Meg Peery McLaughlin
May 3, 2020
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. 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.3Simon 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.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6He 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.7That 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 lake. 8But 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.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus 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. 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 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.’ 16A 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.’17He 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. 18Very 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.’ 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’
Right now our kindergartners are learning what the teacher calls “sentence starters.”
In the beginning of the story. . .
At the end.
John’s sentence starter here, in the first verse of chapter, is just, hysterical in its understatement[i].
After these things, he begins. What things?
Oh, just some of the most defining events in salvation history.
The incarnate One strung up on a tree by the empire, crucified, died.
The empty tomb, the Risen Lord speaking Mary’s name in the garden, then appearing to his friends breathing peace, Thomas missing it and then getting a chance to touch the wounds of his Lord and his God.
So, yeah, after those things, Peter and six of his buddies are on the beach.
Without this awful virus, I’m not sure I would have paid a lot of attention to Peter’s words to them,
“I’m going fishing” he says.
Some scholars point out that Peter was a fisherman before he was a disciple. And that is true.
But I don’t think that’s the whole of it. It seems to me, this scene is telegraphing the grief of it all—. Peter has just experienced trauma, life has been turned upside down and inside out and he hasn’t had space to make sense of what he’s seen, so, he says “I’m going fishing.” Like all of us, when he doesn’t know what to do, he just does what he knows how to do with numbing regularity. Peter goes out on the water all night, and finds no fish, just darkness.
We are in the church season of Easter—still trying to make sense of what it means that Jesus is alive, wounds still showing, breathing peace, showing up in our paths. And this Easter we do so in the midst of global trauma, our routines and economies and lives all turned upside down and inside out. I can’t help but hear us echo Peter. “I’m going fishing.” We say. And we have, have we not?
In our grief right now, we have turned to the things we know how to do.
We go outside. Walk in the woods. Fish. My news feeds are full of images like this. We’ve found ways to cope. Ways to grieve. We’ve returned to old hobbies or made new ones to pass the time. “I’m going fishing,” we have said, retreating away from our these things, sailing into isolation. We can’t figure it all out right now and we don’t have control over much of anything it seems, so we go into the grief. We go fishing.
And wouldn’t you know it. Jesus does what Jesus does. He shows up and enters the scene.
He calls out to his friends and gets bread ready for them on the shore, of course, there is bread.
That small group of disciples gather around the fire. It’s a charcoal fire, John says.
The smoke of it filling Peter’s nostrils. Smell is the most powerful of our senses.
I bet Peter didn’t need the fire to take him back to the memory. The memory of the other charcoal fire where he’d warmed himself that Friday night; there in the courtyard of the high priest, when he denied knowing Jesus three times. Peter was standing by a charcoal fire when the cock crowed.
But around this fire, Jesus doesn’t speak of Peter’s spectacular failure nor ask for an apology. Jesus never focuses on people’s dirty pasts. He doesn’t say where were you on the worst day of my life? How can I be sure you won’t betray me again?[ii]
No, what Jesus does is feed Peter some bread, call him by his full name, and ask him three times, “Do you love me?” Three times to undo those three denials, making way for another chance. Peter gets to say yes, Lord over and over, to which Jesus gives him another call: “feed my sheep.” Go, take care of my flock. And if you listened to John Roger’s sermon last week, you know that is exactly what Peter gets up from that breakfast table to do.
It’s one of the most beautiful moments in scripture, I think.
As Scholar N.T. Wright says:
If you are going to do any single solitary thing as a follower of Jesus, it is built on this:
Somewhere, deep down inside, there is a love for Jesus, and though goodness knows you’ve let him down enough times, he wants to find that love, to give you a chance to express it, to heal the hurts of the past, and give you new work to do.
We have been slowly reading the Harry Potter books to our daughter Naomi. We just finished book three. Though it is still a ways off for us, in the seventh and final book, there is a scene where Ron Weasley gets in a huge argument with his two best friends, Harry and Hermione and leaves them. It’s a scene filled with betrayal and grief. A small magical tool eventually guides Ron back to his friends. It’s called a deluminator. Also known as the put-outer, it is a device used by Albus Dumbledore to remove light sources from his immediate surroundings, as well as bestow them. In this final book Ron discovers that this deluminator also helps him make his way back to his friends when he can’t find the path back. It lights his way. Once all three friends are reunited,
Dumbledore knew what he was doing when he gave me the deluminator didn’t he? He—well—Ron’s ears turned bright red and he became engrossed in a piece of grass at his feet, which he prodded with his toe, “he must have known I’d run out on you.” “No,” Harry corrected him. “He must have known that you’d always want to come back.[iii]”
No matter how far I wander away,
no matter how lost I get in my escape from the mess of this world
no matter how deeply I am grieving
I still want to come back
and if I understand the text, Jesus will always always give me that chance
and give me work to do when I get there.
Here’s what I want to say today.
Jesus is in the habit
of entering into our grief
and calling us back into love-based discipleship.
Over and over again.
He takes less than perfect people
off doing their own thing in the dark
and re-deploys them for ministry.
And he’ll do the same now. I trust that. For you. For me. For this church.
After these things,
and I would wager, even in the midst of these things,
Jesus will stand at the shore of our grief,
Call to us on our bikes and hikes
call to us with our dogs and puzzles
call to us while we’re scrolling and social distancing
We’ll come back, his light will guide us.
Jesus will re-deploy the church, our church, for ministry
to feed his sheep
and tend his lambs.
To care for his flock all around us in this community.
It will be hard work.
But we will do it,
we love him.
Isn’t that true?
We love him.
We love him.
[i] Becca Gillespie Messman
[ii] Frances Taylor Gench
[iii] Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pg. 391