The Third Sunday of Easter
April 10, 2016
Christ Church, St. Michaels Parish
Today’s gospel reading from John is incredibly rich in detail, and absolutely central to our lives as Christians.
It is so rich and so relevant that I have decided not to follow the usual formula of beginning with a personal story, or lead-in anecdote – the so-called “hook.” Instead, I am just going to drive right into the gospel narrative.
In today’s passage Jesus makes his third resurrection appearance, this time by the Sea of Tiberias, or as it is more commonly known to us, the Sea of Galilee. He appears quite suddenly and ever so silently – it is just after daybreak. His arrival is so unobtrusive that, initially, as he stands quietly on the beach looking out at their small boat, the disciples do not recognize him.
As Jesus stands silently on the shore and watches his beloved disciples in their small fishing boat he sees that their nets are empty. The disciples have been on the water all night – they have caught nothing - they are tired and discouraged.
Jesus calls out to them saying, “Children, you have caught no fish, have you?” When they respond by affirming his observation, he calls to them saying, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
Following his advice the disciples re- cast their net, this time on the right side of the boat; and, miraculously, fish appear. Very quickly their net is filled to overflowing and the disciples begin to haul the catch towards the shoreline.
As they slowly sail towards the shore, Jesus is building a charcoal fire and grilling fish. Miraculously, bread also appears. A breakfast feast, prepared by their Lord, is ready and waiting for the disciples as they tie up their boat and hurry towards the warm fire and the waiting feast.
Jesus invites the disciples to, “Come and have breakfast.” And, as they sit down around the fire, “Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.”
In this wonderful mélange of sights and sounds - sunrise over a shimmering sea; Jesus standing silently at the shoreline; a fishing boat hauling a fish-filled net; the sandy seashore with its charcoal fire; the rich aroma of roasting fish; and the rush of hungry men, exhausted after a long night of fishing finding a place to sit around the fire and eagerly receiving the roast fish and the bread handed to them by their Lord – in this incredibly complex and rich array of sights and sounds the risen Lord, the Christ, is portrayed as the true shepherd, tending to, caring for and feeding his flock. Christ offering his incredible love and compassion to those whom he has left behind to carry forward his Word. Christ caring for – loving – his beloved.
And then, John’s gospel jumps quite suddenly to yet another powerful passage. - A passage that focuses on Peter, placing him very much on the hot seat. John writes, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’”
Peter, who seems to have forgotten that just prior to Jesus’ crucifixion, he denied knowing Jesus three consecutive times, appears hurt as he replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
But, Jesus persists in his questioning, asking Peter three times “Do you love me.” After each affirmation by Peter Jesus countered with a command. First, “Feed my lambs.” Then, “Tend my sheep.” And finally, “Feed my sheep.”
And then, after giving Peter these commands, Jesus goes on to inform Peter that by doing these things he also will be sentenced to death. Jesus says to Peter, “…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.”
And finally, after disclosing this grim reality, and in spite of it, Jesus commands Peter to, “Follow me.”
What a powerful set of resurrection stories – Jesus standing on the shore tending and feeding his flock; Jesus drawing Peter aside and charging him to
watch over and feed his flock; Jesus looking Peter square in the eye and commanding him to, “Follow me.” Follow me and in doing so know that you will be crucified.
A whole lot going on in a very brief period of time. What are we to make of it?
I believe that this powerfully moving commissioning of Peter is very much related to the earlier narrative in which Jesus watched over his disciples as they struggled, miserable after a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, and then fed them a warm and filling meal.
In this first segment of the gospel reading Jesus saw that his disciples after an entire night at sea had failed to catch any fish. He was troubled. His beloved – his children – his lambs - were struggling. Calling out, he directed them to a place where fish flowed plentifully into their net. And then, still concerned for their well-being Jesus prepared a fire and began to roast fish that would feed, would nourish the disciples once they had reached shore.
The crucified Jesus, now resurrected, appeared in love – agape love; the love of God for man - to watch over, to tend to, and to feed his flock.
And then, Jesus who knows that he will soon ascend, turns from his disciples to Peter and commands him to feed the lambs, the smallest and the most
vulnerable of all the flock; then, he commands Peter to tend to, to watch over, the sheep, his entire flock, keeping them safely in the fold; and finally, he commands Peter to feed his flock, ensuring that they flourish physically and spiritually as they continue their journey into the world as Disciples of Jesus.
Jesus is commanding Peter to be the “Rock,” the foundation upon which the church can grow; can flourish; can endure. Jesus is commanding Peter to follow him, with the full knowledge that in doing so Peter will experience death by crucifixion – “someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” Jesus is commanding Peter to carry forward the light of God’s love, not only among the small group of disciples, but throughout all Israel and throughout all nations.
In this passage John provides both the model for loving our neighbor – Christ at the seashore - and the command to do so – the commissioning of Peter.
This powerful resurrection story presents in these two very brief scenarios Jesus’ entire message. If we knew nothing else about him, we would understand without a doubt the centrality of love in Jesus’ message to us. We watch him tend to and feed his flock; we hear him commission his disciple Peter to do the same; we watch and hear him as he appears one last time, in love, to ensure the legacy of his incarnation.
As we celebrate this, the third Sunday of Easter have you experienced your own resurrection story? Has the Risen Christ appeared silently on your shoreline?
Have you felt his watchful encouragement, his agape love, as you struggle with your individual challenges?
Have you heard his command to love an agape love that sets your course as a Disciple of Christ and shepherd of your flock for this next segment of your life? Are you prepared to be a “rock,” a foundation for those who follow you?
Have you taken the time to sit in prayer and to listen to the resurrected Jesus as he commands, “Follow me.” If so, are you following blindly, or are you taking the time to discern which of the many paths that are available to you is the path that Jesus has called you to follow? To follow in courage, your heart filled with agape love.