Third Sunday of Easter
What a gift the Great Fifty Days are for the church! Time to celebrate. Time to ponder. Celebrate and ponder the stupefying wonder that is the Resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Here we are on the third Sunday of Easter and the disciples still aren’t getting it. Their continued bafflement speaks volumes to the shock of what has taken place. Thousands of years later the ripples of that decisive Act of God can continue to confound us; the church is still in need of this gift of time to yearly reorient ourselves to what God is up to.
Unexpected, startling, the Resurrection of Jesus has left the disciples at loose ends, unsure of what the implications are and of what they are to do with themselves. “I am going fishing.” says Simon Peter in this Sunday’s text from John. This is the first hint in John’s gospel that some of the disciples are former fishermen. When confronted with something surprisingly new, it seems to be human nature to fall back on old ways. The others, lacking for any better ideas of what to do, decide to join him. They hang out the “Gone Fishing” sign and head for the boat, though their efforts prove fruitless. It all seems a bit anticlimactic and even a little lame after everything that’s happened. Perhaps the real miracle is that the church was birthed at all!
Enter once again the Risen Christ, stage right – technically for the fourth time, if you count the first appearance to Mary, which the text apparently does not, claiming that this is Jesus’ third appearance to the disciples. Only under his direction does their fishing bear fruit…or fish, I should say. The disciples, in all their frailty and failings, have chosen to answer Christ’s call to follow him and it seems only in following him will they be prospered. Prospered not for themselves, however, but prospered for the sake of the gospel and God’s beloved world. Narcissism may be our North American culture’s new normal but it does not have a place in the economy of God.
Now, after a BBQ breakfast on the beach and with their full and rapt attention, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the only One found worthy in our text from Revelation to break the seven seals and open the scroll held by God (look out!!) engages in some vocation management with Peter.
“Do you love me?”
“Do you love me?”
“Do you love me?”
Three times achingly affirmed by Peter, “I love you,” for three denials when the heat was on.
“Feed my lambs.”
“Tend my sheep.”
“Feed my sheep.”
Thankfully Peter doesn’t get sidetracked into farming the way St. Francis did with constructing church buildings. If the church finds itself getting sidetracked, as we have so often done, perhaps it would be good to return to Jesus’ question of Peter… “Do you love me?”
Meanwhile, the fledgling church soon comes under threat. Saul’s zeal is “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”. Where Saul was throughout Jesus’ life and ministry we are not told, but he has made it his mission now to take down the followers of the Way who cannot, it seems, be stamped completely out despite the death of their leader.
Enter the risen Christ – stage left – to once again do some vocation management. But, unlike Peter, who needed the flames under his butt fanned (gently) to get moving, Saul needs cooling off. Only the Risen Christ is able to bring the zeal of Saul to his knees. And bring it, he does. Everything goes suddenly south for Saul, everything suddenly shifts, like in an earthquake when what seems solid becomes liquid. True reality revealed to him, Saul is blinded and loses his appetite, dependant now on help from the very people he has been persecuting to be able to see again, to see anew. His zeal, the instrument Christ has chosen for his own purposes, now returns to proclaim Jesus risen: “He is the Son of God.”
Make no mistake – any who heed the call to follow Jesus are likely to encounter rejection and suffering on the Way; Jesus makes this clear for both Peter and Paul. And it is a Wounded Healer that we worship. But, make no mistake, Jesus is no symbolic head of his church. He is active, seeking, directing, guiding, behind, beside, ahead of us, calling us to follow him into God’s good future, loving him and singing praises as we go.