Locked Doors

Fr. J. Devin Rodgers


One of the iconic images of the Episcopal Church, and our church, is the image of the Red Doors. Oftentimes this is how people identify their local parish.

“Oh! That’s the church with the Red Doors.” 

In fact this is how our church is often described in the Bexley.

If you search for the meaning behind the red door there are a lot of opinions and traditions surrounding them. 

WELCOME. In early American tradition, a red door symbolized to tired horse and buggy travelers that a home was a safe place to rest and stay.

REFUGE. During the civil war, “safe homes” that were part of the Underground Railroad supposedly painted their doors red to guide escaped slaves to places of refuge and safety.

MORTGAGE FREE. Tradition in Scotland holds that homeowners paint their front door red to signify that they had paid off their mortgage.

GOOD LUCK. Chinese consider red to be a lucky color and therefore many Chinese put a fresh coat of red paint on their front doors as part of their New Year celebration every year.

ENERGY. The principles of Feng Shui state that bold colors invite positive energy a and that bold colors like red invite opportunities and abundance.

REMINDER. Although many claim Albert Einstein to be one of the most brilliant minds ever, he. too, had his blind spots. Allegedly, Einstein painted his front door red because he couldn’t remember which house was his.[1]

I’m pretty sure the founders of our parish did not paint the doors red here at St. Alban’s to create proper feng shui in the “bishop’s chicken coop,” as our church building was affectionately called. 

There is actually another image that fits with the red door image. 

In England in 600 CE King Ethelbert’s English law decreed that church doors be painted red to symbolize a place of sanctuary for those fleeing persecution. 

The Church is a place of refuge for us as well. A place set apart for solace, comfort and strength. This is one reason that we now keep our doors open during worship and I’ve asked the congregation to enter through them.

The story in John’s Gospel we heard today begins behind a closed door. They are afraid. They saw what happened to Jesus and they were worried the Jewish Religious leaders would find them and have them put to death also.

While this isn’t explicitly stated in the Gospel, I would imagine there was also some fear around the newly Risen Messiah coming back to hold them accountable for abandoning him and allowing him to die alone on the cross. 

These locked doors also represents something much deeper than a practical gesture. Even the most devout followers of Jesus close off out of fear. 

We like all Christians have a tendency to lock up our hearts. Each person has things within themselves that are locked away not to be shared – secrets, worries about the future , pent up anger towards others. We lock ourselves inside small, closed off rooms of isolation and suffering.

In relation to St. Alban’s and other churches, what might a closed door symbolize outwardly.

First, the closed door says the church is shut off from your neighborhood. As was the case with the disciples, this too is a result of fear. We’re afraid of others coming in and nudging us out of our comfort zone in big or small ways.

Yet, Christ ALWAYS comes to us in ways that we do not expect. Most frequently through those we do not know. It is not only important to welcome the stranger, the newcomer into the Church, but to connect them and embrace them as if they have been here for decades. 

The newcomer is the most important person present. 

Before each liturgy I pray these words with the altar party and choir.

Blessed be God the Word who came to his own and his own received him not. In this way God glorifies the stranger. O Lord, show us your image in all we meet today, that we may welcome them AND YOU, through Christ our Lord.

A closed door physically shuts out the person who bears the image of God, Spiritually a lukewarm or ignoring response, shuts out a person who bears the image of Christ.

This is particularly problematic when the door stands out boldly a red one for example. Red is a significant color. It is the color of the Holy Spirit, it is the symbol of sacrifice of the martyrs, it is also most important the color of Christ’s blood who is himself the Passover lamb. 

This is a gift given for all.

Even the people inside because we all hide in fear at one time or another.

—-

Jesus came among them and said “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” 

Retaining the sin of another prevents them and you from finding wholeness because YOU are dependent on the other person’s gifts. Directly or indirectly you need the part of God’s image that they offer. It’s best not to be the one preventing them from finding and fostering this gift.. Holding another behind a locked door is just as sinful as holding yourself behind one. 

The keys to unlocking doors here is recognizing and accepting the forgiveness that comes from the Risen Christ.

This past Lent we began the practice of regularly offering the Rite of Reconciliation. Before performing this rite I had a conversation with the penitent about this rite. There is a lot of misinformation about confession and reconciliation.

The rite of Reconciliation is not about admitting what one has done wrong so that you can get God to love you or square things up because you’ve betrayed God in one fashion or another.  That’s already done. 

God doesn’t need us to feed God this information. It’s already known. Reconciliation which I like to think has one foot in Lent and the other in Easter is about recognizing that we have died to our sins, but are alive in Christ. It helps us see that the door of our tomb is not actually locked, but open.

Through confession and reconciliation it’s as if God is saying, “It’s getting stuffy in here. Let’s air things out so you can actually breath.” 

The priest then reminds the penitent of what God has already done for you! 

Our Lord Jesus Christ, who has left power to his Church to absolve all sinners who truly repent and believe in him, of his great mercy forgive you all your offenses; and by his authority committed to me, I absolve you from all your sins:In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the HolySpirit. Amen.

The Priest concludes

Now there is rejoicing in heaven; for you were lost, and are found; you were dead, and are now alive in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Go in peace.  The Lord has put away all your sins.

The door is open. Do not be afraid. You are free.

 Now… As a free person you are now free to free others.

As I told the Vestry the other night, in the three years I’ve been at St. Alban’s the rite of reconciliation  has been one of the most powerful and useful tools we’ve used for the formation of discipleship and strengthening of this church. We, like all churches, need to air things out and open things up.

[We are going to continue offering this gift on Fridays so we can let past hurts go and find wholeness in ourselves and in one another. I encourage you to utilize this sacramental act. From a priestly perspective, with the understanding that it is done in absolute secrecy, it helps me be a better priest for you and our parish.It will help both of us be a better follower of Jesus].

Which brings us back to our own doors. We at St. Alban’s now worship behind open doors for a reason. We are a people forgiven, healed and restored. We do not need to close and lock the doors of our hearts or our church when the risen body of Christ stands in prayer.

This morning for concluding this sermon I would like to bless our open doors so that they may serve as a reminder that the doors of the tomb are open and therefore our doors are also so that you and others might know the door of the tomb is open. 

WELCOME. A red door symbolizes a place of rest for the weary traveler. “Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden and I will refresh you.”Matthew 11:28

REFUGE. We are safe here. “If any sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 

 1 John 2:1-2

FREE. This is a gift of love you cannot earn it. he is the perfect offering for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world.    1 John 2:1-2    

GOOD LUCK. Luck has nothing to do with this it’s all about grace. This is a true saying, and worthy of all to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.    

1 Timothy 1:15

ENERGY. We are strengthened so that God’s power will work within us. By doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Ephesians 3:20

REMINDER. 

Open the doors of your hearts to the Risen Lord. He comes to bring you peace and the Spirit of Life. May both you and Christ enter into our church and our hearts so that we may always remember that he shed his blood for us and died and rose again for us so. Nowe every closed and locked doorway is to be opened – a reminder that the doors of the kingdom or flung wide ready to receive you. 

May ours always be open welcoming the friend…there can be no more stranger.

In the name of the Holy and undivided Trinity. 


[1] https://www.iloveureka.com/post/why-is-the-episcopal-church-door-red