Text: John 20:19-31
I once lived in one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in Vancouver. The Vancouver School of Theology, where my family and I built our nest, is located on UBC campus, near the University Endowment Lands. The place is absolutely gorgeous, and the scenery is breathtaking. I remember watching the sunset in the balcony of the fifth floor of the school – how the sun shone radiantly on the snow-covered mountains. No matter how much I felt worn down at the end of a long day, just watching this spectacle was good enough for me: the medicine I needed to carry on.
Sometimes, however, I wished there was something more. I needed a community. Surrounding the school were private houses, boasting some of the most expensive properties in Canada. Some of the houses were like castles with fancy landscaping, high walls and long driveways, which contrasted with the less than 200 square feet student housing where we lived. I often wondered what kind of people lived inside the fences. It’s not so much the size of those luxury houses as the lack of interactions that made living on the campus intimidating. We didn’t know them, and they didn’t know us. Nobody even dared to bother each other as if we meant to be strangers forever. It was equally hard to find a sense of community even in the same building where we stayed. The distance between us and the next door neighbour was just one wall – less than 5 inches apart, but it felt like we lived miles away from each other. It was like living in a cell with useless freedom. Once the door was closed and locked from the inside, nobody knew or cared about what’s happening inside, nor did we know or care about what’s happening outside.
Social isolation is one of the most pressing issues we face in Canada. Research has shown that social isolation has damaging impacts on health, well-being, and overall quality of life. John Cacioppo, an expert in the field of isolation, put it this way. “Social connection is to humans what water is to fish: you don’t notice it until it’s missing and then you realize it’s really important.” Low-income people and seniors are among the most vulnerable to social isolation. The other groups that have been identified as being at greater risk of social isolation includes Indigenous people, newcomers, LGBTQ people, and those with poor physical and mental health. It’s important to differentiate between loneliness and isolation. Loneliness is a feeling of sadness or distress about being by yourself. It’s possible to feel lonely even when surrounded by people. Isolation is the condition of being separated from other people and your environment. You have the desire to connect, but have the inability to do so.
I would add one more factor that contributes to social isolation: weather. The long and harsh winter in Winnipeg makes it difficult to stay connected; it affects the whole being – the body, mind and spirit. A friend of mine posted on her Facebook the other day, “Welcome to Winnipeg where Fahrenheit and Celsius meet at – 40.” It’s rare to see any moving figures outside in extremely cold weather. Even if we go outside, we can’t even recognize each other because everyone bundles themselves up. Here it is absolutely necessary to shut the door tight to keep ourselves warm. During this time, it’s hard to see the faces of our next door neighbours except when we are out shoveling snow. It’s not the cold climate itself but a consequence of it that affects us more: social isolation.
The death of Colten Boushie didn’t happen in the middle of a gathered community, where everyone was seen and heard. It happened in a very isolated rural community where it was rare to be seen and heard. It breaks my heart every time I think about what kind of world the farmer and his family, Colten and four of his friends were living in. What led to the shooting incident on the farm, and the aftermath of the shooting are far more complicated than anyone can understand: the systemic racism in Canada, and how it has isolated Indigenous communities, separating them from their lands, the flawed and inadequate police inquiry, the judicial system which failed to serve justice, just to name a few.
Why couldn’t the five young Indigenous people approach the farmer for help when they had a flat tire 57 km away from their home? Why did the farmer have to fear them so much that he had to get his gun from his shed and fire it? What could have been an opportunity to show a random act of kindness turned out to be a tragedy. It’s hard to blame only certain people because what the incident shows us is how our way of living, how we treat strangers, those outside of our circle of family and friends, fails to serve humanity. When we let the culture of isolation prevail, it is literally and figuratively killing us. The real enemy in this story is isolation. Isolation is dangerous; it can change the way we look at ourselves and others as if we meant to be strangers forever.
When the door is locked from the inside, it’s almost impossible to open it from the outside. The doors of the house where the disciples meet are locked. They hide because their whole system failed. The religious and political authorities failed to see God in and through Jesus. The people of Jerusalem failed to maintain their enthusiastic welcome. The disciples failed to protect their beloved teacher, and God failed to save the beloved Son. Nothing and no one seems to be able to open the doors. There is no reference in the Bible as to how the risen Christ comes through the locked doors. Instead, the followers find themselves already in the presence of the risen Christ who says, “Peace be with you.” And then he asks his doubtful friend to put his fingers into the wounds that Jesus bears from the nails and swords that destroyed his body.
What does this story teach us about our faith? The risen Christ appears when peace is shared, and when life’s wounds are honestly acknowledged, even in the most isolated place we can think of. May we live the resurrected life by sharing the peace we received, and sharing the gift of the Spirit we received. Blessed are those who keep their door locked from the inside, for they will encounter the risen Christ.