Acts 9:1-20, Revelations 5: 11-14, John 21:1-19
“Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Thus John of Patmos describes the wonder, the glory, the extraordinary mystery that is the risen Christ. A mind shattering, life altering revelation to which, having experienced the risen Christ personally, in close physical contact, Peter, the rock upon which the church would be built responded “I’m going fishing.”
Not catching anything, are you? Try the other side.
Saul had an up close and personal experience with the resurrected Christ. He was going about his daily life. His daily life happened to consist primarily of tracking down and imprisoning the followers of The Way. Well respected, and likely well compensated for following his passion for maintaining the purity of his own faith, everything turned upside down on the road to Damascus. A flash of light and a voice, and he abandoned his faith as he knew it, his social position, everything which had defined him to that point, and turned to follow the light that was Jesus.
From the wondrous to the dramatic to the absolutely ordinary, Jesus is there. It’s the ordinary in this lesson that intrigues me. The commentaries suggest that this chapter of John was not written by the same hand that wrote the rest of the gospel. After all, the story already ended once. At the end of chapter 20 John says, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” The End. Done. “You may have life in his name”. A marvelous ending. The commentaries say that this odd after thought of a chapter was added later, and must have been added to fill some kind of need of the nascent Christian community that it served.
I think maybe it was added to fill our need as well. The need of the many who believe, but are waiting. We celebrate Christ’s birth. We wait and we search through the long days of Lent. We marvel at the empty tomb, and feel that there is meaning to be gleaned, and we wait for the big reveal. We wait for the meaning. We wait for the flashing light and the divine voice on our own personal road to Damascus. We wait with great anticipation for the choirs of angels surrounding the throne and the myriads and myriads and thousands and thousands singing in full voice. Then we will know. Then we will understand. Then, surely, we will raise our voices and sing with them and cry “AMEN”.
In the meantime….In the meantime.
What do we do until Christ comes for us? What would anybody do? What did the disciples do? We do our work. We go fishing. We do the safe, the familiar, and yes, the productive, necessary work of living. Of getting from this day to the next day on this earth. We cast our nets into the waters of commerce, competition, nationalism, wealth accumulation or preservation, security, and social place. Like Peter and the rest, we don’t always recognize Jesus when he gently calls to us in these ordinary places we live – You aren’t catching anything there, are you, my children? Try a different way. Cast your net into different waters. There is life abundant. I have sustenance for you.
Because most of haven’t seen the choirs of angels, most of us haven’t haven’t seen the blinding light and heard the voice of Jesus talking to us (and frankly would be afraid to admit it if we had), we find ourselves still waiting. This marvelous John post script lets us know – the waiting is over. Easter has come. The tomb is empty. Christ is risen. Christ is here. Christ is here in the work that we do and the fellowship we share, in the food we eat, in our breathing in and breathing out, in the sunsets and sunrises, in the lengthening days, and yes, yes believe it or not, even in the snowfall that sustains the life of our marvelous summers.
Jesus meets us where we live. That is the beginning of the story, not the end.
“Do you love me?” A great deal of commentary ink is spilled on this conversation. 3 times Jesus asks, and three times Peter answers, if a little testily by the last time through. Some say that he had to answer 3 times to erase the three denials he uttered in the not so distance past. Maybe. Certainly it has a symmetry to it, but that doesn’t somehow make it any more true.
I’m told that the Inuit people have more than 50 words for snow. (Sorry about the snow theme. For some reason it’s stuck in my head…) We don’t have so many words for it – we translate them all the Inuit words for it into the word “snow” (or this time of year perhaps into different four letter words that I won’t elaborate on in church) The Greeks had 3 words for love – agape, philia, and eros. Agape is divine love; unconditional, active, thoughtful, volitional and self-sacrificing. Philia is an affectionate, brotherly love. Something we feel, but don’t necessarily choose. It can connote a very strong non-sexual bond. Finally there is eros – don’t know that I need to elaborate on that one so much – we have a number of words that derive from that. We translate all these words into the word “love” Once you know that, this part of the story gets less repetitive and more interesting.
“Do you love [agape] me?” Do you love me with deliberate, self-sacrificing, chosen love?
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” (philia). I love you like a brother.
Let’s try it again. I’m asking something more. “Do you love (agape) me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love [philia] you.”
Ok, I’ll meet you where you are.
“Simon son of John, do you love [philia] me?”
And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [philia] you.”
Jesus met him where he was. And gave him work to do.
Jesus meets us where we are. In our work, in our homes, in our lives, in our spiritual journeys. “Tend my sheep.”
He does not ask us to wait for the promised land. “Follow me” Follow me now.
He does not ask us to wait for the road to Damascus. “Feed my lambs.”
All God’s creation needs to know his love, his justice, his compassion. We are sometimes tempted to believe, since we have not been blinded by the light on the road to Damascus that this is not our work. 18th century poet Hannah More said, “We are apt to mistake our vocation by looking out of the way for occasions to exercise great and rare virtues, and by stepping over the ordinary ones that lie directly in the road before us.”
Not finding your individual spiritual catch? Try breaking out of the old familiar and fishing on the other side of the boat. There is life abundant.
May all that is unlived within us blossom into a future graced with love. Amen.(John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us)