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Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In my Easter Sunday sermon, I shared with you my conviction that “Faith in the resurrection comes slowly, but when it comes, it changes everything.” Throughout the season of Easter, I am presenting a series of meditations based on the changes that do occur. Last week, we reflected on the resurrection’s elimination of fear and doubt. Today we turn to the new beginning offered in Easter’s word of forgiveness.
Jesus’ disciples should have been moved by the good news of their Master’s resurrection from the dead. They should have been excited by the possibilities of God’s amazing power for their lives, but instead, we read that they were bewildered. Seven of his closest disciples went on a late night fishing trip on the Sea of Galilee. Frivolous nocturnal swims. Empty fishing nets. They simply didn’t know what to do next.
And who could blame them? The disciples had been on an emotional rollercoaster with the events of Good Friday and Easter. They were at the point of exhaustion when they finally returned to the Sea of Galilee to what they knew best-fishing. The Sea of Galilee or Tiberias, as it is known St. John’s gospel, was after all a safe harbor for the disciples. For the ones who were fisherman, it was where they toiled before Jesus entered into their lives. And now that Jesus was gone, they returned to that safe harbor of fishing again. What else was there to do? After all, it was by catching fish that they had made their living. The great three year adventure with Jesus was now over. Certainly, Jesus didn’t have any need for them- especially after their hour of temptation when they all ran away.
The disciples’ own moral and spiritual failure on that Good Friday haunted them and had left them with deep wounds. As he sat in the boat buoyed on the dark water, Peter recalled that scene over and over again. The words echoed in his thoughts. Three times he was questioned, and three denials he spoke. Each time he claimed, “I do not know this man.” Yes, the words came back stabbing him again and again. How could he have denied his friend? The other disciples felt just as guilty. They remembered their own failings and failure to stand strong. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus asked that they stay with him, they slept. Yes, they were weak. They failed the last request Jesus made of them and slept, and when everything fell to pieces in the darkness of the garden, when they watched as Judas one of their own number betrayed Jesus with a friend’s kiss, they ran. The sound of their footsteps running to hide, and the heavy breathing, haunted their hearts. Yes, sitting in that lonely boat on the darkened sea, they remembered it all. And they all wondered if the pain would ever subside.
Of course, they’re not alone. Men and women among us carry their burden of regret even today. Reluctantly they hide away where they are neither challenged by their neighbors or the crowds. A daughter ponders the vow of fidelity she has made to her husband, while her parents lean to an easy and quiet divorce. Two brothers seek to enlarge their business. One prefers to embrace questionable business practices, while the other refuse- so the one simply washes his hands of the whole affair. A candidate for political office knows the secret to destroy his opponent. Rather than to stay the course, he willing exploits the secret. Perhaps, you count yourself in the lowly chorus. You have experienced the empty, dark night of the soul, when you wonder whether your life will ever be healthy and stable again, when you can hold your head up high. Poor choices, bad decisions, impolite words, and misdirected motives. You wish you could put them all behind you. But they still haunt you.
If things hadn’t seemed bad enough that night, the disciples had been fishing for hours and still hadn’t caught a thing. Nothing. It was as if after abandoning their master Jesus, they couldn’t even fish anymore. The one thing, the one skill, they always knew that could fall back on, their day job if you will, proved to be out of their reach.
St. John writes that just as the darkest hour of night had passed and the light of dawn was dawning over the Sea of Galilee, Jesus appeared to his disciples. He was calling out to the boat from the sea shore. For the fishermen who knew the business of fishing, the stranger’s advice seemed rather naïve. “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” We read that this was third time Jesus appeared to his disciples, and that this was the third time, they did not recognize him. As much as they had tried to return to the safe harbor of the Sea of Galilee, and to the familiar security of the one task they really knew, to forget their cares and regrets, they could not. Jesus would not let them go. Curiously, and perhaps humoring the stranger, they cast their nets to the other side, as he said, and suddenly they were unable to haul the net in because there were so many fish. It was at that moment, that moment of divine grace, that the disciple whom Jesus loved, recognized their master, and cried out, “It is the Lord.” And at that moment Peter put his clothes back on, and jumped out of the boat and into the sea. Apparently, it was fine to fish naked in the dark, but you would not want to be seen naked by the Lord that way in daylight. Back in the boat, the rest of the disciples were swimming in a miraculous catch. “Faith in the resurrection comes slowly, but when it comes, it changes everything.”
Wading knee deep in a boatload of fish, the disciples realized that Christ’s resurrection was about new beginnings and second chances- even second chances in fishing. It was about taking up the nets, and beginning again, by putting them out on the other side. Christ’s resurrection at Easter was about letting go of past regrets, because God had already forgiven and let them go. The resurrection was about God pursuing them even into their safe harbor, until they were are ready to begin again. The catch was simply waiting.
Two beautiful scenes on the seashore followed that mystical catch in the sea. The first was reminiscent of the miracle at the wedding of Cana at the beginning of John’s gospel, when Jesus turned the water hauled in by the servants into an abundance of the finest wine. The disciples’ simple actions and hard work, like the work of the servants, allowed the 153 fish to be caught. And then once the disciples had hauled their catch of fish ashore, Jesus invited them to bring some of what they have caught and add it to what he had already been provided for them on the charcoal fire. “Come and have breakfast.” My friends, it is in that invitation that Jesus offers you the assurance that your efforts, your works and gifts are important and worthy to God for his use- and to share with the world.
The second scene with Peter was even more explicit and powerful. Three times Jesus asked Peter to confess his love. Three times Peter did this, though by the third time he was disheartened, and even hurt. Peter didn’t quite catch the poignancy, but as witnesses of the resurrection, we surely do. You see, the last time Peter stood beside a charcoal fire was when he was huddled in the high priest’s court yard and denied his Lord three times. So three times Jesus invited Peter to confess his sins, symbolically wiping away the three times Peter denied him. It was Easter’s word of forgiveness for a new beginning. Sometimes, you and I need that as well. Sometimes, we need to face our sins and errors directly, to confess them, one by one, face to face, so that we can let them go and move on. And then be renewed by God’s forgiveness to begin again and follow Jesus. “Faith in the resurrection comes slowly, but when it comes, it changes everything.”
In between the bits of broiled fish, fresh bread and his early morning questioning, Jesus was inviting his disciples to a new beginning as apostles, “Do not be afraid of your past failings and regrets. They are forgiven, so come, follow me.” In this joyous Eastertide, God is inviting you and to follow as well.
During the Second World War a church in Strasburg, Germany, was totally destroyed; but a statue of Christ which stood by the altar was almost unharmed. Only the hands of the statue were missing. When the church was rebuilt, a famous sculptor offered to make new hands; but after considering the matter, the members of the congregation decided to let the statue stand as it was-without hands. “For,” they said, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do his work on earth. If we don’t feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, entertain the stranger, visit the imprisoned, and clothed the naked, who will?” Yes, who will feed his lambs and tend his sheep?
My friends, ponder the secrets that God knows of you and your heart. Trust in his Easter promise of forgiveness. Then heed his voice, “Come, follow me.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.