The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
As befitting the Easter season, our scriptures this morning offer us a banquet from which to feast—from Paul’s dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, to the liturgy of heaven and the thousands upon thousands angels singing praises to the Lamb, to a simple fireside meal shared between the risen Jesus and his disciples along the sea shore—each scripture is a bounty of inspiration.
But for a moment, think back with me to the bounty of Hebrew scriptures we heard on the night of the great Easter Vigil—from the story of creation in Genesis and Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea in Exodus, to a God given new heart and new spirit as prophesied by Ezekiel and the renewal of God’s people as promised by the Lord in Zephaniah—through which we remembered the history of salvation. And now, in counterbalance, think ahead with me as we look forward from the joyous day of the Resurrection to this day in this time, when we behold the risen Christ in all of God’s creative and redeeming work.
During Eastertide, as you may or may not have noticed, there are no Eucharistic readings from the Old Testament, other than a psalm, a practice began in the earliest days of the church. Rather, we focus with Easter eyes on the New Testament, specifically the Acts of the Apostles and its worldly account of the spread of gospel, the visionary book of Revelation which foretells of the telos or final consummation of time, and finally the distinctive and discursive Gospel of John. Throughout these fifty days of Easter, we are indeed called to pay special attention to the appearance of new and risen life in Christ, in us, in the world and creation, that we witness to and embody the Resurrection.
Along this same vein, we always read about one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances on this third Sunday of Easter—a reminder at the very least—lest Easter morning has long since faded from sight in our rear view mirrors; because to be sure, life has a way of moving on, and we with it, like the disciples in our gospel passage. The crushing and incredible events of the crucification and resurrection have happened, and now what? as Peter says to his fellow disciples: I guess I’ll go back to work. You coming with? And they all go fishing because life and the work of life goes on.
In this story of mixed metaphors of fish and sheep that could be titled “The Last Breakfast,” the risen Jesus helps his disciples to move forward, from nothing to everything—to a huge haul of fish, one hundred and fifty three in all. Whatever the precise meaning or significance of this particular number might be, which has long been a source of inquiry, it underscores that something extraordinary and far reaching has taken place. But then, in an ordinary and personal act, Jesus prepares breakfast over an open fire and eats a simple fare of fish and bread with the disciples, the table and common meal remaining central to Jesus’ risen life and ministry.
After breakfast, Jesus pulls Peter aside; Peter who is impulsive, impatient, passionate, thick-headed-hot-headed, eager but not-always-faithful, also personifies the everyman or every person. When Jesus asks Peter a question, he is also asking me, and you, and all of us: do you love me? So vital is the question that Jesus asks not once but three times: Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? in what is also a threefold parallel to Peter’s threefold denial of Jesus during his passion. Simon, son of John, asks Jesus, using his formal name like a parent to a child, do you love me?
It is not Jesus who needs assurance of Peter’s love but rather Peter who needs assurance of Jesus’ love; for implicit in this exchange is the assurance that Peter’s failures and faithlessness are forgiven. I also think that Jesus wants Peter to be sure of his love for Jesus, so that he can tend his lambs and feed his sheep, and follow him all the way to his own cross; for to follow the risen Christ through life to death and through death to life, we can only do so as one in love.
This makes me wonder, if I am, and we are sometimes less of a follower who is in love with Jesus to more of a fan of Jesus, who thinks highly of him and his teachings, but from a safe distance, as a fan or bystander or onlooker would be. But to believe in Jesus is give our whole hearts to him, as the word believe means, and to love the beloved One unreservedly.
Are we willing to walk the Godward way? Or are we weary of following and set off on our own, taking the lead. Perhaps it’s too much trouble and we simply shut down—but to the gift of grace. Do we have Easter eyes to perceive in death, life; in guilt, forgiveness; in separation, unity; in wounds, glory; in the human, God; in God, the human; and in the I, the You? (Bishop Klaus Hemmerle)
Jesus knows that following him is no easy feat, and to do so we must be sure of our love and being loved, which means we are willing to change—to be transformed in Christ—becoming who we are created to be. Think of all of these people for whom this has been true—Thomas the questioning realist, Peter the faltering but faithful rock, or Paul the redeemed persecutor; Mary Magdalene, possessed by something other than God, out of whom seven devils were cast but who became the the first person to witness the risen Jesus; or Mary who did something unthinkable and sat down at the feet of Jesus to learn, and anointed Jesus’ feet with her hair and precious perfume, or Martha the dutiful hostess who became a devout disciple. Let us remember that Matthew was a reviled taxman turned apostle; Mark, restless and young but who wrote the first evangelion or good news; Luke, a successful physician turned missionary or John the beloved disciple who yet ended his life in exile—all of these people were discerning and receptive to Jesus, and the risen Christ, and to the new life offered each of them in unique, particular, exacting, sometimes less than obvious ways, but which was always loving, liberating, and live-giving.
As it was with Paul and Lazarus, “resurrection” can be overwhelming and miraculous. But more often “new and risen life” is found in the ordinary and everyday. In our gospel story, all that was needed was a small adjustment—cast your nets over here, just to the right, says Jesus—not build yourself a new boat or change careers—just lean in this way and trust what I am telling you, where I am pointing to.
To practice resurrection is to notice and cultivate such small adjustments and incremental changes in our thinking, habits, and behaviors—in our bodies, hearts, and minds—nudges of the Holy Spirit—that are healings and graces we are given to feed on, care for, and tend. Though small, these adjustments and changes often pave the way to something bigger and unexpected, like the huge haul of fish in our gospel.
Jesus shows us over and again that risen life is incarnate life, and though perfectly realized in the hereafter, we are resurrected in Christ on this earth and in this body and life. Risen incarnate life doesn’t negate our wounds or refuse to see things as they are; rather, we are to perceive our attitudes and circumstances, our relationships and personhood, the self and the world with deepened, heightened and expanded awareness, and with the assurance that all things in Christ are reconciled and made anew.
If the thrust of Lent was purgative and to remember death, in Eastertide it is illuminative and to remember life, and that we are living in the Resurrection. So let us us pray with our psalmist: my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever. And from Revelation, let us sing with every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea . . .to the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever. Amen!