|A.Kumm-Hanson, Santa Cruz, CA 2014|
( A sermon preached to the community of Calvary Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN on April 10, 2016)
Grace, peace, and mercy are yours from the Risen Christ. Amen.
Today’s Gospel text tells the story of Jesus’ third appearance to his disciples. Jesus’ first appearance was to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb. His second appearance was to the disciples in a locked room. Today, we hear that Jesus appears on a beach and cooks breakfast for the disciples. It’s a strange story. The disciples have been fishing all night, and haven’t caught anything. They see a man standing on the shore, they do not know yet that it is Jesus, who tells them to put their nets on the right side of the boat and they will find fish.
Their net was suddenly filled with an abundance of fish of many kinds. It was this unexpected catch that makes the disciples think that this stranger on the beach is maybe more than a meddling busybody telling them how to do their jobs. One disciple turns to Peter, and says, “It is Jesus!” Then in one of the strangest literary asides in all of scripture, we hear that Peter puts on his clothes (he was apparently naked) and jumps into the sea. The other disciples steer the boat back to land, and find a charcoal fire with fish cooking, and fresh bread. And Jesus says, “bring in some of those fish. Come and eat breakfast.” So they sit down and eat together.
This is the most simple and ordinary of things, and yet, so profoundly hopeful. Because this is the second time in John’s Gospel that we hear about a charcoal fire. The night in which Jesus was betrayed and turned over to the religious authorities, there was a charcoal fire burning in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. By the light of that fire on that dark night, Peter denied Jesus three times. He denied knowing him, he denied being a disciple, and he turned his friend over to those who would crucify him.
It is this morning, over another charcoal fire, that Jesus meets Peter again. I think a lot about what Peter might have been feeling upon seeing Jesus again. When the violence started that night, he chose to save his own skin and denied Jesus more than once. We hear that Peter goes out and weeps bitterly, hot tears of shame and regret soaking his face. It is this running and hiding that makes me wonder if Peter was jumping out of the fishing boat to swim to the shore towards Jesus or to hide from him by swimming farther out to sea. The text really isn’t clear.
But if I am completely honest with myself, I would be swimming out to sea to get away from Jesus. It is the most human of impulses to engage in self-preservation. I too would have denied knowing Jesus that night if it would have saved me from the same fate. I HAVE denied knowing Jesus, when it comes to seeing his face reflected in others. We all have. Every time that we think that racism is a problem in another state or city or neighborhood we deny knowing Jesus. Every time that we refuse to make eye contact with that man or woman on the street asking for spare change we deny knowing Jesus. Each time that we draw a line between “us” and “them” whether politically or socially, we deny knowing Jesus, because to know Jesus is to see his face reflected in another. And shame is a powerful motivator, because once we are aware of the ways that we fall short, we want to hide from our brokenness. We want to hide from God. We have mistakenly juxtaposed a loving God who desires reconciliation and relationship with us, with the idea of a hall monitor who is watching our every move, just trying to catch us doing the wrong thing in order to punish us.
In my work as a chaplain, I regularly meet people who believe that they are beyond the reach of God’s love. That for whatever reason, often related to addiction or mental illness, they are not worthy of God’s grace and forgiveness. My patients experience real spiritual and emotional anguish over being “called out” by God upon their death. I don’t have all the answers, but I do share stories of how God desires reconciliation with us, not explanations for all the ways that we think we fall short. And today’s Gospel text is one example that I share with my patients.
When Jesus sees Peter, he doesn’t demand an explanation for what happened that night in the courtyard at the high priest’s house. He doesn’t demand an apology or an admission of wrongdoing on Peter’s part. He provides a meal for the disciples and simply says, “Come and have breakfast.” They come together, over fresh bread and grilled fish, to be filled and sent out.
This is the most simple and hopeful act in the world to me. Jesus seeks Peter out for reconciliation over a shared meal. This story of breakfast is intended to be a parallel to Jesus’ last interaction with Peter over the first charcoal fire. By the light of that fire Peter denied Jesus three times. By the light of this fire, Peter affirms Jesus three times. Jesus took the first step in reconciliation. And God has already taken the first step in reconciling all of humanity with Godself, by coming to earth as Jesus. We are already in right relationship with God because of the reconciliation of the cross.
Furthermore, as Jesus emphasizes to Peter, there is work to do. Jesus tells Peter to “feed my lambs” and “tend my sheep.” This breakfast is more than just about filling the disciples’ stomachs. It is about equipping them for their work of spreading the Gospel to all nations. Jesus tells them that it is going to be hard, but that they are to “Follow me.”
We are just about to eat breakfast with Jesus around this table. We are going to break bread together and drink wine together as we are filled up and sent out for our work as disciples. We eat together each week to remember Christ in ourselves and in one another. We need not hide from Christ, because the reconciliation is already complete. Come and eat breakfast.