In our city, and throughout the world during this Year of Mercy, several churches have Holy Doors. They’re pilgrimage sites, just like the one at St Peter’s in Rome, only much closer.
Big cities can be places of alienation, fear and rejection. I’ve frequently had a door shut in my face, scurrying behind fellow city-dwellers, and I’ve likely done the same to others. We prefer our doors bolted, barred and guarded. Only the proper people are allowed in. So, seeing our urban landscape dotted with mercy is an exciting and compelling event. Mercy doors have no entrance fee or interview, no elite list or order. Anyone can walk through.
Doors are entranceways and exits; they’re openings, barriers and passages. Our lives are full of them. Unexpectedly closed or unexpectedly open, they can change things.
Scripture is strewn with doors, too. There are doors for life, like the doors marked with blood to invite Death to pass-over (Exodus 12:13). For faithfulness, like the doorposts marked with the great commandment to love God alone (Deuteronomy 6:9). For shame, like the garden door Susannah’s would-be rapists used to hide their sin (Daniel 13:20). The gateway to Paradise is guarded, requiring shameful humans to find God in the world instead (Genesis 3:25). But doors open themselves, so the King of Glory might enter (Psalm 24). It’s said Jesus entered on Palm Sunday through the Golden Gate, Jerusalem’s eastern gate, known as the Gate of Mercy (John 12:12). The sealed door of Death is opened by Christ’s resurrection from the tomb (Mark 16:4), and so the door to heaven is open (Revelations 4:1).
We humans have doors, too, and we like to use them. When we close ours, God respects it, but won’t go away: “Listen! I am standing and knocking at your door” (Rev 3:20). We’re not surprised by his persuasiveness, recalling the bride in Song of Songs (5:2): she’s asleep alone, but her beloved makes his love so compelling through the locked door that she gets up and opens it. Jesus invites us to imitate God’s persistence (Matthew 7:7), but though allowing us to close our doors, promises his will be opened (Luke 11:10).
Entering church through mercy doors isn’t an exception. It’s a jubilee. “So much mercy!” announces the Jubilee Year. Are there a few, hard-to-find ways to mercy? No, mercy flows wide and deep everywhere (Ezekiel 47). Why not walk in?
It isn’t always easy. We keep ourselves out through shame, like Adam and Eve, or hurt, like the sleeping bride. Sometimes even the church (in this fallen world) finds it hard to keep the door open. One church with a Holy Door felt obliged to lock its gates and add security guards. A reasonable precaution, in earthly terms, but a pilgrim who walked her loneliness and pain over to that church one day couldn’t face the barriers, and left. “The world isn’t safe; we need to beware” — that’s the message of airports, tourist sites and government buildings. The message of the church is bigger, too big for us to believe.
We humans can’t make mercy. We can’t open doors, especially the door to the other. Even when sincerely trying to open them, we lock them. We snap at our spouses instead of saying loving words. We accuse the stranger instead of welcoming him.
We could become cynical and despairing, give up on ourselves and the church. We could, if our faith were different. Our faith doesn’t tell us we can open the door. It tells us that when we reject the open door, or lock doors we’d wanted to open, somehow God can pass through all that, too. It becomes an opening for God to get in among us, and rework things from within. He’s drawn to us, in our feeble attempts to love and grow.
Even our failures, locks and barriers, can become doors for the King of Glory to enter. No need to pretend them away. It’s God who opens the Mercy Door. He is the door (John 10:9).
And God dreams big: he asks us to become the door we can’t open without him.
This grand dream of God’s for us was shown me one Sunday. Each person was given a little bottle of holy water, and invited to make a home Mercy Door. Every time we or a guest pass through, we’re opened to mercy. My own kitchen door, a divine opening! Come to think of it, I’ve been in many homes strewn with holy doors, just like the city. They’re the domestic church.
Is that how we become mercy? Is it as simple as walking through a door — the kitchen door, a neighbour’s door, the church door?
As Lent begins, we turn and see that we ourselves become the door. We enter Lent marked by the sign of repentance and death — ashes — transformed into a sign of renewal. Together, we discover that we, too, flow with mercy. So much mercy!
Marrocco is a marriage and family therapist, teacher of theology, and writer, and co-ordinates St. Mary of Egypt Refuge. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org