April 18, 2010

John 21:1-19

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

A friend of mine told me the other day that she missed Easter this year. I said, “What? You missed Easter?” She said, “Ya, I missed Easter Sunday. I had a terrible lung infection. I wanted to get up and go to church because it was Easter… How could I miss Easter? But I was just too sick, and my family made me stay in bed.”

“Well,” I said to my friend, “It’s a good thing that Easter lasts for seven whole weeks! You just missed the big celebration on the first Sunday of Easter, but you can keep on celebrating that Christ is risen… all the way up to Pentecost, which is near the end of May this year.”

In fact, we can keep on celebrating Easter even after the Season of Easter is over. Sometimes I think we forget that, for Christians, every Sunday is a “little Easter” celebration. Our tradition is to gather for worship every week on Sunday morning. And that’s not just a random time and day.

The earliest followers of the Way began the practice as a way of celebrating that Jesus rose from the dead early on a Sunday morning. They started to call Sunday “the Lord’s Day” and moved the primary day of worship from the Jewish Sabbath (Saturday) to Sunday morning instead. They celebrated on the Lord’s Day because they had come to know and believe that Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

And so, on this third Sunday of the Season of Easter, we can celebrate at least as enthusiastically as on every Lord’s Day, as we hear (and see) and reflect on one of the stories that the first century Christians told about their experience of the risen Christ.

Perhaps the first thing we need to get our heads around is how confused and disappointed Jesus’ disciples must have been after he was killed. Like the couple of disciples who walked away from Jerusalem and towards Emmaus, they had all hoped that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel – to change their lives, to bring them freedom and abundance and happiness.

Both the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and the ones we encounter today in their fishing boat had already discovered that Jesus was raised. Some of them had seen him appear right in front of them in a locked room. Others had at least heard reports of his appearances from their friends. But I don’t think they know yet what to make of these appearances.

Jesus was dead, and now he’s alive – sort of. They’ve seen him. Some have touched him. He has blessed them, and encouraged them, and talked about going to God and sending a Spirit to be with them and to help them. But it’s all very confusing…

With Jesus as their leader and teacher, they had a life and a purpose. It was a life full of surprises and risks and dangers, but it was a life full of hope and love and adventure too. Many of them had left behind so much when they chose to follow him. But now Jesus was dead, or maybe risen, but certainly not WITH them in the way that he had been WITH them over the last few years. And so, the fishermen disciples decide to go back to their fishing. What else is there to do? And they have to eat, don’t they?

No, they’re not fishing for people, as Jesus has been teaching them to do. They’re back to fishing for fish, and they’re not having much success even at that. I’m sure that many of us have done something similar. We’ve gone through times in our lives when we’ve been particularly religious… going to church every week, serving in the church’s ministries, maybe even reading the bible and praying every day.

One person referred to all the special services at Easter as a week of “religious fervour”. Perhaps if you marked the Season of Lent with extra times of prayer and bible reading, or took on some kind of spiritual discipline, and then participated in all of the services during Holy Week, you may feel like you’ve experienced a period of special devotion to Christ and religious activity.

But for whatever reason, those special times in our lives of faith don’t always last. We get too busy at work, and start skipping church to have a day of rest on Sunday. We get confused by what we’re reading in the bible, and give up in frustration. Or we just don’t FEEL as good as we think religion should make us FEEL, so we start looking elsewhere for personal fulfilment. Or more likely, we just go back to the routines of our everyday lives. We go back to fishing for fish.

Like the disciples, we may believe (or kind of believe, or sort of hope) that Christ is risen, but we just don’t know what difference that is going to make to our lives or to the life of the world.

Of course, there’s an aspect of our Christian faith that the apostle Paul promoted very strongly that says that Jesus’ resurrection matters – that it makes a difference – because it assures us that we can be raised also. Jesus is the first to be raised by God. And when we die, God may raise us as well to live forever with God in heaven.

But I don’t think that’s what the fishermen disciples were worried about. They weren’t talking about what would happen to them when they died, but their concern was what would happen to them and to their people while they lived in the world.

The first thing they discover is that they can’t just go back to their everyday lives. The kinds of things that happened when Jesus was with them in the flesh keep on happening. Whether they saw him physically there on the beach or not, they somehow know that he is with them. An amazing catch of fish is attributed to his blessing, and a simple meal shared on the shore becomes a sacrament of Christ’s continuing to feed and nourish and sustain his children.

And then comes the pivotal conversation between Jesus and Peter. It’s the key moment when Peter realizes how the risen Christ will transform his life and the lives of so many others… when Peter begins to understand how Jesus’ risen presence will continue to feed and to bless not only their little group of fishermen disciples, but the whole world.

Simon, son of John, do you love me?
Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.
Feed my lambs.

Simon, son of John, do you love me?
Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.
Tend my sheep.

Simon, son of John, do you love me?
Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.
Feed my sheep.

Today’s Gospel story seems almost like a parable for what the Christian life in the world is to be like. Yes, there are times of confusion and discouragement… times when we just go about our work of living in the world. And, there are moments of amazing blessing… when God’s abundance is beyond our imagining, when the little things we do are blessed and multiplied.

Then there are some moments – perhaps in worship, perhaps in prayer, perhaps in reflection on the beauty of life or creation – when we have an experience of Christ’s presence feeding and blessing our lives. Hopefully we had a few of those moments in our Lenten and Holy Week devotions. Hopefully we will have a few more as we move through the celebratory season of Easter and into Pentecost.

As followers of the Way of Jesus, we are invited to open our hearts and our lives to receive the love of Christ – to hear and to know that we are beloved children of God. No matter what others may tell us, we are beloved children of God – made in God’s image – made to be loved.

And I think it’s only when we really start to know that and to believe that, that we are ready (along with Peter) to respond in love. We might respond to God’s love with worship, with praise, with showing our love for God in Jesus Christ. But then we are also called to respond to God’s love by sharing that love with the world – by feeding God’s sheep, by caring for God’s lambs.

Through our lives every day, through the work of the church, through our offerings and gifts, through all the decisions we make as individuals and as communities… we respond to God’s love, and we show our love for God when we dedicate ourselves to the work of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

And as much as we do that, the resurrection becomes a reality today and in our world. Christ lives on through us and our love.

Let us celebrate because we have not missed Easter. Easter isn’t over! It goes on and on and on, as much as we receive God’s love, as much as we love God, as much as we offer ourselves to feed Jesus’ sheep. Then it is true… Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Amen.