I really love this mornings Gospel reading. As a scripture geek shoulder deep in seminary, I hear in the reading a beautiful story of hope, of strength and of renewal after giving up. We have an interesting Gospel reading this morning in that here’s been debate among some biblical scholars that this chapter in John was added sometime after the completion of the original gospel. We haven’t had an opportunity to hear the previous chapter here in church, but when reading it, It becomes fairly easy to see that this could be true or at least possible. The final verses of chapter twenty just before this mornings reading clearly sound like they were intended to be the end of the book. After Jesus appears before all the disciples and Thomas states “My Lord and my God!”, we have what could be considered the final verses of the chapter – “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”
A good ending to a great story, but then someone adds another chapter – which is in itself also great. Scholars have guessed at why this last chapter was added. Some think that it was added to help order the leadership of the early church. The early church had all the squabbles that we have today, and then some, and one of the ongoing issues for a community of faith is the question of leadership and authority. It could be that this chapter was added to shore up the authority and leadership position of Peter and his inner circle in the early catholic church. Or it could have been added to show that the story will continue, like many of the movies today where the ending leaves you knowing there will be a sequel coming.
For me, it doesn’t matter. I hear a beautiful story of a recommissioning, where Peter and the disciples are given another chance, a new life or a reaffirmation of his call. Remember, the last we heard from Peter he was in the courtyard of the high priest Caiaphas, the night Jesus was being tried, warming himself by a charcoal fire the night where Peter had denied Jesus three times. In Luke’s gospel, that moment is frozen in time in the words “The Lord turned around and looked straight at Peter.” (pause) And here this morning, they are together again, sitting by another charcoal fire, the only two times this specific kind of fire is mentioned and Jesus, again, is looking straight at Peter. But there is no judgement in his eyes. He sits and looks at Peter with nothing but loving kindness and compassion.
The disciples are back fishing again. Since the crucifixion and Christ’s appearance to them the last time, the disciples had given up hope and gone home, back to their previous lives and jobs. They had travelled 80 miles back to the Sea of Galilee, no short distance in those days, perhaps a two to three day journey. They had given up and gone back to the place where it all began, wondering what was coming next. Nor had all the disciples remained together, in their sadness and loss they had broken apart as a group too. There are only 7 of them mentioned in this mornings reading. When Jesus appears to his disciples, he is appearing to broken and tired men who had no sense of hope for the future. They were desperately in need of a fresh start, in need of finding some sense of value and identity; to know that they were loved and that their lives were worth something. They looked at each other, they looked around them, and they wondered… “Now What?” So Peter says “Let’s go fishing”, and yet these professional fishers catch nothing, rubbing salt in their wounds.
When times get tough, when we become confused and afraid, our natural tendency sometimes is to want things to be the way they were before, to go back to the safe and familiar. Back to old ways of behavior, even when we know better and we don’t really want to go backwards. We see this in our gospel this morning, the disciples returning to the familiar and comfortable. We also sense that in this return to the familiar, Peter and the disciples are searching for answers, for a way forward. They may have left Jerusalem and all its memories; the trial, the crowing rooster and the crucifixion, but they can’t escape the unanswered questions, the empty tomb, the reappearance of Jesus and the biggest question facing them… what do we do now? So here this morning, while trying to catch fish, they are also fishing for answers, and Jesus doesn’t let them down.
As morning hits, they heard a call from shore. After a night of fishing and catching nothing, a stranger on the beach calls out to them saying: “Children, you have no fish, do you?” and he instructs them to cast their nets to the right side of the boat, “and you will find some.” It is then that John recognizes the stranger for who he is, and understands what has just happened. Jesus here this morning meets the disciples in almost the same way he did at the beginning of their journey, standing on the shore, instructing and guiding them as his followers, reminding them about how it all started, restoring them. When they get to shore, Jesus breaks bread with them again and shares the fish. They enjoy fellowship with him once again. Then Jesus turns his eyes to Peter and asks Peter three times, “do you truly love me.” Three times Peter answers “Yes.” Only a short time ago Peter is asked three times if he knows Christ and he denies it, three times. Here Jesus seems to make up for that denial by asking three times if Peter loves him. After saying yes, Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep.” And in the end he looks at him and says, once again, “Follow Me.”
On this shoreline years earlier the disciples’ found that their lives were changed forever because they left everything to follow a man they thought could be the Messiah. They saw Jesus calm rough seas, walk on water, and watched their own, Peter walk on water out to Jesus. They saw Jesus heal people, eat with sinners, turn water into wine, raise people from the dead, tell story after story, all the teaching moments throughout their three year journey, and they all cowered in fear as their rabbi, their Messiah, their Lord, died by death on the cross. Yet even though his followers forgot him in his hour of need, he still came back, broke bread, forgave them, and called them once again to “follow me.” With those simple two words, Jesus brings them right back to the beginning, back to his original call years before. In this moment, Peter begins to understand the depth of the love Jesus has for him, a love powerful enough to overcome death and the tomb. The darkness of this early morning gives way to new hope, to a new light to lead them, the pain of the last supper is replaced with the joy of a new beginning, post resurrection. With John’s astonished statement “It is the Lord,” the darkness of Good Friday and of the pain and death Christ suffered, gives way to the light and reality of his resurrection. All has been put right.
That same powerful love continues today for us. Christ’s three time call to Peter, “Do you love me?” His call to “follow me,” to feed his sheep, are signs of God’s ongoing love and commitment to us today. If we find ourselves in a place of doubt and uncertainty, and I know I do at times, we find ourselves standing in that very place Peter that stood. We look at Jesus in our uncertainty and sense him looking back at us, with the same understanding and forgiveness that he showed Peter. We realize that we are loved and forgiven, that when we give to the best of our abilities, that Jesus is with us and he asks only that we take care of his sheep. To love one another, to take care of one another, to forgive one another, our three fold response.
Jesus calls us to meet him on that seashore, to know the depth of his love for us, and to participate in a new beginning, and a restoration in his resurrection. “Follow me,” Jesus says, an invitation to fish in a different and new place full of opportunity and hope, words that energize us to serve. The beauty of following Christ’s invitation this morning is that we don’t need to evaluate who,… when,… or how we serve, we just act….. And in that act of helping others and ourselves, we become everything that God has created us to be…. we continue in the work the disciples began so long ago, and we too become a voice inviting others in their time of darkness, to follow us.
To God be the Glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN