“Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Bad news, constant darkness, and disappointment can diminish and distort our vision. Easter, like Spring, is a time to begin again – a time to put our focus on the sunshine and not the darkness. For Christians, Easter is an opportunity to meet Jesus again for the first time. The symbolism of Daylight shines through the Gospel this morning. A new day is dawning! As we sang last week: A new day is come, sing praise to the Son, of God.
But even the disciples didn’t recognize the presence of Jesus because apparently they had stopped expecting to see him. Once they realized he was with them, everything changed. In this rather odd “second ending” to John’s Gospel, the disciples are shown as having regressed, as having gone back to what they knew. Why John needed to include this is unknown, but we might speculate that perhaps in subsequent generations of Christ-followers, he perceived a tendency to stall and regress, and so he added this section, which otherwise seems incongruous in the light of previous chapters detailing the apostles’ awareness of the Resurrection and their receiving the Holy Spirit directly from the risen Jesus.
For some reason they had gone back to Galilee, and, something like zombies, they were going through the motions, and experiencing nothing but futility, symbolized by the empty nets. As Jesus becomes fully present to them, the reality of a new day is expressed as Jesus gives Peter a chance to resume his life as a disciple – as a fisher of people – in the new creation.
Having denied Jesus three times, Peter has experienced humiliation, shame, regret, and probably self-hatred. And so Jesus sets before him a threefold question – at each stage undoing Peter’s betrayals and restoring him to a place of grace in the kingdom.
Do you remember the bumper stickers that read: “Honk if you love Jesus”? I remember another bumper sticker which said, “If you love Jesus, tithe, any idiot can honk!”
The disciples, Peter especially, apparently needed a bit of prodding to do more than honk – to act on their faith rather than just sound off about it. Jesus asks “Do you love me?” Peter replies: “Of course I love you!” “Really?” Jesus seems to say. “Then why are you languishing here in Galilee? Do you love me?” he asks again, and again. “YES!” Peter says. So Jesus seems to say, “Really? If you “really” love me, then get busy! Get out there and feed those in need; get out there and tend to people who are struggling and lonely and lost; get out there and offer a message of hope to young people; get out there and become a catalyst for a true community of redemptive love and gracious acceptance and gentle care.”
The Gospel is always about redemption; it is about the way to new life, but God’s appearances in our lives are usually pretty subtle and unobtrusive. That is why Spiritual Direction, whether communal or individual, is a very fine art requiring faith and discernment, and also the courage to act.
I have on occasion been known as Captain Chaos; some of my family members have likened me to Basil Fawlty. I remember rushing about at a retreat I was leading, running a bit behind and dashing from one building to another because I had to get my notes or my Bible or something for the next session. Halfway between the two buildings something in my head was saying “Slow down, slow down. Stop.” Which I did. And then a sentence came to me: “Let me sing to you.” And there right in front of me was a tree full of birds I had not even noticed (even though I have been a bird-watcher since I was six or so). The tree was full of song and life and I just stood there in a momentary rapture and let its blessing flow into my heart. I have no idea how long I stood there (it was a timeless kind of moment) and I have no idea whether I started the next session on time. Now it doesn’t seem to matter – what matters is that I responded to the small voice within which summoned me to become present to a moment of inspiration. The rest of the retreat proceeded much better, because I felt then that God was in control – and I didn’t have to obsess so much about it.
“Let me sing to you” – it was a reminder that a sacred moment is not something we can contrive or construct, but merely be open to, expectant about, grateful for. As the Book of Revelation says: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing ….” It’s a powerful reminder that an encounter with God changes everything, and God is always near.
Because we are all different, the means God uses to get through to us will differ. Some are fortunate to be reminded by something as gentle as birds or a vision of heaven or an experience of the love of Jesus. Some, like St Paul, need the proverbial shovel in the face (it’s one of the ways you dispatch zombies).
Really, could there be a less likely prospect for being a Christian than Saul of Tarsus? Saul (who later became Paul) started as a persecutor of Christians, a murderer, an agent of death. He was raging about all over the place, manically trying to exterminate everything that Christ represented. Paul was steeped in sin; thinking of himself as a servant of God, his energies were misguided and destructive. On his way to cause further intimidation and suffering, he was confronted on the Damascus Road by the vision of a great light that stopped him in his tracks, and for a time he experienced nothing but darkness. And then he saw a new light, and completely changed his way of life. So it is that sometimes it is through a setback or a stumble that we discover a new direction, and a new lease on life.
Paul’s redemption is ironic, in that he believed he was serving God in the first place; it took a major moment of revelation to open him up to a new way of seeing things. By the grace of God in Christ, instead of remaining a vengeful agent of persecution and punishment and death, he became instead the most important interpreter and promoter of Christ, a bearer of Good News and new life, and his writings still shape and define the Christian message and Christian practice.
You look at many of history’s villains and you wonder what the world might have been like if others had been able to persuade them to use their often considerable gifts for the good of others, instead of harm; if someone had been able to convince them of God’s love and goodness and availability.
The Good News: Despite our preoccupations and obsessions, and occasional blindness, God comes to us and invites us back to the way of life. This is the redemption of God, this is the work of Easter, and this is going on all the time.
The Rev. Grant Rodgers+
RCL appointed readings for Easter 3:
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Revelation 5:11-14 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
John 21:1-19 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”