“Happy are the people who know the festal shout! They walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence” (Ps. 89). I would dearly love to hear that festal shout some day, especially in an Anglican setting; I hope it is not something lost in the past.
How have you been celebrating Easter? Last week, our Cathedral Dean, Peter Elliott, pointed out an important fact: that the Easter season has 10 more days than Lent. He suggested that ought to tell us something about the attention we give this season. It made me wonder yet again whether we tend to give up Easter for Lent.
In Lent and especially Good Friday, we are accustomed to identifying with the suffering Jesus, Christ on the Cross, but Easter does not seem to bring the same sense of identification with him in Resurrection. The enthusiasm, the intense excitement and inspiration of new life bursting forth, does not seem to prevail, no matter how many chocolate bunnies we consume.
In Romans 6, Paul has this astounding thing to say: “we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” I am certain that Paul had it right, but I am not certain the Church has always had the right emphasis. It seems to me that the Resurrection and life in the risen Christ, should get at least equal billing with the Cross.
In his book Surprised By Hope, which is about life beyond death, Church of England Bishop and New Testament scholar N. T. Wright says:
“…Easter week itself ought not to be the time when all the clergy sigh with relief and go on holiday. It ought to be an eight-day festival, with champagne served after morning prayer or even before, with lots of alleluias and extra hymns and spectacular anthems. Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the Resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?” (in Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church).
Theoretically, we are a Resurrection people and it is the Easter season that most captures and characterizes and celebrates who we are. It not only reminds us but reconnects us to the reality that “in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15). The irony is that this compelling statement from an Anglican bishop was sent to me by an Evangelical pastor friend. Isn’t it strange how God sometimes works through unexpected channels to remind us who we are and get us back on track. That is, in a way, the theme of today’s Gospel.
Today’s Gospel portrays the disciples having gone back to fishing and a former way of life. Clearly, something is missing. As if to illustrate that fact, even though they are professional fishermen, they are fishing, even through the night, and catching nothing. As with many things in John’s Gospel, it’s very symbolic. It’s a pretty dreary original Easter season, as if the disciples themselves had got lost in the drama of the Crucifixion and weren’t yet fully awake to the glory of the Resurrection. Something was apparently in danger of getting lost as the mundane began to assert its priorities, pushing aside the disciples’ sense of vocation. Without Christ really present in their lives, they were working very hard but accomplishing absolutely nothing.
The Gospel demonstrates a very strange development: as John has told it, the disciples have become aware of the Resurrection, and even received the Holy Spirit from the risen Christ, yet here they are in this demoralized and apparently aimless state. John’s point could be that this is what life looks like when Christ is not really present as anything more than a memory. He could be saying how easy it is to get disconnected from your real or true purpose, even when you’re the original disciples!
As NT Wright says “… left to ourselves we lapse into a kind of collusion with entropy, acquiescing in the general belief that things may be getting worse but that there’s nothing much we can do about them” (op. cit.).
In terms of the physical universe, entropy is “the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to a state of inertia; a gradual decline into disorder.” If Resurrection is a summons into dynamic and purposeful life, entropy is the opposite. In terms of spirituality, it’s a deadly trend – a gradual loss of focus, energy and cohesion.
Wright warns us that if we buy into the general trend toward spiritual entropy, and feel there is nothing we can do about it, “we are wrong. Our task in the present … is to live as Resurrection people in between Easter and the final day, with our Christian life, corporate and individual, in both worship and mission, as a sign of the first and a foretaste of the second” (ibid.).
Jesus shows up (a third time, according to John), sees the disciples straining away and achieving nothing and it’s like he says “How’s that working for you?”
The account of Paul’s conversion complements the story from the Gospel, revealing the dynamic, inter-active, personal and transformative nature of the living God. The New Testament wants to assure us that that same presence, the risen Christ, continues to become present in order to re-direct our energies, re-focus our vision, and change our direction.
John Newton, who wrote Amazing Grace, had a similar turning point, in which he realized and admitted that he had been blind, in both mind and spirit, and his lifestyle had become dismal, cruel and empty as a direct result. After his transformation, resulting from a near disaster in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, he spent the remaining years of his life as an Anglican priest, a compellingly joyful man who wrote lots of music and influenced famous people.
The bad news is that, very much like Paul and John Newton, and even the disciples, people often don’t realize how far they’ve drifted, how far from their true self they are, how blind, negative and dead they have become. The Good News is that Jesus comes to us where we are, whether that is in the place where we work, or the place where we hide from our true calling. God in Christ helps us figure out who we really are and gets us centered and focused again, if, like the disciples, we are open to his guidance.
Easter is a summons to be fully human — fully alive – agents of life. It would be pretty rare to get so far off track that we might become like Paul (or even John Newton) and become agents of death, but it does happen to many well-meaning Christians (maybe not “agents of death” per se, but agents of mediocrity, convention, conformity and mindless orthodoxy).
Where is this Resurrection life to be found?! Even the disciples had lost track, but the text suggests that Jesus invites them into the Eucharist. In an obviously symbolic gesture, the risen Lord “takes” the bread, and does the same with the fish (perhaps an indication that the early Eucharist was more of an actual meal). According to John, it is obvious that we find this new life — we find Christ — in the Eucharist.
Late in the 1st or early in the 2nd Century (i.e. about the same time the Gospel of John was written), St Ignatius of Antioch wrote: “Come together in common, one and all without exception, in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man, and the Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break one Bread which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ.” (Letter to the Ephesians, paragraph 20, c. 80-110 A.D.).
Jesus invited the disciples to gather around him and, as was so characteristic of his time with them, he shared a meal with them. Interesting isn’t it that Jesus concluded his ministry with a meal, and then seemed to show up at mealtime (in both Luke and John), in this case breakfast, symbolic of a new day dawning, a symbol of the Resurrection. As Bishop Wright indicates, it is in the context of our eucharistic gatherings, especially at Easter, when we must be consciously and intentionally open to the real and animating presence of Christ.
Some 1500 years ago, St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (another famous “turn-around case”), proclaimed “We are a Resurrection people, and our song is ‘Alleluia’!”
NT Wright continues:
Easter is about the wild delight of God’s creative power … we should be taking steps to celebrate Easter in creative new ways … If Lent is a time to give things up, Easter ought to be a time to take things up. Champagne for breakfast? Well, of course! Christian holiness was never meant to be merely negative …. The fifty days of the Easter season, until the Ascension, ought to be a time to balance out Lent by taking something up, some new task or venture, something wholesome and fruitful and outgoing and self-giving. You may be able to do it only for six weeks, just as you may be able to go without beer or tobacco only for the six weeks of Lent. But if you really make a start on it, it might give you a sniff of new possibilities, new hopes, new ventures you never dreamed of. It might bring something of Easter into your innermost life. It might help you wake up in a whole new way. And that’s what Easter is all about” (ibid.).
Let us never give up Easter for Lent! It is too central to who we are; too great an opportunity to celebrate the heart of our faith. “Happy are the people who know the festal shout! They walk, O Lord, in the light of your presence.” May we know that presence this Easter season, and be surprised by joy, amazed by grace, and blessed by the Life that overcomes death. Let us even give ourselves permission to shout for joy. Alleluia!
The Ven. Grant Rodgers+
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.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
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.”