I really like how NT Wright reminds us
of the beauty, and the serenity
painted for us by the Gospel writer in this scene this morning:
The level of the lake has dropped now,[i]
but you can still sense what a lovely place it is…
You can still get a sense, in the little place called Tabgha
just west of Capernaum,
of what it must have been like that morning.
It was, and still is when the tourists aren’t there, a quiet place,
[there] on the north shore of the sea.
It’s quite a distance from the major town of Tiberias.
It is still enough to hear the water lapping at your feet.
The color of the sky, reflected in the lake, gives you
double the effect of the spectacular sunrise,
the great fiery ball coming up over the Golan Heights.
The day dawns of new beauty and possibility.
That is part of what John is telling us in this story (Wright explores).
Notice how, once more, he draws our attention to dawn,
[to the rising sun]
in [the fourth verse]
as he points to the risen Jesus.
This story at the end of the Gospel according to John
is so lovely.
In part, its because of the tranquil scene.
After the RUSH of the previous chapters:
the entry into Jerusalem,
the final supper shared and the humble washing of feet
by the master
the arrest, the trial, the death, the burial
and even the first two resurrection appearances
first to Mary, weeping at the tomb
then to the disciples, locked, frightened, sequestered
having to touch to see….
This story, by stark contrast, is so different, so out in the open.
On a seashore.
And there’s no rush at all.
It is a resurrection appearance, yes, but the feel is so very different.
It is early morning, a new day.
It is quiet, and peaceful. You can almost hear the water lap the shoreline.
The key figures are here: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin
the one we call Doubting Thomas,
doubting no more…
and some others: Nathanael, some sons of Zebedee
and two other disciples.
Companions, friends, who had been through angst and rage
through fear and trembling,
formerly locked in a room, now out, on the lakeshore
with a fresh breeze and the rising sun facing them.
So the feel is completely different.
A few other things seem to be quite different, too.
If you are asking yourself “Why had they gone fishing?”
you would be raising a good point.
That labor doesn’t fit, really, either.
One minute, huddled and scared in an “undisclosed location”
the next minute out here, free and alive and….fishing.
Some have argued that maybe these differences are a later addition
or at least a story from a different collection
than the others. And they might be right.
John seems to end things rather nicely for us,
just before this reading, at the end of the last chapter
when he says this:
“Now Jesus did many other signs
in the presence of his disciples,
which are not written in this book.
But these are written so that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God,
and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
Seems like a good ending to me, the end of Chapter 20…
but then John goes on and tells us THIS story…
Its all a bit odd.
But then I think a bit about who these characters were,
and it makes more sense to me.
Simon Peter, Thomas, the others: they were fishermen.
Peter, you may remember, ran a fishing business in Bethsaida,
John told us that way back at the beginning.
And along with James and John (the Sons of Zebedee)
they are key figures of many of the fishing stories of the Gospels.
Fishing was Peter’s livelihood. It was who he was.
To be on the sea, standing on a boat,
rocking on the waves, net in his hands.
Why had they gone fishing?
Because Peter declared that he was going fishing,
and the others joined him.
Peter, it seemed, wanted to get on with his life.
To do the next thing,
since that last thing, resurrection or not,
seemed to have reached some conclusion.
Peter wanted to get on with it, and for him, it was to return to the life he knew.
For these disciples, that familiar world would be on the sea,
fishing for fish.
It is a common and an often good reaction,
after experiencing something that DISRUPTS us,
to try to re-orient ourselves by going back what we know.
When we are DISRUPTED, DISORIENTED
the first thing to do is to root ourselves in things we know and understand.
We are taught, when we are lost, to find a familiar landmark
to situate ourselves on the map
or if you don’t have a map,
to push that button on our phone that centers you on your location.
Or maybe we have learned
to find someone we recognize or trust—a police officer, say
or a gas station attendant
who can help give us directions.
Sometimes, after a long cold or flu,
or after a long time away on a business trip or even a vacation
I want nothing else than to get out
and back into my routine
to sleep in my bed on a regular schedule
to get back to basics.
This is a common human emotion, I think.
To turn to what we know, what we can rely on,
what we think is secure and comforting and true to what we are
in times of INSECURITY or DISRUPTION.
I think that’s why Peter wanted to go fishing. Peter knew fishing.
And that’s why the others went with him, too.
But here’s the catch:
contrary to what they were hoping for, it didn’t work.
These FISHERMEN knew the sea. They were old hands.
They knew where the fish congregated,
They knew where you could normally find shoals.
They knew how to cast the net, the right touch to have it fly just right.
It should have been easy for them.
But they worked all night and took in NOTHING. Nothing.
And they knew, as Fishermen know, that if the catch didn’t come in at night,
that they were far less likely to reap any harvest by day.
There’s a reason why most fishing boats come in after a night’s work.
But then, the dawn breaks, and the sky and the sea fill with color
and perhaps as they were stretching and shivering
and shaking off the night’s cold
and they were tired from their labor and from, lets face it,
staying up all night
all for naught
and they were ready to head back in….for food and for rest.
And it is at THAT moment….that Jesus comes again.
Just like the previous appearances of the risen Christ,
there is the familiar-to-us-now moment of miscomprehension,
where they didn’t recognize them, he was just some guy on the shore.
But Jesus, as he first did to Mary, and then to the locked-in disciples,
Jesus speaks to them a word of greeting and direction.
Try the other side, the right side, of the boat…
And they fill their nets. And their eyes open again.
And once again….
Peter and Thomas and Nathanael and the others are DISRUPTED….
The disciples come to shore, and Jesus is there,
already with plenty of fish over the charcoal fire,
cooking them breakfast.
“Come and eat” he says to them.
Bread, and fish, broken and shared.
DISRUPTION….and comfort food
a moment of renewal after a long, tiring night of work.
How very peaceful and serene and healing that must have been.
It must have been so frustrating for Peter and the others
to have gone back to fishing, seeking something NORMAL
and to have gotten… NOTHING.
Only to be greeted once again by the LORD who loves them
and who equips them
and enables them to find a new NORMAL
a new sense of COMFORT
a deeper and more abiding sense of REST.
All through an invitation, a kind word,
and the sharing of food on the lakeshore.
After all of this, after the disciples
speak to Jesus and he empowers them to catch fish again
and they go ashore and eat breakfast
after all of that, there’s this back and forth with Peter.
Peter, who are you? Peter, are you my disciple?
Peter, do you love me?
Yes Lord. Yes I do. Yes, I will feed your people.
Yes, I will, please trust me this time,
I know I denied you three times
I know I’m trying to return to life the way it was
unchanged from following you
I know, I know,
but I love you, Jesus.
It sounds pretty intense.
But it also sounds like Peter has been renewed.
He’s been equipped for this new future
ready to getting back to fishing for people
ready to follow Jesus into the new realm of God.
And it all began with eating breakfast first,
the sharing of a meal together
the breaking of the bread and the friendship and trust that is shared
in a common meal together.
There are probably others, you may have others,
but I see two things to highlight for us this Easter season.
First, after the TUMULT of holy week, after the FANFARE of Easter morning
after not only the shocking encounter at the tomb
but also: after the Easter Ham has been cooked and eaten
and the chocolate bunny hangover has been slept through
and the bonnets repacked for another year
what temptation it is for us to go back to what we know,
what we find NORMAL
what we think gives us COMFORT.
If this Gospel story speaks to THAT tendency in our lives,
it is to say that Jesus encourages us to understand that
even when we think that Easter is DONE, and PAST
understand that the resurrected LORD can still show up and ENLIVEN us
with miracles in the midst of the ordinary
and FOOD for our bodies and our spirits.
A friend of mine calls this the tendency of the Holy Spirit
to “smack us upside the head with glory.”
Don’t get so settled, so comfortable, that you don’t think God might not show up
with a different plan for your day.
And, second, there is just something about the amazing power of food
food harvested and food shared,
that can bring about the most amazing LOVE and POWER of GOD.
One week a few years ago,
sometime during the season of Easter,
I had been in Louisville
at a Presbyterian Mission Agency board meeting
listening to stories about the incredible things, frankly,
your gifts are enabling around the world—
feeding the hungry
rebuilding communities struck by disaster
promoting peace and justice in dangerous lands,
and…looking over budget reports and docket agendas
and the whole nine yards.
But it was a meeting: reports and budgets and budgets and reports and yawn.
And I was ready, by Friday, to get back to NORMAL….
To fly home and see my kids and my wife
and to sleep in my own bed.
But before I left, the young adult leader for the Mission Agency
invited some of us to join a crew down at Briargate Presbyterian Church.
This was a church that had experienced decline and membership attrition
and mission confusion—not really sure what to do or to be.
And when I got there, in Shively, Kentucky,
about 25 minutes outside of Louisville,
I saw the most amazing thing: a community garden,
plots lovingly dug and marked and fertilized and prepared
on the grounds of Briargate Presbyterian Church
their church lawn, once grass
now patches of broccoli and cauliflower and strawberry and beans
a new effort to engage the hungry in their neighborhood
to feed them with good food
to extend Christ’s love and witness to the world
to stand with the Risen Jesus to say that
DEATH does NOT win.
It’s amazing, seeing a teetering community not obsessed about their troubles
but alive in the work of a community garden.
And there, around food being harvested and prepared and given away,
I saw the risen Lord again…..
Easter may be several weeks behind us by now,
but Easter is not over. Easter is never over. Not really.
This is an EASTER world, a world of resurrection possibility
where Christ can come to us at ANY TIME
and remind us of the power of love to transform the WORLD.
Whether we are DISRUPTED or seeking COMFORT.
Whether we are ready for it or running from it.
Christ is NOT done with us yet.
And for that, we can be so grateful to God.
So my prayer for us this day
is that we might be renewed by Jesus’ presence here,
in our midst,
through our meals shared
through our love for one another
and once renewed,
may we seek to ALWAYS be open
to God’s DISRUPTIVE, COMFORTING love
and may we seek to SHARE it
so that others will see in us
the RISEN and LIVING lord.
May it be so.
[i] NT Wright, John for Everyone Part Two Chapters 11-21 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) 156-157. This sermon is a reworking of a meditation I wrote for Southminster Presbyterian Church on April 14, 2013, called “Breakfast.”
Image: Duccio di Buoninsegna, Christ at the Sea of Galilee, detail from Maesta Altarpiece in the Cathedral of Siena (1308-1311). Tempera on panel. Wikimedia Commons. – See more at: http://blog.spu.edu/lectio/epilogue-and-restoration-joyous-new-life-john-211-25/#sthash.xUzeqCJk.dpuf