Easter 3 – Discombobulated Disciples!

Bible Reading

John 21:1-19 New Living Translation

Epilogue: Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

21 Later, Jesus appeared again to the disciples beside the Sea of Galilee.[a] This is how it happened. Several of the disciples were there—Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[b] Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples.

Simon Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

“We’ll come, too,” they all said. So they went out in the boat, but they caught nothing all night.

At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows,[c] have you caught any fish?”

“No,” they replied.

Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.

Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards[d] from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.

10 “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught,” Jesus said. 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore. There were 153 large fish, and yet the net hadn’t torn.

12 “Now come and have some breakfast!” Jesus said. None of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Then Jesus served them the bread and the fish. 14 This was the third time Jesus had appeared to his disciples since he had been raised from the dead.

15 After breakfast Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?[e]

“Yes, Lord,” Peter replied, “you know I love you.”

“Then feed my lambs,” Jesus told him.

16 Jesus repeated the question: “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

“Yes, Lord,” Peter said, “you know I love you.”

“Then take care of my sheep,” Jesus said.

17 A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.

18 “I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others[f] will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.”

Loving God, by your Spirit, may my words point us towards your Living Word, Jesus Christ. Amen.

It feels like a very strange time to be celebrating Easter.  Easter which reminds us that death and sin will never have the final say, that love and life win, sits at stark contrast to the world in which we currently live.  We are still recovering from a global pandemic in which millions have died.  Just as the end might seem to be on the horizon from that major collective trauma, President Putin does his best to start World War 3, fuel and food prices go through the roof – leaving many wondering how they can afford to live in this country, but even more so in some of the poorer communities round the world.  And goodness only knows what our leaders are doing, suggesting that rather than welcoming some of the world’s most vulnerable people, we send them to internment camps in Rwanda.  If anyone is in any doubt, I am firmly with the Archbishop of Canterbury on this one!  And of course, then there is the climate crisis, which is already causing immense harm around the world.

That is the big picture, but each of us lives our own lives against that backdrop.  Of course, many of us will have joys which sustain us, which we celebrate and for which we thank God.  But as individuals, there are also griefs from the pandemic, the price hikes – yes – and also our own losses and fears and regrets.  In this season of Easter, maybe bits of life, maybe bits of ourselves, seem stuck in Good Friday with its pain and loss.  Perhaps, it is difficult to know what to do with Easter joy in the midst of such current pain and bewilderment?

If you can relate to this at all, there is some comfort in knowing that we are not alone.  This tale from our gospel has to be one of my favourites.  In John’s Gospel, the disciples have seen the Risen Christ – in everyone but Thomas’ case, at least twice.  They have, in John’s account, received God’s Spirit – as God breathed life into the first Adam in Genesis, Jesus breathed his resurrection life into the first Christians.  And yet, they are still a little bruised, a little bewildered, a little unsure what to do with this Easter eruption of life which is as disruptive as it is delightful. 

The disciples have been through a really disorientating trauma.  They failed and deserted the leader they loved and followed, the friend who held all their hopes and dreams, and while he died the shameful death of a criminal slave, they hid fearing they would be next.  And then, Jesus was back, showing them that everything he promised was true – which is amazing – but they are still left with their own trauma, their own guilt, their own confusion.  This sort of stuff, even in the light of Easter, doesn’t disappear overnight.

So they are at a bit of a loss of what to do with Easter in lives still shredded by Good Friday. I have this idea of them sitting like the vultures in the Jungle Book cartoon.  “What do you wanna do?”  “I don’t know – what do you wanna do?”  “Oh don’t start that again!”  And finally, Peter – always a leader, even when he leads them in the wrong direction – says “I’m going fishing”.  And they follow him.  But of course, it is a disaster.  I was pondering this over the last few days: the only two times we hear of the disciples fishing they catch nothing, but actually, this must have been quite unusual or they would struggle to run a business as fishermen.  To catch nothing, nothing at all, when they were already feeling rather rubbish about themselves, must have been a new low. 

But then, just after daybreak – timings are always important in the Gospels and light and dark are such a theme for John, that this is significant.  The new day, the new light dawns and a stranger calls to them from the beach.  Throw your net over the other side!  And of course, there are more fish than they can pull into the boat.  Memories surface of another frustrating night, another stranger, another catch of fish, and John – the disciple Jesus loved – shouts “It is the Lord!”

Forgive me a momentary tangent, but I often wonder what Heaven will be like and what it will be like to be reunited with ones who have gone before.  Will I recognize them in their new heavenly body, especially those whom I knew only when age and illness had limited their earthly one.  But I think my heart will recognize their heart, and in this we see, first John who loved Jesus so dearly, and then the rest slowly recognizing this stranger, not by sight, but by their hearts.

And bless him, for everything Peter gets wrong, here is one thing he gets absolutely right.  At the first hint it might be Jesus, he goes to him as fast as he possibly can, half wading, half swimming, despite his fears, his regrets, his shame, he goes to Jesus, because if anyone can sort out this muddle of grief and trauma, delight and hope, shame and regret and hope, his friend can.  How often when we are struggling do we hide ourselves away from God feeling unworthy, afraid of what our reception might be.  Well, let’s be more Peter.

Peter’s confidence is not in vain.  This beloved stranger has made them breakfast, tending to their weary bodies and weary hearts, feeding their hungry stomachs and hungry souls in the same way he later tells Peter he must do to others.  Whatever it might look like to learn to be Easter people in a Good Friday world, they don’t have to work it out alone.  Jesus is with them.  Despite their weaknesses and failing, he still calls them and cares for them.  And he commissions Peter on behalf of the Church he will lead to be with, to tend and to feed God’s children throughout the world.

My mother-in-law sent me a little Easter devotional booklet, and last night’s reading seemed like a very good fit for what I am trying to say today.  It reads:

The world in which we live can seem far from the one promised us by faith.  Our faith can be shaken by experiences of evil, suffering, injustice and death.  These real, earth-shattering and life-challenging experiences can be a temptation against faith.  But it is precisely in those moments of doubt or uncertainty that God draws closest to comfort and console us.

We see this tenderness in Jesus on the beach as his bewildered disciples try to make sense of Easter in a world which is outwardly the same yet will never be the same again.  And that same tender Jesus is there, ready to support and tend us as we work out how we can be Easter people in a world still wracked by pain and sin.  The devotional goes on to say:

God raises us up on eagles’ wings, making us soar high on the wings of grace poured out in the gifts of faith, hope and love.  Nothing is impossible when we have faith, and nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

These bewildered and broken men, who couldn’t even catch a few fish, went on to share their faith in Jesus, hope because of Jesus and love for Jesus.  Through them, the message of Jesus spread.  Within a hundred or so years a tenth of the Roman Empire were Christians.  Two thousand years later almost a third of the global population follow Jesus.  The disciples were ordinary people, yet they had two incredible things in their favour – Jesus was with them and the Easter message was true.  Death and sin will not have the final say – light, life and love do, and nothing, nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus.

So, if you are finding it hard to celebrate Easter in a very Good Friday-ish world, take heart, have courage.  You are not the first and you are not alone.  Draw near to Jesus and allow him to feed you and tend to you, and then in his strength and love consider how you might feed and tend to this hurting world.

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

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