Third Sunday of Easter, April 14, 2013
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, North Myrtle Beach
John 21:1-14 (19)
On our journey through the church year, we have arrived at a point which is crucial for our lives of faith. That is, we find ourselves now between the feast days of Easter and Ascension ... between the times that Jesus rose from death and when he ascended to be with God the Father. This period, then – the Easter season – marks the time that the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, in order to confirm the reality of his resurrection.
After these appearances, Jesus would ascend to the Father. And soon after that, God would send the spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit – back to earth at Pentecost, to be the presence of God on earth forever after. But, at this point in the church year, we read testimonies to the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. The faith we hold two thousand years later depends on these post-appearances and on the witnesses shared in the Gospel accounts. It would be difficult, therefore, to overstate the importance of this time and of those witnesses, for our faith.
Today’s Gospel presents one of those appearances to us. In fact, we read this concluding observation there: “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead” (John 21:14). And, of course, this appearance of Jesus focused on the miraculous catch of fish in the Sea of Tiberias.
Remember that Jesus was on the shore early in the morning, and the disciples were in the boat, fishing. In fact, although they had been out all night, they had no fish to show for their efforts. They must have been exhausted and discouraged. From the beach, the risen Jesus – whom the disciples did not recognize at first – encouraged them to cast the net one more time. They did so, probably without much hope. But the result was a net full of fish.
Now, this post-resurrection appearance indicates several characteristics about the identity of the risen Jesus. Put another way, we learn about the risen One we call Lord by means of these witnesses to his resurrection. And, as I have said, our faith depends on such witnesses. What, then, do we find out about Jesus as a result of this appearance?
First, we learn that the risen Jesus is Lord of the earth and of all the natural world. Jesus is not isolated and separated from this world, as a result of his death and resurrection. Rather, he is Lord of the whole earth. The miraculous catch of fish affirms that reality.
In these parts, the term “sovereign” has been used a great deal in recent months. But the true sovereign – the real Lord – is Jesus. He proved his sovereignty, his Lordship, in this miracle, for we understand here that the entire world obeys him. Thus, Jesus becomes known as Lord because of his authority, even over the natural world. As we read in the Gospel account, “None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’, because they knew it was the Lord” (21:12).
The second thing we learn about Jesus from this post-resurrection appearance is that he cares about his disciples. After the miraculous catch of fish, the tired disciples came ashore. What they found there was Jesus, the risen Lord of the earth, tending a charcoal fire, cooking fish and toasting bread for them.
The Lord of life, the sovereign One, the risen Christ cared for his disciples. He prepared a fire, and he cooked breakfast for these disciples who had been fishing all night. That Jesus cares for his disciples is the second aspect of his identity which is affirmed in today’s Gospel.
Now, the third characteristic we learn about Jesus actually follows today’s Gospel reading. Immediately after breakfast, Jesus had a familiar encounter with Simon Peter. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?" (21:15,16,17). Three times Peter responded affirmatively ... that, indeed, he did love Jesus. Successively, Jesus then responds back to Peter, “Feed my lambs” (21:15), “Tend my sheep” (21:16), and “Feed my sheep” (21:17).
From that exchange between Jesus and Peter, we perceive another characteristic of the risen Christ. That is, he entrusts his ministry to those who follow him. Jesus calls on those who claim to be his followers to continue his work in the world. As we realize, Jesus soon will ascend to the Father, and so, he commissions others to take up his ministry. “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.” In other words, “I have been the Good Shepherd while I have been on earth. But I am about to leave to be with the Father. Therefore, I give this ministry to you. Care for those I have cared for. Continue the work I have done on earth.”
In summary, then, the time between Easter and Ascension is so very important for our faith. It is then that Jesus appeared to his disciples, following his resurrection, and confirming that he has been raised from the dead.
May we give thanks today for the things we know about Jesus because of his appearances after Easter. Jesus is Lord of the whole earth. Jesus cares for his disciples, even today. And Jesus entrusts his ministry to those who follow him on this pilgrimage of faith. Thanks be to God! Amen.
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg
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