About twenty years ago, a man named Greg Brown wrote and recorded what I can only describe as a postmodern Gospel song. In it, the narrator manages to be haunted by the figure of Jesus and the grace and redemption he brings, while remaining ambivalent in his commitments. I first came across the song on a Dar Williams album. And though, so far as I know he never recorded it, I always hear it in my head sung by Johnny Cash. It goes like this.
Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heartamong the rags and the bones and the dirt.There's piles of lies, the love gone from her eyes,and old moving boxes full of hurt.Pull up a chair by the trouble and care.I got whiskey, you're welcome to some.Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heart,but I don't reckon you're gonna come.I've tried to fix up the place, I know it's a disgrace,you get used to it after a while -with the flood and the drought and old pals hanging outwith their IOU's and their smiles.bare naked women keep coming inand they dance like you would not believe.Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heart,so take a good look - and then leave.Oh Lord, why does the Fall get colder each year?Lord, why can't I learn to love?Lord, if you made me, it's easy to seethat y’all make mistakes up above.But if I open the door, you’ll know that I'm poorand my secrets are all that I own.Oh Lord, I have made you a place in my heartand I hope that you leave it alone.
What a troubled soul it takes to sing a song like that. But not that different from you and me, especially when we feel used up, broken, and ashamed. Even if our low places are a bit higher than his, most of us can connect with his feelings. If the Lord really saw us as we are, we suppose, he would take a good look and then leave.
And yet, the last verse of the song betrays a nagging doubt. The man may hope the Lord will leave him alone, but he isn’t sure he’ll be so lucky. He is afraid, frankly, that the Lord will NOT abandon him. Like many of us, at least some of the time, this man is in love with the things that are killing him. The thought of breaking free is more frightening than patterns of sin that are well-worn and familiar. It’s a bit like the children of Israel, who longed for Egypt when Moses brought them out into the wilderness. They came to prefer slavery with three meals a day to the struggles and dangers that stood between them and the promised land.
Something similar’s at stake in today’s Gospel. Despite the report that the tomb is empty—and the rumor that Magdalene has seen the Lord—the disciples have locked themselves away for fear. They are huddled in the Upper Room, afraid they’ll meet the same fate as Jesus himself. What’s more, they are ashamed, since they ran away when he needed them most. Only a handful of women (and, by some accounts, John) stood by Jesus to the bitter end. So, there they sit with the doors barred, deep in the grip of grief and fear.
But suddenly, Jesus himself is standing among them—ALIVE! “Peace be with you,” he says, and by announcing peace he gives it. “Peace be with you,” he says, and their fear turns to GREAT JOY.
Then, he shows them his wounds. Even though God has set his body free from the limitations of time and space, so that Jesus can show himself whenever and however he wants to, this is the same body that suffered and died. It is the same body marked by the nails and the spear—the very same body, in which our own wounds are taken into the heart of God.
It’s no accident this Gospel is sometimes appointed for Pentecost. Just as God breathed the breath of life into Adam, so Jesus breathes his very own Spirit into us. Jesus sets the Spirit of love loose in the world—to make all things new.
In the power of this Spirit, Jesus sends us on a mission. As Father has sent me, he says, so I send you. He gives us a share in his very own work, inviting us to go and do likewise—to show mercy and forgive sins wherever we happen to be. Jesus sends us from the Upper Room, with its illusions of safety, out into our neighborhoods, schools, and places of work.
Jesus shows us that the walls we build to keep him out—like our futile efforts to control him—pose no barrier to his presence or his love. He comes right through these walls--then sends us from familiar places out into the public square, to share his love with others.
Jesus plunges us—always--into the risky work of this-worldly love. And, God knows, it isn’t safe. Certainly not if, like Jesus, we don’t divide the world up into enemies and friends. If we share in his mission, we will put our flesh on the line with everyone we meet—and we will acquire wounds of our own.
No, it isn’t easy, and it can be scary. But two things are certain.
First of all, Jesus loves our wounds, because they make us more like him. Indeed, we have only begun to get our heads around the Gospel when we begin to accept our own humanity in light of his infinite mercy.
The second thing is this: Jesus loves us too much—he loves us all too much—to ever leave us alone.