In our Collect for this Third Sunday of Easter, we read, "Open the eyes of our faith that we may behold him in all his redeeming work." This is what is happening in today's Gospel. Peter and a group of other disciples once again have an experience of the resurrected Jesus. Once again the eyes of their faith have been opened.
The disciples have had several of these experiences. In a previous chapter, John tells us how Jesus first appeared to the disciples when they were gathered in the Upper Room. Last Sunday we heard about how Thomas, who had missed the first appearance but not the second, learned a great lesson about faith and about how Jesus always reassured them, first saying, "Peace be to you." We would think that after these appearances, proof of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, the disciples would immediately have "hit the road" to preach and teach and tell the world about this wonderful thing that had happened; that they would have been so charged with the Great Commission that they could not have waited to begin their new lives.
Well, it doesn't seem so today. In this last chapter of John's Gospel, and only a short time after the resurrection, we find the disciples gathered again on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. Gathered once again where they had been found by Jesus three years before-at the shore, back with their boats and nets and, once again, fishing. It seems like a strange sort of dÃ©jÃ vu experience, doesn't it? A strange sort of flashback? Haven't we seen them here before? Shouldn't they be doing something different with their lives after spending three years with Jesus? Perhaps-but perhaps not! The story may begin the same way but something new happens.
We don't know what was going through the minds of those disciples gathered on the beach. They have seen Jesus, they know he is not dead, but instead of taking on his teaching and preaching, it sounds as if they have returned to what they knew best, what was most comfortable for them. Perhaps they were still struggling with all that had happened to them, with the amazing events and ideas that had impacted their lives. Perhaps they needed to gather once more in a place that was familiar and, physically, work out some of their thoughts and questions by doing something they knew by heart: fishing.
Here the story sounds like one we have heard before. The disciples spent the night fishing but caught nothing. Just after daybreak they had heard someone call them from the shore, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" A strange question or statement. Evidently the person standing on the shore knew they had no fish. "Throw the net on the right side of the boat and you'll find some." A strange directive but, again, one we have all heard before. We know the rest of the story. They hauled in a boatload of fish, the net did not tear despite the bulk of the catch, and suddenly they recognized the Lord.
Jesus was on the beach with a fish breakfast ready for them. He instructed Peter to add a few fish from the catch they had just brought in. We can only guess what went on in the minds of the disciples, but we know that soon their lives would change radically. They would be filled with the Holy Spirit and would begin going out into the world to spread the news of the kingdom of God. But at this moment captured in the Gospel we see them again sharing a meal with Jesus, sharing with him as they had shared a meal with him on the night before he died-but with a difference. They have added their own fish to the fire. Jesus is still with them as he promised He is still providing support and nourishment for them. In fact, they are learning a great lesson. The heart and soul of all Jesus did for them and taught them has not changed. They take that great legacy with them as they begin spreading the Good News.
The message is the same for us. We, too, are charged with the same commission he gave the disciples: continue the work begun by Jesus. Remember, last week Jesus said to the disciples, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." We are part of that body of people who have not seen Jesus in the flesh, and yet we do believe and want others to believe, too. We have just been through the season of Lent and have celebrated the great feast of Easter. Lent is a time when we, like the early Christians, should consider the promises we have each made in our Baptismal Covenant. Have we been living out those promises? Where can we begin again to live them more faithfully? The eyes of our faith still need to be opened as we work on sharing Jesus' message with others.
The disciples had a long road ahead of them. They couldn't begin to imagine how their preaching and teaching would continue through the centuries to our time. They couldn't imagine how society would change and how people would have to change with it-while still keeping the message of God's love constant and true.
We have many opportunities to keep the Christian message alive today in our church and many things to distract us from it as well. In this time of great disagreement and discord, we need to remember what we are called to do by our Baptismal Covenant. We are called to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to persevere in resisting evil, to proclaim by word and example the Good News, to serve Christ in all people, to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being. It is a hard task but we are in good company. Jesus invited the disciples to add their fish to his. He invites us to do the same.