Meadowbrook Congregational Church
Rev. Art Ritter
May 5, 2019
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
We celebrated Easter a bit differently in the Ritter household this year. For the first time in thirty years, since we have had children, Laura and I celebrated Easter alone. Maren and Max, of course have moved to Louisville KY, and Amelia spent Easter holidays visiting her sister. Other that everything going on at the church, Easter was a welcome quiet day for us. Easter dinner consisted of grilled trout, sweet corn and rice. And yes, there was a cherry pie and a few pieces of chocolate candy for me.
The most notable thing for me about the children growing up at Easter is not the peace and quiet, but the lack of plastic grass from Easter baskets showing up around the house. When Maren and Amelia were little, Easter plastic grass was like Christmas tree tinsel; it ended up everywhere- on the carpet, on the furniture, in the bathroom, on the back of the dogs. I think I used to pick up Easter grass well past Memorial Day. Perhaps plastic Easter grass is determined to live throughout the entire liturgical Easter season when the last strand was found on Pentecost. It is kind of like the pieces of the palm fronds that I still found around the church this week, a full month after Palm Sunday.
Although we are technically in the midst of the Easter season, many of us have already moved on. Easter Sunday is two full weeks in our rearview mirror. Today we read the last of the Easter scripture lessons and we sing the last of the Easter hymns. Do you even remember Easter Sunday? Our Meeting House was packed. The flowers were lovely. The call to worship and processional was beautiful. The Chancel Choir anthem was moving and joyful. The energy of the children was contagious. The food at the fellowship hour was terrific. The Easter egg hunt was great fun. The weather turned out to be perfect, something unusual for this Michigan spring. But all of that may seem like a distant memory now. Easter is over. Our Easter celebration is as much of an historical account as the story of Jesus’ resurrection that we read in worship two weeks ago. It is history. We must admit that it is not easy to feel “Eastery” two weeks after Easter.
I find some comfort in knowing that I am not alone in my post-Easter sentiment. The Scripture lesson from the gospel of John tells of the disciples and their struggle with their post-Easter feelings. It was after Easter, perhaps even a workday Monday morning that followed a terrific weekend. The disciples’ celebration of Easter didn’t include baskets of eggs or chocolates or worship featuring special music. It wasn’t marked on their calendar. The first Easter was a little less obvious. The disciples were dealing with the mystery of those strange rumors and those even stranger appearances. Jesus had appeared to them and had engaged them in some rather baffling conversations. They were puzzled by these mysterious manifestations. He had been them but it was different. And so they kept gathering together, hopeful of what might be, yet confused and frightened about what to do next.
I read a commentary this week that suggested that Peter probably wished that the gospel of John’s Easter story would have ended with Jesus’ appearance with the disciples through the locked doors and the questioning of Thomas. Peter was lost in the crowd that day, a mere bystander of Jesus dialogue with the doubting disciple. Peter may have wanted to dodge the bullet of having to face the one he had betrayed. But instead, the teaching continued in the Scripture lesson we read today.
The lesson begins in a very ordinary way- like so many of the scenes of the Bible when people bump into God in the least likely of places. Jacob is one the run and meets God in a dream alongside the road. Moses is tending sheep when he encounters a burning bush. Those walking the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday were quite literally trying to get away from it all when the Risen Christ appeared and walked with them.
Here, Jesus’ disciples are on a beach. Having seen the Resurrection Christ twice already, they seem a bit troubled and confused again. They are bored and restless and not quite sure what to do. Peter had a suggestion. He said to the others, “Let’s go fishing.” While we might laugh at such a simple suggestion, it really wasn’t that strange. Fishing is what many of the disciples did before they met Jesus. It was their job and their vocation. It was all they knew how to do. As I think about it, the disciples weren’t really very good at being disciples until much later after Easter. They didn’t seem to understand what Jesus was teaching. They fell asleep when they should have been staying awake. They worried about greatness when Jesus modeled humility. They denied and betrayed Jesus. They didn’t seem to grasp what was going on. So now, immediately after Easter they were perfectly content to give up discipleship and return to what they were doing before all of this confusing death and resurrection stuff happened.
Although we profess to dread the routine, I believe there is something comforting about an ordinary life and a regular schedule. I hear people remark about it all the time when they return home from travel, when guests leave, when the school year begins, or when a family crisis comes to some resolution- it is nice to get back into the regular routine. The disciples probably weren’t looking for their lives to change. In the midst of disappointment and mystery and confusion and anxiety, they sought comfort in going back to fishing.
Apparently they weren’t so good at fishing either. The story tells us that they went out in a boat, fished all night, but did not catch a thing. That is when the Risen Christ appeared to them again. It was at sunrise, perhaps a time of day that was no accident of fate. Jesus appeared just as a new day was dawning. Night was nearly over. He stood at the edge of the water. Still, the disciples did not know who he was. But they heard him call out to them, “Young men, have you caught any fish?”
In his book Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living, noted preacher Peter Gomes spends a couple of pages on this single question, “Have you caught any fish?” He writes that Jesus was much like a good lawyer who never asks a question to which he didn’t already know the answer. Gomes explains that Jesus’ question is not the pure rhetorical question that it might seem to us. It is not the same question we might ask to a fisherman that we pass by while walking on a dock. On that day following Easter, Jesus was asking a much deeper question. “Young men, have you caught any fish? How are you doing? How are you getting along in your labor? Are you satisfied with what you are doing? Do you understand what your purpose is?” As in his earlier call of them to discipleship, his question about catching fish was much more meaningful.
The disciples answered, “Not a thing.” Gomes points out that this might be the answer most of us would give following Easter. Easter has come and gone and we are back to normal. We are confronted with the same old dead ends in life and the same apparent limits to what we can do about them. We continue to fish out of the same side of the boat, even when the nets we pull into the boat are continually empty. Gomes writes, “We have little to show for all of the energy, labor, imagination, and investment that we put into our lives and our work.” We go about our business expecting nothing to be changed and thus nothing in life and in our world does get changed.
A friend once told me a story about her husband’s effort to mow the lawn. He had a trusty old mower that he had nursed through use for many years. It was continually breaking down and he was continually fixing it. Most of the time it ran on fumes and prayers. Last spring she purchased for him a brand new mower. It was self-propelled, mulching, and push button start. She thought such a new thing would make him happy. She told me that her husband still prefers to use his own mower. The brand new mower sits in the corner of the garage while he spends his time tinkering with the failing but familiar machine. He just can’t bring himself to throw it out and embrace the new mower.
Jesus commanded the disciples, “Throw your nets on the other side of the boat.” Life is not to be lived the same as it was before Easter. Life is abundant and full. Resurrection demands risk and change. Easter must be fully experienced by stepping out of routines and ruts and tombs and trusting in promise and potential. Jesus told his disciples to stop living as if nothing had changed. Cast your nets on the other side of the boat and start living in Easter joy.
The story didn’t end there. After the fishing luck had changed, the disciples sat down for breakfast. I don’t know about you, but breakfast isn’t the most exciting time of day for me. My eyes are barely open. My conversation with my lovely spouse is limited to a few reluctant grunts. My menu consists of a banana and a bowl of cold cereal. But I love it that way. That is the way I want it. Breakfast is dull and boring and routine and comfortable.
Yet at this breakfast, Jesus appeared again to his disciples. His appearance was another reminder that even if we choose to go about our business in the same old way, the Risen Christ will find us. If our eyes can’t be opened by the wonder of the empty tomb, Jesus will find us in the habits of something mundane like breakfast. The Risen Christ we experienced during alleluias and empty tombs is the same power we can find in the stress and worry of the days after Easter. Surely the Risen Christ will find a way to change our attitudes and behavior in every routine of life.
Keeping Easter. It is quite simple. When we keep Easter we understand that resurrection is present long past one day and one man. Keeping Easter is knowing that Easter is not just a church thing but a life thing. Keeping Easter comprehends that Easter is opening ourselves up to the possibility that we might be changed. Keeping Easter means that we can hold hope in the chance that the world, our tired and routine and dreary world, might be transformed by the power and the promise of the Risen Christ.