— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ 3rd Sunday of Easter ~~~
Scripture Introduction to John 21:1-14 (15-19)
The story at the end of chapter 20, the one about Thomas and the disciples and the crucified and risen Jesus, is a powerful story. Jesus comes into a locked room and unlocks the fearful hearts of the disciples. Jesus speaks peace to his guilty and frightened followers. Jesus could have offered condemnation for the abandonment he experienced from his closest followers but instead he offered peace. Jesus embodied the ministry of forgiveness and new life and he called his followers to go into the world in the same way he was sent into the world.
The story in chapter 20 ends with these words:
Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.
If the Gospel of John were a play, the stage hands would be instructed at the end of that line to drop the curtain and turn on the lights. The show has come to an emotional and fitting conclusion.
But then …. someone quietly pulls the curtain back, steps onto the stage and tells one more story… This chapter, chapter 21, is a postscript, and it was probably added by someone other than the original author and at a later date; but, no matter the author or date, this chapter is a wonderful addition to the story of Jesus as it comes to us in the Gospel of John.
Listen for the Word of God in John 21:1-14(Eugene Peterson)
After this, Jesus appeared again to the disciples, this time at the Tiberias Sea (the Sea of Galilee). This is how he did it: Simon Peter, Thomas (nicknamed “Twin”), Nathaniel from Cana in Galilee, the brothers Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.”
The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.” They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night. When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him.
Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?”
They answered, “No.”
He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.”
They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in.
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!”
When Simon Peter realized that it was the Master, he threw on some clothes, for he was stripped for work, and dove into the sea. The other disciples came in by boat for they weren’t far from land, a hundred yards or so, pulling along the net full of fish. When they got out of the boat, they saw a fire laid, with fish and bread cooking on it.
Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter joined them and pulled the net to shore – 153 big fish! And even with all those fish, the net didn’t rip.
Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master.
Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead.
This breakfast with Jesus – even the resurrected Jesus – was a rather mild affair. No intense miracles – though Jesus did have a beat on a very populated fishing hole. Nevertheless, there was no word play with the authorities, no profound teachings, no stones rolled away, no walking through walls, just a charcoal fire and fish on the beach with Jesus cooking and waiting tables. This is a fitting conclusion to the story of the incarnate love of God embodied in Jesus. And here’s why I think so…but before I just say it straight out, let me tell it to you slant (to quote Emily Dickenson) with a poem and a story.
The poem is one by Gerard Manley Hopkins – the English poet of the late 19th century – entitled “Pied Beauty.”
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Maybe you are beginning to understand why I think Jesus’ last appearance serving breakfast on the beach is so fitting … maybe not … but hold on, let me tell you a story before I say it without rhyme or narrative.
This story is from Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. She has written a book entitled My Grandfather’s Blessings. It is a collection of stories inspired by her grandfather and the patients and doctors she deals with on a daily basis.
In this particular story, Dr. Remen is recounting a physicians’ seminar on listening, and one of the exercises was for each of the doctors there to take out his or her own stethoscope and listen to her or his own heart. Dr. Remen writes –
We are all middle-aged people and for the first little while everyone anxiously diagnosed themselves, fearful of hearing a split S1, a third heart sound, or perhaps the murmur of an arteriosclerotic valve. But as time went on, we moved past all that and heard something steadfast in the midst of our lives that had been there always, even before we were fully human. Our lives and all other lives depend on it. It was a profound and ineffable encounter with the mysterious. Most of us were deeply moved … afterward there was a silence. Then one of the cardiologists present began to speak about his work and to wonder aloud how one could be so close to something holy and not know it. It reminded him, he said, of a prayer that he had heard some time back. Somewhat embarrassed he began to recite it aloud:
Days pass and the years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing. Let there be moments when your Presence, like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk. Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed. And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder, “How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.”
(My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D., pages 72-73)
O.K.,… the reason I am so very grateful that the Gospel of John ends with Jesus serving breakfast is that this story reminds us that the spiritual life is found in seeing holiness in the ordinary things – dappled things, fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches wings – the life of faith is to know that everyday is crammed full of divinity if we will just open our senses. And it may be that this time of social distancing and isolation and interrupted life-patterns might just give us the space, the time, the inclination to see the divinity in our midst and how filled with awe is our place and we did not know it.
let us all be reminded to take deep breaths,
open our eyes, open our ears,
and smell the fish and bread cooking on the beach.
Praise God from Whom all blessings come. Amen.