(3rd Easter – John 21.1-14)
April 22, 2007
Jesus said to the disciples, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some fish.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21.6-7)
My TIME magazine came to the house yesterday.
And I was really shaken by the cover article. It was not that I learned anything new. I certainly have been closely watching the news for the last week; as every detail about the tragic events at Virginia Tech has been analyzed in mind-numbing detail. And maybe that was the problem. In the rush to analyze, and blame, and second guess, we lost track of the faces.
These faces here on the cover of the magazine. These people who were in the prime of their life. Enjoying their years of college – that last time of true youthful bliss, before setting out into the big bad world. These faces – so full of life when the photos were taken. And full of the promise of the future. And now . . ?
The subtitle of the article says, “Trying to make sense of a massacre.”
I guess that is what we do now; publicly sift through every morbid detail; trying to understand the imponderable. Maybe digging into all of the minutiae helps some people cope with the horror of Cho Seung-Hui’s murderous rampage, but it is ultimately a futile process. TIME itself admitted, the “the urgent search for meaning ran into the real, raw sense of senselessness.”
That sums up my feelings. This is a tragedy for which there are just no real answers. So my defense mechanism was to mentally keep the victims as faceless and nameless as I could. And then their faces showed up in my mail. And I too had to finally ask, why?
Why, God? Why these kids? What did they ever do to deserve such an unspeakable horror?
That is the question that I find we Christians must answer most often. If you say that you have a loving God, who cares equally for all people, then how could he let this happen? And it is not just non-believers that ask. We ask ourselves that same question time and again.
Why? Why are some people miraculously spared, and others allowed to perish for no reason? How can a loving God stand by and watch something like this unfold?
That question of theodicy – the defense of God’s goodness despite the existence of evil in the world - is one that theologians and scholars have wrestled with since time began. So it is unlikely that we will do much better at solving the problem today. The important thing for us to do is to remember what God actually promised. We need to look at what God actually says and does; and hang on to hope of what Jesus Christ does promise. And let go of the things that just we wish that he promised.
So let’s look at the promises in today’s readings and see if they can give us any comfort in the midst of this tragedy in Virginia.
Our Gospel reading opens with Peter and six of the disciples getting into a boat and going fishing. Now this is some time after the first resurrection appearances that we read about last week. Where Jesus appeared to the disciples in locked room and then came back a week later to convince doubting Thomas. And now look where they are another week or two later.
Peter and the others seemed to have returned to their old life. Because, here they are back in the familiar surroundings of Galilee. And back doing the same thing that they were doing three years earlier when Jesus first found them. Somehow, I expected them to be out in the countryside - proclaiming the Word, didn’t you? I mean, these are the men who had seen the resurrected Christ with their own eyes on more than one occasion.
Yet, that was not enough. Not enough for them to continue the new ministry without their leader. Not enough for them to expect that they could be successful on their own. After all, they are just a bunch of fishermen. Who would listen or believe their witness of what they had seen?
I guess there is a big difference between believing something up here (head) and having the faith or the confidence to act on it, isn’t there?
Because the disciples knew that Jesus had conquered death, but here they are – still waiting for one more miracle. Still needing more proof before they actually leave their comfort zones and act on what they have seen.
And so Jesus accommodates them with another fishing miracle. After fishing all night, the disciples were coming back to shore empty handed, when Jesus stops them and calls out to them from the shore. And he tells them to cast their net one more time. Specifically – on the right side of the boat. Although they don’t appear to recognize him, they still do what he asks. And this time they are finally successful – and they catch more fish than they have ever caught with one cast. John, the beloved disciple, instantly realizes that it is Jesus who caused this great catch. And he tells Peter, “It is the Lord.”
And then Peter does one last dumb thing. Did you catch it when we read it just now? He puts on his clothes in order to jump in the water and swim to shore to greet Jesus. That’s great isn’t it? I guess that he wants to be sure he is properly dressed to meet his Lord?
And notice the nature of the miracle that Jesus does. Actually the disciples do all of the work don’t they? And in fact they do the same thing that they had been doing all night. Yet they readily agree to try again.
Our former bishop, Bishop Payne, loved to talk about how we need to understand ourselves as communities of miraculous expectation. I love that notion – communities of miraculous expectation. But those are only nice words, without any real meaning or power, unless we actually behave as if God will provide for us and equip us such that we can do more than we might imagine being possible.
So that is the first way that Jesus encourages the disciples and encourages us. He reminds us that with him, we can do things that otherwise would be impossible. In the wake of an unimaginable tragedy like Virginia Tech, Jesus comes and reminds us that his promise is not for a life without sorrow or tragedy. Rather it is a promise that he will be with us and sustain us always. The comfort of knowing that the wrongs of this world are made right in the next, gives us strength to cope with tragedy and loss.
And that leads us to the next thing that Jesus does for the disciples. While we might have expected Jesus to scold them for not being out there doing kingdom work, instead of fishing – he does not.
Instead, he invites them to breakfast. And in doing so, he again demonstrates the great importance of fellowship and love in his kingdom.
He made a fire for cooking the fish, so he is literally inviting them to experience the warmth of his presence.
Jesus’ mission was to bring us closer to the Father; to bring us into a loving relationship with our Creator.
Come closer, he says to the disciples. Warm yourself at my fire. Here, have something to eat. Whatever your fears, whatever is making you anxious, lay it here at my feet. Sit down and rest in me. I will be with you for all time.
I doubt that I could be much comfort to the families that lost their children in Virginia. There just are no words that can make it right.
I guess, like Jesus, we invite those who are hurting or confused to come closer to fire. To experience the warmth of Christ’s love and the fellowship of each other, until we get through those dark nights of the soul together.
Ultimately that is what they did at Virginia Tech. Over ten thousand students gathered together on Tuesday night at the drill field, with their candles. It was an incredible scene, all of those flickering little lights in the darkness of the Virginia night. They came together to share their comfort and warmth with each other.
And I am sure that Jesus was there among them. Offering a bite to eat, providing the warmth of his presence, and encouraging them to get up the next day in the sure and certain knowledge that he is the Lord. That is his promise.
Thanks be to God.