Formations 04.19.2020: On the Threshold of Resurrection

Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas, c. 1600

John 20:19-31

Liminality is a word anthropologists use to describe experiences that happen on life’s borderlands. Coming from the Latin word for “threshold,” a liminal experience involves crossing from one state to another: from life to death, from childhood to adulthood, from singleness to marriage. These transitions are often marked by deeply meaningful rituals.

Today’s passage begins with the disciples in a place of liminality. They are on the threshold of a complete re-orientation of their lives…they just don’t know it yet. Locked away in the upper room, they’re in an in-between space where Jesus has already been raised from the dead, but his resurrection has not yet touched their lives with its transforming power.

And then, as they would have expected if they’d listened to Mary Magdalene, Jesus appears in their midst. He shows them his hands and side, he commissions them to go into the world, and he bestows the Holy Spirit.

The calendar tells me that Easter Sunday has passed. Yes, we’re still in the fifty-day season of Eastertide, but the actual day of resurrection is in the rearview mirror for us.

And we can probably identify with those disciples, locked away in their upper room with only those who are closest to them to keep them company. We’ve heard the stories of resurrection, but can they be true behind locked doors?

I’ve got a feeling that a lot of us are spending Easter on the threshold this year. Though that is certainly a hard thing, I don’t think it has to be a bad thing. Easter isn’t always about big celebrations. Jesus doesn’t always appear to 500 believers all at once, as Paul reports (1 Cor 15:6).

Sometimes it’s Jesus and Mary Magdalene alone in the dark stillness of a graveyard.

Sometimes it’s the Beloved Disciple seeing the folded grave clothes and finding that that, as meager as it is, is sufficient for belief.

Sometimes it’s Jesus taking the time to address Thomas’s legitimate skepticism and pronounce a blessing on those who have believed without seeing.

I don’t know how long we’ll all be holed up in our upper rooms. I pray the splendor of Easter will soon be allowed to break over our country and our world. But in the meantime, I thank God that we have the technology to read the Bible and pray and worship remotely. Maybe, when coronavirus is a memory, we’ll think about how those technologies can still bring blessing to our members who are homebound or hospitalized or deployed overseas. Wouldn’t it be like God to use—not send, but use—a pandemic to expand the church’s vision, compassion, and creativity?

Whatever the case, I know that an upper room is precisely the kind of place where the risen Christ does some of his best work.

Discussion

• What do you think the disciples were feeling in their self-imposed upper-room quarantine?
• What are you learning about yourself and your faith in your personal upper room?
• How are you living on a threshold today?
• How does Christ’s resurrection make a difference in days like these?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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