You might remember, a few weeks ago, I spoke about the installations at Cottesloe Beach and the hanging metal one that, from one direction displayed the word YES as the wind moved the dangling pieces in the sun, and then, as you walked past and looked back it somehow showed the word NO. Incidentally it won the top award for the sculptures by the sea this year, but the point was that sometimes we see things differently, as if for the first time. And it keeps on happening. Last week, even as I was reading the gospel reading in the service, I noticed something for the first time. And this week it’s happening again with this morning’s passage.
So, a short time has passed since the first Easter and the disciples are in a real spin. They’ve walked the last 3 years with Jesus. They’d heard and responded to His call to ‘follow Me’. They were there. They saw him heal and preach. They’d been given the Eucharist and had their feet washed. They’d walked in Gethsemane, and they had fled. And then Jesus died, and they had to face their grief, recognise their failings, recognise that He had not abandoned them but that they had, in fact, abandoned Him. And, even as they were wrestling with all that, He defeated death and appeared to them, despite the tomb being sealed and the doors being locked. And He kept on doing it.
And then Peter says, ‘I’m going fishing’ and some of the other disciples say, we’re coming.
And the point of this passage is often the redemption of Peter – you know, Jesus asks him 3 times ‘do you love me’ and 3 times tells him… ‘feed my sheep’ and this covers over for the 3 denials of Peter and that is great. It’s true and redemptive
But here’s the thing that has struck me. Listen to this… ‘I’m going fishing’.
Peter and his friends have had the most incredible, life changing, utterly transformational 3 years. They will surely never be the same again, surely. And yet, in their grief it seems that all is lost and what’s the point and those three words of Peter sum up his absolute despair; screw this, I’m going fishing. Really, what is the point? All is lost. I am lost. Total defeat. Can you hear that?
So off they go, and they land up, 80 miles away on the sea of Tiberias, in a boat, catching nothing. And then – would you believe it, even though they’ve gone all that way – Jesus pops up again. They don’t recognise it’s Him, but He tells them to cast their nets on the other side and they bring in this huge catch of fish. They haul the net ashore and share in a breakfast BBQ of bread and fish, with the risen Lord. Jesus even brings his own fish for them because its already there waiting when they reach the shore. Amazing!
And, unlike ever before, I’m feeling the potential awkwardness of that breakfast… oh, don’t get me wrong, they’ve already encountered Jesus twice before and it’s been fine – peace be with you, receive the holy spirit, as I was sent so I am sending you – but now, they’ve gone back to fishing. Peter has given up on who he was – Jesus is even calling him Simon – the person he once was, back before everything had got so great – back before he became the rock upon which the whole church would be built. It just feels like one of those awful, awkward meals where there is tension all around. Can you feel that?
And when they finished breakfast Jesus said to Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Ouch.
Simon – yep, remember who you once were.
Son of John – remember where you came from.
Do you love me?
And then there is this beautiful and bittersweet exchange where Jesus asks and asks and asks again and Simon responds and asserts and affirms and the gospel writer says, ‘Peter felt hurt’. Jesus addresses Simon, and Peter felt hurt. Wow. I want to sit with the complexity and depth of that too. It’s just all so poignant and deep and reassuring and unsettling. Can you sense that?
And then Jesus says, follow me.
Follow me. Jesus had said that, right at the beginning, right at the water’s edge when they had been there fishing, three years before. And hadn’t they gotten up, left their nets ‘straight away’ and followed him – not knowing what it would mean or what it would entail but doing it anyways – and now he’s asking again. Follow me…except, this time they all know exactly what this invitation includes – heck, Peter even knows what kind of death he’s going to face.
And it seems like this is something so significant. It’s like, the first time they heard the call they blindly followed – all gung ho and all in – yeah this sounds fun, let’s go! But now, now they are asked again – it’s like a second conversion.
And, as always, as it was for them, so it is for us, friends.
At our baptism, we, or our parents, heard that first call – follow me – and we did it, blindly. And then, somewhere along the way, we hear the call again. And again. And each time we have the choice. And how often do we also revert back to who we used to be and what we used to do? How often do we go back to whatever our equivalent of ‘going fishing’ is? How often do we need Jesus to come and find us and meet us at the place we’ve run to? Do you recognise that?
I think this story is so tender – almost painfully so – because it is our story and it is brutally familiar. And today, as every day, we have this invitation again. Follow me, Jesus says. Even unto death.
Hear him ask. What will your response be?