On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “ Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again, Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
Sometimes we symbolically imprison ourselves in fear and anxiety, but Vladmir Zenchenkov imprisoned himself literally. The book What Were They Thinking, Really Bad Ideas Throughout History by Bruce Felton gives an account of Vladimir Zenchenkov’s fear in 1947. He had lost a stack of ration cards and was afraid to face his boss. For 22 years he hid in his own house and did not come out. His wife told everyone that he had left her. When his wife passed away in 1969 he turned himself in to the police. He discovered that the 400 ration cards were found the day after he disappeared in 1947. What a terrible tragedy, what a horrible waste!
Scripture tells us that after the crucifixion, the disciples waited in fear and anxiety. They locked themselves in a room and worried that they too would be captured and executed. We read that Jesus entered the room to be with them- passing right through the locked door- and gave those beautiful words to them- “Peace be with you.”
The fact that the disciples left that room and went out into the world to tell the good news of Jesus is a primary proof of the resurrection. Their mood changed, their actions changed, their behavior changed- they did a one hundred and eighty degree turn. Cowards became fearless champions of the faith.
Jesus empowered them to go out into the world. He fueled them with the Holy Spirit. He taught the disciples that the first step toward dealing with anxiety and stress is to care for others. Then he sent them out to spread that message to the world.
They had seen Jesus model this antidote to despair. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, he knew that he was on the way to inevitable capture, yet his fear and anxiety did not interrupt his mission. He found the power to continue by caring for others. He even stated as he neared the city that he wished he could take the inhabitants into his care as a mother hen takes her chicks under her wings. Jesus wanted the disciples to see how he handled stress as he entered the city. He wanted to care for everyone in Jerusalem!
There was a man who was so stressed out that he did something he had never done before- he talked to his neighbor from across the fence separating their yards. They had never spoken before, but he saw him outside and began to tell his neighbor about all of the problems in his life. His neighbor offered him some advice. “Take some deep breaths. Relax and meditate. Breathe and try to unwind.” The next day he saw his neighbor and reported, “I tried to breathe but I hyperventilated and passed out. When I woke up I was even more stressed out!” Then he proceeded to talk about his problems again. The neighbor said, “Maybe you should try exercise. Get your blood pumping and your body moving.” The next day they saw each other again and he immediately reported, “I was running on the treadmill and my life felt like that treadmill, a lot of running but only in one place and going nowhere!” The neighbor listened to him some more and then said, “Maybe you should socialize. Join a civic group or go to church. Or throw a party.” That evening the neighborhood was invited for a huge party. The next morning as they went out to get their newspapers they saw each other. “I am more stressed out than ever. Being with people really sapped my energy. That party was exhausting!” he said to his neighbor as he once again began to talk about his stress. His neighbor answered that he should try professional help, but the next day as they saw each other again there was still no resolution. “Going over all of that made me feel even worse!” Then the neighbor’s wife called out to him, “Honey come on, we need to get going- chemotherapy won’t wait.” As he walked away some words trailed off, “Wait, each day you’ve given me an idea about my stress but you’ve given me no idea today.” “So sorry he has to go to chemotherapy,” the neighbor’s wife called out, “You’ve been helping my husband all week- thank you so much- he really appreciates your help.”
Helped him? Each day he had poured out his stress on this neighbor and somehow that had helped? He realized that even though he was burdening his neighbor with all of his stress, somehow he was ministering to his neighbor. Though unintentional, he had helped relieve his neighbor’s stress- even though his neighbor never mentioned it. For the first time a peace fell onto him. He had tried so many things, but nothing worked, and now a peace calmed the storm of his life. What kind of stress was his neighbor under? He wished he had known his neighbor had cancer. What would he have done differently? His stress was put into a new perspective.
Even though we cannot truly gauge the magnitude of another’s stress, we still must do our best to reach out to them- it may be much more serious than it appears to us. It is very difficult to realize how much stress another person is under. We may hear a problem and think that it is not a big problem at all because we are looking from our own perspective. If we use the analogy of our problem being a window in a huge skyscraper, we see all of our problem, but another person may see our problem as being among so many other windows that are in their view. In the same way, when we hear another person’s stress, we may see it as a small window in the context of the skyscraper that we are looking at, so we may underestimate how that problem is affecting them. We must be careful not to underestimate, or be too quick to judge should another underestimate the pressure affecting us.
When Jesus offered his peace to the disciples, it was as if he cleared the fog of fear and anxiety that filled their locked room. That is what happens to fear when the presence of Jesus enters. Many blocks of fog could be condensed into a cup of water. I envision Jesus entering the room and all of the fog clearing.
Earlier in his ministry Jesus had told the disciples, “All you who are weary and heavy laden, take my yoke upon you….and I will give you rest.” Taking a yoke meant coupling oxen, and it was used as a way to say learning from a teacher. To be joined in the yoke with Jesus meant that you would not be walking alone. Two oxen were joined in a yoke. It also meant that you could move forward just as the oxen moved forward in a decisive, planned direction. The disciples learned that they could move forward out of the locked room and that their lives had a plan. Being yoked to Jesus also meant that there was a cooperation with Jesus. Oxen had to move together toward the goal of making the field ready for planting. Knowing that they were not alone, joined with Jesus in an eternal goal, and that Jesus was working with them along the way gave the disciples a new energy and a new courage.
The disciples learned that the circumstances of life do not get any easier, rather, they learned how to cope with the anxiety of life by helping others. Remember that the Apostle Paul helped the jailor when he was in prison. He taught the jailor about being a Christian, and soon the jailor’s whole family became baptized. Maybe this was one of the ways Paul was empowered to write beautiful letters of encouragement to those early churches during his imprisonment. The disciples learned that standing with others helped others as well as themselves. Have you ever seen that commercial that features big red umbrellas floating over people’s heads as they walked around? The umbrellas offered shelter wherever the people walked. When you feel anxious and you help another, you may not calm the storm, but you bring peace within the storm. You can move forward in life and stand with someone in the storm, not necessarily bringing protection, but bringing peace.
Jesus taught those terrified disciples that lesson. They realized that they could trust in Jesus and they were not afraid of anything. They put their trust in Jesus because the things of this world could not bring the kind of lasting peace that they discovered Jesus brought. Jesus said, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give unto you.” When we are filled with anxiety, let us help another. That will be the first step in bringing us out of that locked room, and we will truly be bearers of the spirit of Christ. Amen.