved one would do.

But the disciples did nothing to find Jesus.

The next clue we uncover is that they stayed behind locked doors because they were afraid.

Maybe this leads to motive, so as detectives we ask, “Afraid of what?”

Scripture does say that they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, but good investigators scrutinize witness statements and dig deeper, and when we put this into perspective, we find that there was more going on than just that.

One bit of evidence is that they had not been rounded up when Jesus was arrested.

A frightening moment, to be sure, but clearly, they were not the primary targets.

And another bit of evidence is that earlier that morning some of them had gone to the tomb where they would have expected to run into Roman guards – but they went anyway and were not arrested.

So, yes, there was some threat from the Jews and Romans, but something else must also be at play … another fear.

So, we turn to our detective partner and ask, “Who else might they have been afraid of running into?”

Just consider for a moment that they were afraid of running into Jesus.

It’s easy to imagine Peter wanting to avert his eyes from the Lord if he bumped into him.

Before the trial at the Sanhedrin, Peter was full of bravado, but when the going got tough he denied even knowing Jesus – not once, not twice, but three times.

And some of the others might have felt the same kind of guilt.

Right before his arrest, Jesus had gone to the Mount of Olives to pray, and he was in such an anxious state that, according to Luke, he sweated blood.

He’d asked his disciples to stay awake and pray with him – but they’d abandoned their prayers and fallen asleep.

On top of that, most of the disciples had fled like frightened children and watched the crucifixion from a safe distance.

So, each knew in their heart that they were complicit in abandoning Jesus.

Each in their own way had shown cowardice or complacency toward the one who had given them so much.

And now they learn that Jesus may be alive, and they might well wonder, what if he’s bearing a grudge?

What if the resurrected Jesus is out to settle scores?

Or maybe they were just feeling really awkward.

I was at a ham radio convention one time, idly scanning some of the merchandise displayed in the lobby, when I happened to overhear someone gossiping about me.

It was humiliating to hear, and then suddenly the other person caught sight of me in the corner of his eye and knew I had heard what he’d said.

Clearly, he was embarrassed and pretty much avoided me for the rest of the weekend.

We usually don’t want to face the people we have betrayed.

So, our detectives’ working hypothesis can be that if what Mary is saying is true, they might not have wanted to face the humiliation of seeing Jesus, and some might even have feared retribution if he was out to settle scores.

It’s curious that they didn’t go looking for Jesus, but quite possibly they didn’t go looking because they didn’t want to find him.

So, we can now go knock on our chief of detectives’ door and say that we’ve solved the case of what the disciples did during the 12-hours after they learned of the empty tomb: they locked the doors to hide from the Jews and to hide from Jesus.

With Jesus alive it felt safer to stay hidden behind locked doors.

Think of all the ways we lock ourselves in.

We avoid going where we might run into so-and-so.

We have caller ID so we can choose whom we will talk to.

We keep our distance from people who hold different political views.

While out walking the other morning, the dogs and I went past a little tract house right in a middle of a block, surrounded by nearly identical tract houses … but for some reason the owner felt the need to post two “No Trespassing” signs across his front lawn, another along his short, narrow driveway and another in his window.

It’s not like this was farmland or something … all the signs were out of proportion to his little house and small lot.

I had the feeling that he could be peeking out at us through his drawn drapes.

For a moment I laughed at the scene, but then I felt compassion for whatever fear or shame was driving him to so isolate.

We understand wanting to feel safe.

We do this to keep the world out but if we aren’t careful, we end up locking ourselves in.

Sometimes we stay behind locked doors because of shame and fear.

Shame makes us withdraw from others’ disapproval for something we’ve done or some way we feel flawed.

Every one of us has things we’ve done that we fear others will learn about.

And every one of us has things that we feel make us unworthy – and maybe we’re scared to death to show those things to others.

But eventually we might realize that we have locked so much in the closets of our heart that most of our very selves are there.

Huddled in what had once temporarily made us feel safe, we now are controlled by fear of coming out … not just fear that some aspect of our life will be seen but that we ourselves will be outed and we will be judged unworthy.

Not just that people will think we have done something wrong, but that we are wrong.

Now our fear of being outed as to who we are gains control and so we add another “No Trespassing” sign and pull the blinds tighter.

So, the disciples locked the door, convincing themselves they were keeping the Jews out while actually they were keeping themselves locked in.

But what happens next?

Well, Jesus did what he always does for anyone locked up in his own fear or shame: he comes in anyway.

Look at these words:

John 20:19 On the evening of that first day of the week (notice that it is evening … hours since Mary had first discovered the empty tomb and then announced that Jesus was alive), when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”

No guilt-trip.

No playing the victim card.

No retribution.

Jesus will just enter your heart and break into your shame.

Next, Jesus does what is sometimes called the “Mini-Pentecost”.

John 20:22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus breathes on them the sweetness of the Holy Spirit.

We encountered this same Spirit when God breathed order into the primordial chaos, when God blew life into Adam, and now this same life-giving breath makes all things new for the disciples hiding from Jesus out of fear and shame.

And then Jesus says, John 20:23 “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

We’ve solved the case, but there’s no one to arrest.

Quite the opposite: now we free the ones who had been locked up.

We don’t have to hide any longer, and we aren’t to live as fearful or shamed people any longer, either.

We can throw away the key.

We receive Shalom, we give Shalom … and that very act of giving frees us, too.