The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer
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Reflection for the third Sunday in the season of Easter                                 

Based on John 21: 1-19

Opening Prayer: Holy, gracious and amazing God, may the words on my lips and the thoughts and feelings in our hearts and our minds and our bodies, may all of it be acceptable in your site as we reflect together on the meaning of your stories of the risen Christ for our lives here and now. May it be so, amen.

Our readings from John’s gospel on this third Sunday in the season of Easter could take us in a few different directions as we consider the interplay between the various images and themes of darkness and light; of leading and following; of abundance and scarcity; of reciprocal hospitality; of betrayal and forgiveness; of believing and belonging; of renewal and restoration in community; and/or of bearing witness to the presence of the risen Christ in our midst.

First and foremost, though, these stories remind me of some of my experiences of the annual Easter Sunday sunrise service on the beach at Okanagan Lake hosted by the congregation from the Naramata Community Church. This service includes, no less, a charcoal fire where everyone can warm their hands and feet.

As darkness segues into light a ‘stranger’ on the shore calls out to someone who just happens to be out fishing on the lake and enquires as to the catch.   Re-enacting some parts of this morning’s readings, the rowboat is then tied up at the dock, and, as invited, the fisherman comes and adds his fish to that fish and bread previously prepared. All of this happens just as we start to feel the warm sun rise over the mountains behind us.

It’s a time and a place for those gathered, where belief and belonging is strengthened, and where unconditional hospitality in community is offered in the sharing of bread and fish and of biblical story.

Restored, renewed, and reconciled to one another, the participants are then commissioned to go and share the good news that Jesus lives with any and all they encounter. And so they do! Some go to the church to decorate Easter eggs and share hot cross buns and others, who knows where?   Somewhere!

Perhaps you have had a similar experience of an Easter Sunday sunrise service? Perhaps, say, at Cultus Lake or at the Sunshine Coast, or on Saltspring or Gambier or Gabriola Island? Or in some other place, say like at the beach in Hawaii or Mexico?

Coming back to the biblical stories, images, and themes at hand, we recall that scholars think this additional chapter’s main purpose is for tying up loose ends; loose ends that help Jesus’ faithful ones move out of their experiences of betrayal and trauma and into the building up of the early church. How does that happen exactly?

At the start of this morning’s story, Simon, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, and the unnamed beloved disciple do what any of us might do in the aftermath of a crisis. They go back home to Galilee and pick up the threads of what they had previously been about. For those six or seven, this includes fishing on the Sea of Tiberius.  

As night gives way to early morning, we are told the fishing isn’t going well…..until that is, a ‘stranger’ on the shore instructs the men to cast their net on the right side of the boat. In following that instruction, a miracle happens! An abundance of fish (153 in all!) find their way into the net.

Immediately the unnamed beloved disciple immediately recognizes the stranger: “It is the Lord!”, he says. The others soon reach the same conclusion.  

This includes Peter, the ever impetuous one, who, throws on some clothes, comes up from below decks, and jumps into the water. In all that excitement, its not long before the disciples and their beloved leader find themselves warmed by each other’s presence and the embers of the charcoal fire on the beach. Pooling their resources and sharing a simple meal of fish and bread together, they are restored and renewed for their purpose as community.

This charcoal fire reminds us of another charcoal fire where Peter stood warming his hands with Roman soldiers. The other charcoal fire was the scene of Peter’s betrayal of Jesus at time of his passion in Jerusalem when he denied his Lord and Master no less than three times.

Here, we’re told, in the ‘epilogue’ of John’s gospel, this morning’s charcoal fire on the lakeshore becomes a symbolic place of restoration, healing, and wholeness born out of Jesus’ unconditional love for Peter. Here, Jesus and Peter enter into a very intimate conversation about love and forgiveness. Here Peter’s denial of Jesus’ give way to new self understanding and renewed sense of commitment and promise to follow in the way of the risen Christ. This conversation also sets the tone for Peter’s ensuing leadership on behalf of the early church. Leadership lived out into his old age at which time, Jesus foresees that Peter can expect persecution in the name of God’s glory. But that’s a story for another day.

There are numerous other stories and other conversations between Jesus and Peter told in both Matthew and John’s gospel. Which ones do you remember?

Which story about Peter do you think most aptly captures his personality and his growing edge?

Peter names Jesus the Christ (Matthew 16: 15-16) Jesus offers Peter the keys to the kingdom (Matthew 16: 17-19) Peter gets ahead of himself and Jesus says he is blocking the path (Matthew 16: 21-23) Peter tries to walk on water (Matthew 19: 27-30) After betraying Jesus, Peter realizes what he has done (Matthew 26: 69-75) At the last supper, Peter is overwhelmed by Jesus’ acts of servanthood (John 13: 5-11) In John 13: 36-38, Peter denies he will betray Jesus In John 20, hearing the tomb is empty, Peter has to run and see for himself.  

This morning, in the 21st chapter of John's gospel, two details from this first story caught my attention.  I find the idea of 153 fish being caught when the net is positioned on the right side of the boat and the idea that seasoned fishermen might choose to follow the instructions of a strange man on the shore intriguing. 

While some biblical scholars interpret the number of fish as a metaphor for the number of nations of the world into which the disciples might be sent, the number makes me think about how many people who come into our church at any one time to experience the hospitality offered here.

It might be hospitality at our community lunch or at any one of our worship services, regular or otherwise, or at our special events, which this last year, have drawn large numbers.  Or it might be the numbers attending our weddings, our funerals, our baptisms or even those who access our theology and our welcome through our website.

We might even choose to think of the word ‘large’ as a synonym for 153, that is, ‘large’ as opposed to ‘small’.  

For me, these numbers remind me that we touch so many people’s lives in ways that are often difficult to quantify.

I take hope in knowing that the effectiveness and the impact we, here, at Knox, have on the lives of those we welcome and encounter is much more complex than counting the numbers of folks who show up at the usual time for worship on Sunday morning. That said, I am also aware that we need to consider doing church in more creative ways and at different times of the day other than just Sunday morning. 

For this morning, this morning’s trio of stories from scripture describe some of what happened to those first followers trying to return to life as they knew it before Jesus came and called them away. 

How are the disciples’ lives the same as they were before taking up that first invitation to follow Jesus? How are they different after the events in Jerusalem and at the Sea of Tiberius?

How about our own lives post Lent, post Palm Sunday, post Holy Week, post Easter, post resurrection celebrations in the year 2016? How are our lives the same? How are they different?

This is the third Sunday in the season of Easter, the time in our church year when we find ourselves intentionally on the lookout for the risen Christ in our midst, calling us to 'come and see' and then 'go and tell'.

For all this and more, let us ask God’s blessing on our continued reflection: Risen One, you have come to the lakeshore seeking and finding and breathing new life into those for whom life seemed ended. In the aftermath of betrayal and trauma of the cross and then the empty tomb, something new is emerging for us here, now. Help us learn to trust in the depth and breadth of your abiding love holding us to account at the same time as calling us into the new and yet to be discovered ways of faithfully following in your Way.  Hallelujah! Amen!