A text from the Book of Revelation, chapter 3 v 20:
“Behold I stand at the door and knock”
It was no mistake or lack of balance which led the writers of the four Gospels to devote about half their pages to what we now call Holy Week.
7 days out of the 7,000 of Jesus’ adult life; one week out of a thousand.
Almost twenty Passovers had come and gone since he was first in the Temple, a 12 year old boy so engrossed in the experience and the opportunity to learn that his parents started home without him.
And now he returns for the last time – and he knows it. The crowds are shouting, now in acclamation, soon in disappointment and anger. As the saying goes: ‘this is where the story really begins’.
This is the climax, the show-down, the high noon, the crunch point of no return. Jesus has come knocking on the door. How to respond?
The events of these few days are the heart of the Christian message; this is the core of all the creeds and liturgies whether formal or informal; this is the basis of what is to be preached and believed, by you and by me, from the first day of Pentecost to this year of our Lord 2020.
Behold I stand at the door and knock.
The first knocking is on the gate of the city, as in the original text. He offers a very clear challenge to the world of today. Jerusalem as a city represents human society, for better and for worse, something of heaven and something of the jungle, just as human beings are in part animal and in part divine.
See how the Bible spells out the ambiguity of the city: Jerusalem, my chiefest joy, built as a city whither the tribes go up, the mountain of the Lord, resplendent Zion. But on the other hand: Jerusalem, stoning to death the prophets, would that you knew what makes for peace; your life is on the brink as a house built on sand.
Jesus comes to challenge all that is best and worst in human life and culture. At this critical time we can witness some of the best and the worst. News bulletins are full of both, people giving of themselves for the well-being of others; people still behaving selfishly in various ways.
Jerusalem in the Bible symbolises all the potential in the human race, for good and ill. Jesus challenges our society, everyone with power or authority or influence, to open up to him; let my teaching guide your decisions, let my priorities be your priorities and let my vision inspire your vision.
To those who would keep religion and politics apart Jesus brings his central challenge of building the kingdom of God on earth as in heaven, acknowledging the rule of love and upholding the values of justice and human rights. Jesus points out that policy-making without morality is demonic, just as morality without practical policies is deeply hypocritical. Jesus will always trouble the comfortable – even as he comforts the troubled.
Jesus is knocking on the door of the city, he is challenging our society. Will you accept my values, God’s rule on earth as in heaven? And if you do, let it not be just for a few weeks or months (while this crisis lasts) but for lasting change.
And you cannot silence this knocking by killing him, remember.
Secondly, Jesus is certainly knocking on the door of the church which bears his name. The original setting of my text from the book of Revelation is a letter to a local church. The Christians in the town of Laodicea had so departed from the faith and love of Jesus Christ that he is reduced to knocking on their door trying to get back in!
You may care to weigh up whether our church deserves such a rebuke. When one of my elders in Liverpool thought of leaving after a disagreement, one of the others said (in typical scouse fashion) “well if you do find a perfect church, don’t join it!”.
Of course Glenorchy is imperfect; the trick is to acknowledge it and try to improve.
Our calling as a church, the challenge to us, is to stay alert to our task and stay in touch with Jesus and God’s gracious love.
Jesus can be discerned in many ways by us as Christians in this town – in the sigh of a lonely person, in the crisis of a broken family or a job-seeker, in the homelessness of a failed businessman or of an apparently feckless rough sleeper, in the searching questions of an intelligent young person, in the doubts and fears of those who fear to die whether of this virus or something else. When you love even the least of these, said Jesus, you are loving me. Are there really no strangers?
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer asked a haunting question from his wartime prison cell: “who is Christ for us today?”. How can we discern him? How can we serve him? It is a profound question which will not go away. Of course Jesus Christ is present in those who believe and do his will; we are trying to be ‘the body of Christ’. But in his teaching he is also present in those whom the world counts unworthy because of need or circumstance or race or whatever. Jesus is the undeserving, the unworthy, the unacceptable. And it is the church’s constant challenge to recognise Christ and to become, as Jesus was, a loving friend to those in need, whether the need is material or spiritual. We may not yet be able to open our physical doors! But we can open our hearts and prepare once again to be a church of welcome when he knocks.
So Jesus challenges society and challenges the church. But thirdly and powerfully the knocking is very personal, very individual. The image at the top is part of Holman Hunt’s celebrated picture ‘The Light of the World’. It shows Jesus outside a door, knocking. The painting is full of allegorical detail, the missing door-handle, the overgrown path, the serious face. Will that door remained closed?
The coming of Jesus at the start of Holy Week demands a personal answer which only individuals can give – and on which, as we stay alone at home, we can meditate on for a few minutes. Jesus deals with us one to one, you and me. When we enter the last week of his story, as the tension mounts, we cannot escape the fact that it is a story about each of us. The greatest story ever told is nevertheless at this moment a story about you and me. What does it mean to be a human being? What must I do to be saved? Who am I anyway? And who is God? The story of Jesus gives some pointers which have always been a challenge. God in a manger, God on a donkey, God on a cross: foolishness to intellectuals, blasphemy to Jews and other believers.
Yet face it we must; the crucified Jesus demands a response. Is this really good news about God and about me? What excuses will you make when you open the door and face your Lord? I was a victim of circumstances, of heredity, of upbringing – what will you say? Do you hear yourself echoing Adam passing the blame: “the woman gave it to me”, or like Eve: “the serpent gave it to me; not really my fault, Lord”.
Jesus will hear you out with infinite patience and then ask again: “But who do you say that I am?” “What does it really mean to you?” “Do you trust me, do you love me, will you follow me?”
An answer is required. In your own words from your own heart.
This is your opportunity. When Jesus comes knocking provocatively, tearful yet determined, loving beyond our imagining, an answer is required. Yes or no; for or against. No abstentions. Everything to play for: who is he and who am I? Listen to that knock. Consider your situation. Yes or no. Will you dare to open to him?
From Advent (which now seems so long ago) to Palm Sunday Jesus is indeed the coming one. And as we reflect on his approach we hear the other noises from the story. With the knocking there is singing, cheering and shouting. It’s as if the very stones are crying out.
Yes! Yes, it is the Lord, the one who was to come; do not look for another.
He is with us, for even Palm Sunday is now a reminder of Easter Day, since without next week’s story no-one would bother with this week’s.
Jesus is making much, much more than a challenge; he is making an offer. Amazingly the key-holder is knocking, such is his respect for our freedom to respond and to open our doors – or keep them closed.
This is a moment of crisis – the Greek word for judgment. Jesus knocks at the door. Society needs to choose how to pick up the pieces after this crisis is over. Glenorchy church needs to sustain our collective hope and our resolve to be God’s People. And each individual has the chance to say ‘yes’ to this Gospel offer.
Let him have what is his. He wants to be the Lord of Jerusalem and of every society, the Lord of this church and of the whole Church, the Lord of your life and mine.
(As a prayer) Amen, let it be so.
Revd Peter Brain