Bread and Fish for Breakfast

A sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter. Warning: contains nudity.

Earlier this week, the worship committee made the decision to observe four special days in the Church calendar this year- two of them coming up in the next few weeks. The feast days for all four of our patron saints, here in the Church of the Evangelists- the Feasts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

By honouring each individually, we also remind ourselves how each of these chroniclers of the life of Jesus make their own distinct and unique contributions to the body of scripture that we hold as sacred. Of course, all four are different, or we would only need one.

Luke, with his scientific mind and his orderly account- just the facts, ma’am.

Mark, writing for a community of gentiles that had been converted by Paul- people who knew the story of resurrection, and the power of the Holy Spirit, but who needed, and received from Mark, the missing pieces: the stories, miracles, and sacrifice that gave meaning to Paul’s proclamation of Resurrection.

Matthew, writing for a community of Christianized Jews, telling them how every story, every miracle, every proclamation showed how Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophets and the law.

And then there was John. You know from his very first words that this is something different. In the Beginning. John echoes the story of Creation. He interrupts his narrative with poetry and hymns. He speaks of light and dark, truth and mystery. He makes it abundantly clear that he is not a chronicler of history. He is an evangelist of Good News- telling the story of the cosmic and eternal battle between Good and Evil, and how it was won. And he says, “this was written so that through believing you may have life in his name.”

And although we are in the year of Luke, and we’ll be hearing more from him through the spring and summer- these few weeks after Easter, we hear from John. His stories of not only what happened on the day of resurrection, but of what happened next- of what it meant, in the cosmic and eternal battle between Good and Evil.

And so- here in the last Chapter of his Gospel, the story that John gives us this morning is not a simple tale of a breakfast on the beach. This is John’s summation- this is the conclusion of all that has gone before. This is John’s “but so what”. If the whole book is written so that we might come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah- then this last chapter is written so that we might know what to do about it.

Having come to believe- how do we follow?

This is a story of disciples meeting Jesus. And it is a part of John’s cosmic and eternal story. So not just those disciples- but all disciples. This is not just their story- it is our story.

And John tells that, some time after the glorious morning and evening of the resurrection, some time after Thomas had touched his hands, and his side… some time after all that, the disciples could no longer sustain the excitement that this incredible good news had brought them.

I love that part- I think it speaks to every one of us who ever had an intense experience that led to new spiritual growth or insight- that transcendent moment, that conference that led to an AHA moment, that book that completely re-shaped the way we saw the world. It seems like nothing could ever be the same again. And then when life goes back to “normal”, we might feel like we’ve failed to sustain something. But we’re not alone.

So, Simon-Peter says; Simon-Peter, who has felt the breath of the risen saviour on his face, “I” Simon Peter says, “am going fishing”. At some point, regular life and the way things were before, grabs hold of us. But John is clear- this isn’t the story of how Peter lost enthusiasm for his Lord. This is the story of how Jesus found him.

“I am going fishing” Peter says, and the rest of the disciples breathe a sigh of relief and rush for the boats. “We will go with you”

And so there, in the ordinary work of their regular everyday lives, Jesus finds them. I love that.

But, the fishing doesn’t go very well. I love that part. I think it speaks to every one of us who has felt that fear- that the things we used to be good at, as individuals, aren’t working any more. When the job has changed on us, even while we were doing it. I know people who feel like that, a lot. But also a Church, the things that used to work, the things that used to fill the Sunday School and fill the offering plate – they don’t seem to be working any more. And yet, it is just in this moment that Jesus finds them. John offers us a promise here, perhaps- that just at that moment when our own expertise starts to fail- Jesus is there to suggest something new. I love that.

So, despite the fact that what Jesus suggests is unlike anything they’ve ever done before. Despite the fact that the boat is only built for fishing off one side. Despite the fact that they are already tired, and have already worked so hard for so little gain, they try something new.

I’m not sure I love that. If this is a story of how disciples meet Jesus, then I’d rather skip this part. The hard work, the scary new step, the willingness to try again after a night of failure. But there it is. It’s part of this story. And part of our story. But- a promise here, too. When they listen to Jesus’ suggestion, when they try something different- there is incredible abundance. And they were not able to haul it all in. And this is the moment that one of the disciples recognizes the mysterious stranger giving them fishing advice from the beach. I love that. That when we are surprised by abundance- it’s a good sign to us that Jesus might be near.

And the disciples gather in their net full of fish- 153 of them. And the nets are not torn. It’s a strange detail to include- don’t you think? But I love that. When Jesus is near, when we are surprised by abundance, it’s easy to be afraid that this is more good news than we can handle. But John tells us that God’s abundance will fill – but not destroy – what came before. When disciples meet Jesus, there is much to gain. But what is essential for tomorrow’s work will not be destroyed. I love that. I’m counting on that.

Meanwhile – speaking of strange details to include – Peter puts his clothes back on. It is not at all surprising that men with limited wardrobes, and limited access to laundry facilities, might choose to do the smelly work of fishing without their clothes on. So unsurprising, in fact, that it seems a peculiar detail to include. Why do we need to know that Peter was naked? And why put his clothes on BEFORE JUMPING INTO THE SEA? Isn’t that pretty much exactly backwards?

Why does John include Peter’s nakedness in his cosmic and eternal story of disciples meeting Jesus… of men meeting their God? This is not, in the language of film and television “gratuitous nudity”. This is not “get the leading men shirtless so the wives and girlfriends will be willing to go see G.I.Joe” nakedness. This isn’t even Bathsheba on the rooftop nakedness. Do you remember other stories of biblical nakedness? John began his story with an echo of Genesis, “In the beginning”. And here is another.

Adam, in the garden, heard God in the garden, but would not answer. He was afraid, for he was naked. Adam had discovered shame. And he could not approach God, who had once been his friend, until he was covered. Having disappointed God so greatly, he could not face him, not naked. He hides until he can put a protective layer, even just of leaves, between them.

Peter, too, once walked with God as a friend. And Peter, too, now knows shame. It may have been forgotten in the glorious joy of that first Easter day- but with that moment past- Peter can no longer forget that his last conversation with his friend was a promise, “I will follow you, I will lay down my life for you”. Now, here on the beach at dawn, Peter can hear the cock crowing.

Peter knows shame. And having disappointed his God so greatly he cannot face him, not naked. Peter puts his clothes back on.

Adam’s shame is met with punishment; banishment.
But after Jesus’ life, and death, and resurrection- everything is different now. John’s story- our story- is a new one.

This God- this God who walks on the beach with his friends, sends Peter to get some fish. Fish. And loaves of bread. How can they eat those two things together and not remember the abundance that God has shown them before? How can they watch him break bread, and share it, and not remember that it is a sign, for the forgiveness of sins?

Peter is not banished. Rather, he is fed.

And then grace is poured out, abundantly.
And as many times as he said “I do not know him”,
he now says “you know that I love you”.
And he does love him. And he does know it.
I love that.

But more than this, Peter is given a job to do. Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me.

And here we are. This is our story.
The story of how disciples meet Jesus.

In the ordinary work of our lives, when our own expertise comes up empty, trying something new, surprised by abundance, Stretched, but not broken… we find Jesus there. Or rather, Jesus finds us.

And where Jesus is, we find that we are Forgiven.
Trusted.
Invited.
Called.

This is our story.
Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. Follow me.
Thanks be to God.

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