Come and Eat

This is the text of a sermon preached via video for the Kingsway Baptist Church on the Third Sunday of Easter 2020.

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Happy third Sunday of Easter, Kingsway! As you can see I’m back in the sanctuary, specifically in the balcony. I wanted to give a special shout out to all the “balconites” tuning in from home, all the back row Baptists. Part of the good news of the gospel is that it’s good news for everyone, not just those up front; not just those who occupy the platform. It’s for all of us. Today’s text, in particular, is a reminder that Jesus meets us where we are. And bids us, invites us, to follow Him on from there.

Hear now these words from John chapter 21 verses 1 through 14 (NRSV):

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,[a] Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 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.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 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. 7 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. 8 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[b] off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 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. 12 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


Since the start of Holy Week, we’ve been journeying through John’s account of Jesus’ final days. His last hours spent teaching and eating with the disciples; His trial before Pilate, His death and resurrection, and now His post-resurrection appearances to the disciples. In May we’re going to explore the post-resurrection stories found in the other three Gospels; but this week and next we’re going to finish out John’s version of events.

John 21 is one of my favourite passages in all of the New Testament, though narratively it is somewhat strange. Some scholars, in fact, question the authenticity of chapter 21 because chapter 20 seems to wrap things up right after Jesus appears to Thomas:

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[d] that Jesus is the Messiah,[e] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

It is, admittedly, a bit odd that the action would start up again after such a statement. It’s the kind of thing a composition teacher would almost certainly X out in red. But even if it’s stylistically awkward, the content of chapter 21 builds on the preceding narrative in ways that are hardly incidental. There are specific and important connections to what has already happened that prepare the disciples, and by extension the church, to receive the commission Jesus bestows upon them when He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them in chapter 20. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you” (verse 22). We’ll dive more deeply in that commission next week when we consider Jesus’ instructions to Peter to, “Feed My sheep.” Today we’re going to dive figuratively into the Sea of Tiberias (better known as the Sea of Galilee) with Peter, where he and a subcommittee of the disciples have decided to go fishing.

Now, some preachers and commentators see in Peter’s action here a sign of doubt or aimlessness, even a recanting of his faith in Jesus because, here at the end, after the resurrection, after the fulfillment of all Jesus taught and modelled, he is returning what he knew before he met Jesus. Peter and his brother Andrew – his whole family, really – were fishermen by trade before they were disciples by faith. Personally, I don’t see anything in the story itself to support such an interpretation. Peter sounds to me like my grandfather or one of my cousins back home who sometimes just get an urge to go fishing. “I’m going fishing. Wanna come?” The others disciples say, “Sure. We’ll come with you.” If anything they seem bored, looking for something to do. Nathanael and Thomas weren’t fishermen as far as we know; and Peter isn’t suggesting they start up a business. They’re just going fishing. More significantly, Jesus doesn’t chastise Peter (or any of them) in any way when He shows up. He simply comments, “Looks like you have caught anything. Try casting your net on the right side of the boat.” Far from wavering, Peter shows himself the most eager of the group (and comically so) to get back to land to be with Jesus, putting on his clothes before he jumps into the water to swim for shore. There isn’t a shred of doubt in Peter’s words or actions in this scene. But the connection to what has come before is important. There are a few such connections, actually.

For starters, we haven’t seen hide nor hair of Nathanael since chapter 1, when he becomes one of the very first disciples. Here, he makes a cameo appearance in the boat. Jesus promised Nathanael he would “see great things,” even greater than what Jesus revealed to him in their initial conversation. For Nathanael to be present for the “great catch” of the 153 fish is thus the fulfillment of this early promise.

Nathanael’s presence also reminds us that the events of this final, concluding chapter are framed as a new beginning. It’s just after dawn. Jesus is cooking breakfast. It’s a new day even though, narratively, it’s a conclusion. What the risen Christ has for these disciples (and for all disciples – including all of us) is a deepening, an expanding of the life they (and we) have chosen in the footsteps of Jesus. “Come and see” has become “Come and eat.” Things aren’t ending or repeating; they’re being transformed – recast in the light of the Empty Tomb. There is a new abundance of life now in the world because Christ is in the world as the risen Lord of all creation. This change is not always immediately visible or apparent. But Christ can and will direct us to it, beneath the surface, on the side of the boat that it hasn’t occurred to us to try. He can and will help us to find it in places it hasn’t occurred to us to look. Including prior failures.

The two most significant allusions to past events in this story are found in the breakfast Jesus is making. It’s a simple meal of fish and bread cooked over a charcoal fire. But boy does this breakfast pack a punch. Especially if your name is Peter.

The last time (and the only other time) a charcoal fire appears in John is in the courtyard of the high priest (John 18:15-18). On the night He was betrayed, Peter and another disciple follow Jesus to the courtyard following His arrest. Peter joins a group of slaves and policemen who are warming themselves by a charcoal fire. A woman asks Peter if he is “one of them,” meaning one of Jesus’ followers, and Peter denies it – point blank. “I am not,” he tells her.

Here now, in Christ’s risen presence, Peter is confronted with another charcoal fire, this time after an endearing (if somewhat ridiculous) display of faith that has left him sopping wet. Nothing is said; no comment is offered either by Jesus or John; but John clearly specifies the type of fire to draw our attention to it. John wants us to notice it. We also need to notice what Jesus is and isn’t doing with this charcoal fire. Rather than burning Peter with it – literally or figuratively – in the hands of the risen Christ this fire, this symbol of denial and betrayal, becomes a means of nourishment. With love and grace, through love and grace, Christ uses it to feed not only Peter but also the other gathered disciples.

The food Jesus prepares on top of the fire is the second significant allusion to past events: fish and bread. The disciples’ breakfast here on the beach is the same dinner Christ offered the five thousand in the countryside. So in the context of a miracle – the great catch of 153 fish – we are reminded of another, even grander miracle: the Feeding of the Five Thousand, with twelve baskets of food left over. But that’s not all. We should also think back to and remember the Last Supper, the establishment of the Lord’s Supper, because more than any other Gospel writer John structures his telling of the Feeding of the Five Thousand to draw clear and specific parallels between the bread of the miracle and Jesus as the “Bread of Life.”

This is part of what John writes in chapter 6, just after the five thousand have been fed. Jesus withdraws because He is concerned the crowd will try to make Him king. When the disciples find Him, this is what Jesus says, beginning at verse 25: When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

Then skipping to verse 35: Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

That Jesus prepares and offers the disciples bread and fish – cooked over a charcoal fire, no less: the cinders, the smouldering ash of Peter’s betrayal – is a truly amazing, profound, and remarkable act. An act of comprehensive forgiveness; a gift of love and grace served in the guise of breakfast. A gift of Jesus’ very self; a gift of Jesus’ faithfulness in the face of, in response to, Peter’s betrayal that not only obscures Peter’s denial but utterly transforms it.
We could easily end there. I mean, WOW. That would be more than enough for us to ponder and try to wrap our minds around. But in the spirit of John 21, there’s more. There’s at least one more thing re-cast and reshaped in the light of the Empty Tomb that we need to take note of as we seek to be the church in our day and time.

You may remember back during Holy Week, when we looked at Mary anointing Jesus’ feet and then later at Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, I commented that John links the two scenes directly through his use of language, specifically the word he uses to mean “wipe.” Those are the only two contexts in which John employs that particular verb. It’s a literary ”breadcrumb trail” he leaves to link the two scenes and nudge us to consider them together: Jesus receiving a costly and intimate act of worship on the one hand, and undertaking an act of service on the other – an act that is as powerful as it is menial. Well, I think there’s something similar at work here.

When the disciples arrive on the shore, and Jesus calls them to breakfast, He instructs them to “bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” This is a noteworthy instruction because it means that, even though Jesus showed them where to cast their net and has already baked the bread and cooked at least some fish, Jesus views the disciples as partners/participants as well as guests at this meal. A careful look at John’s word choice reveals just how significant this change is.

John describes Peter “hauling the net,” bulging with large fish, to shore. (Keep in mind Peter is the one who acts, but the instruction is given to all of the disciples). The verb we translate here as “haul” is used only twice elsewhere in John’s Gospel, and both times it is a verb used to describe an act carried out either by God the Father or by Jesus Himself. We’ve already heard the first occurrence, in that discourse in John 6 about the bread of life. Jesus says in verse 44, “No one can come to me unless DRAWN (dragged, hauled) by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.” Then in chapter 12 in verse 32, after Jesus has triumphantly ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey, He declares, “…when I am lifted up from the earth, I will DRAW (drag, haul) all people to myself.”

That Jesus here instructs the disciples to do the “hauling”, the dragging, the drawing of the fish is a profound post-Easter expansion of agency within the world and within heaven’s Kingdom. Because of what Jesus has accomplished through His life and witness, through Cross and the Empty Tomb, we aren’t simply His servants; we are His friends (John 15:15):. We aren’t just His students; we are His brothers and sisters (John 20:17). So, too, we aren’t simply recipients of Jesus’ profound love and grace; we are called, invited, to be agents of that love and grace. That’s part of what this new day, emerging in the dawning light of the Empty Tomb, brings with it: a continuation of what we experienced with Jesus before, but also a remarkable transformation of it – and a transformation of *us* – into something more significant, more abundant. We are heirs and ambassadors of Christ’s heavenly Kingdom. We are no longer simply guests of Jesus’ at His Table; we are contributors to the meal. We are commissioned participants in Jesus’ ongoing ministry: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.”

May the remarkable honour and responsibility of this commission affirm us and inspire us – all of us – both in the front and in the back to live into and live out the love and grace of Easter in the days ahead.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

An Easter to Remember

A Sermon for Easter Sunday 2020.  Text: John 20:1-23

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Happy Easter! Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

This is the refrain of congregations around the world today. This is the refrain of all of heaven and earth today. We don’t need to hear or sing or say anything else, really. This is the proclamation that makes Easter, Easter.

Still….it sure doesn’t feel like Easter, does it? It’s certainly an Easter unlike any Easter any of us have experienced in our lifetimes. Years from now, I imagine we’ll remember this day as the Easter “without.” The Easter without the baptisms, without the choir, without the packed sanctuary singing along to every hymn and anthem. The Easter without new dresses, egg hunts, or anticipated large family gatherings around long tables filled with sumptuous food. The Easter without quite as much shared laughter, quite as many shared smiles. All those things make Easter, Easter, for us, too, by convention and expectation. I’m missing all those things this morning, as I’m sure you are. And those absences will leave an impression in our memories, no doubt. But I also hope that at least for today, at least for our time together this morning, we’ll recognise that this Easter is perhaps the closest we’ll ever get in our lifetimes to understanding what that first Easter was like.

There was no choir warming up, no lavish meal in production; no new dress laid out on that first Easter. No celebrations of any kind in the works. The disciples awoke on that first Easter morning much as they had the previous morning – to a void, to a palpable absence. Jesus – the one they had thought to be the Messiah, the anointed Saviour of Israel, the one some of them had left everything (family, possessions, livelihood) to follow – Jesus was dead. And not just dead, executed. He had been betrayed by one of their own, arrested by the religious authorities, and crucified by the Romans like a rebellious slave. And throughout the ordeal, the mighty prophet and healer had appeared helpless.

Think about all they had seen and experienced with Jesus. He had cast out all manner of unclean spirits, including a legion of them in the land of the Gerasenes. He had healed the sick in droves, restored sight to the blind, and fed 5,000 hungry people with five loaves and a couple of fish. He brought Lazarus back to life, and even calmed a storm on the sea of Galilee. Yet, when the soldiers came for Him, He could do nothing to stop or resist them. At least, He didn’t do anything to stop or resist them. In a matter of hours, everything they had hoped, everything they had dreamed, everything they had invested and sacrificed was over. Done. Gone.

That’s how deep the void that greeted the disciples on that first Easter morn was – a morning that found many of them in isolation, too – not for fear of a virus but of the soldiers who might still be looking for them as Jesus’ followers. And even though Mary Magdalene had ventured to the tomb before dawn and found it empty, things don’t instantly get better.

When Mary finds the grave open and Jesus’ body missing, she runs to tell Peter and the beloved disciple, who return to the tomb with her. They find it as she had described: the stone rolled away and Jesus’ burial cloths lying inside; but Jesus is nowhere to be found. What did it mean? John says, “they did not yet understand the Scriptures that He must rise from the dead” (John 20:9). After entering the tomb, John says the beloved disciple believes, despite the fact he doesn’t understand the Scriptures; but then he and Peter go home. We’re not told that they say anything to anyone else.

Mary lingers at the Tomb, weeping. Only then does she encounter Jesus. At first she thinks He’s the gardener and implores Him to tell her what has happened to the Lord’s body. She recognises Him by voice, not by sight, when He calls her by name. The risen Christ then asks her to go and tell His “brothers” (not disciples, not servants – brothers) that He is “ascending to My Father and your Father.” True to these instructions, Mary Magdalene returns to the disciples a second time, saying she has seen the Lord. She has seen Jesus: not dead, but alive; not missing, but very much present.

The good news of Easter thus gradual dawns in John, rather than flooding in. And we’re still not done. For the rest of that day, many of the disciples were left to wonder what was going on. Was Jesus alive? Or had His body been stolen? In John’s telling of the Easter story, it won’t be until later that evening that anyone other than Mary Magdalene sees Jesus.

When the Risen Christ does break into the disciples’ sequestered lives, He leaves no doubt. He speaks a blessing upon them: “Peace be with you.” He shows them His hands and His side, where the implements of death found and left their mark – but ultimately lost. He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them and commissions them, saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Until that time, however, uncertainty remains. And even then, Jesus’ appearance doesn’t magically or instantly change the disciples’ circumstance. As we will see, they continue to meet behind closed doors. Some of them, including Peter, even go back to doing what they had been doing before they met Jesus. They’re lying low, seeking out something familiar, perhaps something reliable. Much remains unclear to them.

Which is, of course, how things will continue for us, too. When our time of lingering at the tomb with Mary Magdalene’s is over this morning, we’ll return to the same restrictions and limitations to which we awoke. My hope and my prayer, though, is that we’ll return knowing that what may seem like a void really isn’t. Because Christ is risen! Christ is risen and He is radically free and present with us. His abundant, irrepressible Life now fills the chasm that death had hollowed out; and His enduring Presence continues to subvert the machinations of the powers of this world.

Easter changes everything; yet it changes nothing. It doesn’t magically or instantly alter our circumstance. COVID-19 won’t just up and go away later this afternoon because Christ our Lord is risen this morning. But Easter does alter our place in our circumstance because Easter transforms our relationship to God, to ourselves, to each other, and to the world. We aren’t just followers of Christ anymore. We aren’t just disciples of Christ anymore. We are brothers and sisters in Christ because we are brothers and sisters with Christ. “Go and tell my brothers…”, the risen Christ said to Mary. “I am ascending to my Father and your Father…”. Jesus, true to His prayer for us in John 17, has made us one – one family with Him and God the Father: heirs to one and the same Kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven. We are brothers and sisters with Christ. Think about that. Really think about that!

That means COVID-19 will not and cannot have the final word. Economic contraction will not and cannot have the final word. Neither will supply shortages or price increases. None of it can or will have the final word because, while those things may define our circumstance, they do not and cannot define our identity or our reality: who we are and whose we are. That prerogative, that power, belongs to Jesus because today He is risen – and He is very much still moving in our midst.

So while a lot of things may be missing from today, let’s try our best not to let those disappointments become the defining feature of this Easter. Or any Easter. Because Easter is about a new reality, a new relationship between heaven and earth, a new relationship between us and God. And that means that in the midst of these absences, there is something – or, more specifically, Someone – newly present and radically free for us to celebrate. We are His, and He is ours forever more. Jesus saved His most amazing and powerful feat for last.

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Alleluia! Alleluia!  Amen.

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