Third Sunday of Easter
We are still in the Easter season. The first three gospel lessons of the season have to do with people seeing the risen Christ. It’s important because seeing helps us to believe.
Two weeks ago on Resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene was the first to arrive at the empty tomb and to see. After a brief encounter with the risen Christ she proclaimed: “I have seen the Lord!”
If you missed it, last Sunday’s gospel was about some of the other disciples also seeing. Jesus appears before them as they were locked down, hiding out in fear and anxiety behind closed doors.
It was a rough time to be in Jerusalem; a rough time to be counted among the loyal followers of Christ. They had seen what could happen and they knew what was at stake.
My guess is that some of us understand how easy it is to hide out behind the challenges of life, don’t we? To set up barriers to protect ourselves and stay as “safe” as possible?
We hide out behind sickness and pain, old wounds and battle scars; behind who likes us and who doesn’t. And what they said and don’t say. We hide out behind what we know and what we have and what we don’t know; who has the power and all sorts of things.
It is possible to hide out our entire life, never breaking free – always living as a closeted person in mind, body, and spirit; always under the dark cloud. For some people, it’s pouring rain every day and they are not “rainy day” people.
But the hope of Resurrection and the Easter season is that the living Christ is alive and among us; that he can and does break in on us even through our tough barriers, closed and locked doors, if we open ourselves to his presence. And this takes work, time, attention, intentionality, and purpose.
Jesus appears so that we might see the power of his presence and fully embrace being one of his. He comes to us so that we might recognize his deep love and passion for us and so that we might see that in others as well.
So Jesus makes these appearances so the disciples can see and believe. The first time he appears to the disciples, Thomas was not among them. Lord knows where he might have been, right?
We can only imagine but that’s another story. Thomas stands in for all of us that miss out the first time; all of us who need a little “extra.”
I think it’s just fine to be like Thomas, to have our doubts and reservations. It’s ok to be MIA sometimes when the others are trying to get it together. In God’s economy, it’s all the same. It’s all part of it. It is what it is.
When the others tell him, Thomas says “I’m not going to believe unless I see for myself the nail prints in his hands, and put my finger in the place where the nails were in his side.” “Ok Thomas, that’s fine,” Jesus seems to say.
And what does Jesus do? He does not ridicule Thomas nor kick him out of the group. He does not declare him unworthy of full inclusive benefit. He doesn’t call him names or assign a label to him like we so easily do.
No, Jesus shows up. Is that what you need Thomas, in order to believe? You need to see? Touch? Then here – here are my hands, my side – touch, see, believe.
These personal encounters and experiences are critical to our faith for they remind us of God’s willingness to give us what we need in order that we might be drawn closer, drawn in. We cannot follow whom we do not know and what we cannot grasp. Outside of a relationship with the living Christ, our resolve is short, motives are skewed, and behaviors are shallow, try as we might.
Today, Jesus is seen by the disciples once more. They are on the beach by the Sea of Tiberas, still trying to sort things out. We are reminded that this work of seeing and believing is not a one and done, it takes time a lot of time and a lot of practice, and a lot of effort.
The disciples had witnessed the cruel treatment and harsh death and then an empty tomb. They have seen Christ alive walking through locked doors. Still they were bewildered. Who wouldn’t be? I’m guessing they were on emotional overload in much the same way that we can sometimes find ourselves. They were overwhelmed and blinded by the noise and confusion around them.
Perhaps out of sheer necessity, they determine to go on back to work, to get on with their lives. “I am going fishing,” Peter announced. That is the one thing he knows how to do. He knows how to catch fish. We go to work almost on auto-pilot, don’t we?
And let’s face it, regardless of what we are going through, there is a real sense that we have to still get on with the business of living our lives. Isn’t that right? We still have to do the things we have to do whether we feel like it or not.
At least at work, we can take our minds off of other things for a little while. At work, we can deflect and transfer – be distracted (sometimes) from the real thing going on inside. We can engage others in chit chat about nonsense that really doesn’t matter as they also engage us when really their heart and mind is somewhere else. That’s why work is often so difficult – there’s a reason. So often, we encounter behavior from people that has nothing to do with us at all but we can’t be honest about it, so we just act out.
“I’m going fishing.” And all of the others joined in, “We are going with you.” But get this: they were expert fishermen; they fished all night long but caught nothing. They came up empty.
How many times have we tried to go on as if nothing happened, trying to ignore the problem or its severity only to discover that we are unproductive, unsuccessful, actually appearing to be somewhat of a failure, which only adds to greater frustration?
But as the morning dawns and a new day begins, we find Jesus on the shore waiting for them. Jesus is waiting for them and already knows their circumstance: “Children, you have no fish, have you?”
Right there in the middle of what seems like failure, Jesus is waiting and knowing.
Again, the instruction is clear: “Cast down your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” If only we could cast our net on the other side and get an immediate and plentiful response! If only we could try something new and different, give faith a try.
Sometimes, the things that are most natural and familiar can make us blind and keep us from gaining new perspective. They were unsuccessful but willing to try again. So they cast their nets and the bounty was so great that their small little muscles could not haul in all the fish. And they recognize: “It is the Lord!” The Lord is with us.
Now, I wish things always worked out so smoothly. I wish for the bountiful response at the moment of recognition. That all the problems would go away and wrongs would be righted immediately. I wish it happened that way but we know it doesn’t – not always.
We know that there is little magic to life: faith is not magic and magic is not faith. Scripture tells us that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Sometimes, we have to keep trying though there is no evidence to say otherwise. If we wait until everything got in place, we would never get very far.
Mary didn’t recognize Jesus at first but she stayed at the tomb. The other disciples didn’t recognize him either. We often don’t expect God to be present (usually the last resort) and when it looks like God might be trying to break through, we can be so overwhelmed and so doubtful or so pre-determined for another outcome, that we can hardly believe that things might actually work out.
Jesus invites them to do what they have done so many times. Come, let’s sit down together. Let’s eat and chat for a while. Somehow in the breaking of bread and sharing of fellowship they see who he really is, for none had to ask.
Three times Jesus turns to Peter and asks, “Peter do you love me?” It is an important question. Do you love Christ this morning? And do you believe that Christ loves you? What does loving Christ look like? And how does that translate into a hope-filled life of generous love and service? How does it translate into perseverance and assurance of your own value and worth in the world? How does it translate into spiritual, physical, and emotional food and nourishment for the sake of others, making their lives better?
“Do you love me, Peter?” Jesus asks. Feed my sheep.
If we love the risen Lord, we love those whom he loves, even those considered the least. To see Christ is to see those whom he saw healed, cared for. The Shepherd cannot be separated from the sheep.
My friends, we are still in the Easter season. The cross remains to remind us that resurrection is all around. It is the season in which we recognize where the heart of God truly is and how we are part of it all. Can you see? Can you believe?