Third Sunday of Easter / April 18, 2010 / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Gospel: John 21: 1 – 19 / Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley / Title: Go Fish!
What would you think…if I were to tell you that scholars have long debated whether John’s Gospel has two endings? In the first ending, you’ll recall that Jesus appeared to his disciples behind locked doors…coming to them and showing them his hands and his side…even taunting Thomas (who had managed to miss his first such appearance) to place his hand into Jesus’ wounds in order that he might ‘stop doubting...and believe’. What sounded like a sure-shot ending turned out to not be an ending at all…forcing Bible scholars to state that John’s Gospel does not end once…but twice. Chapter 21 can almost be viewed as an extended “P.S.” to a letter that had been signed and was ready to be sealed when John remembered a story that was too good to be left out. And thanks be to God…here it is.
It all happened sometime after that first Easter day…after Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the morning…and to his disciples later that evening. After some time had passed (and no one knows exactly how long) the disciples made a decision. Several decided to leave Jerusalem…and to return to their old stomping grounds in Galilee. According to John’s Gospel, there were seven of them which meant that already they were beginning to unravel at the seams. These seven decided to do what came naturally…and with a little prompting from Peter…they grabbed their old fishing gear, jumped into the boat…and before they even knew it, they were ready to… go fish!
The thing is…fishing has added meaning for these particular seven. Unlike for you and me, fishing was not just some kind of recreational sport to ease away their weekly stress. Fishing was their way of life. It was how they put food on the table…and a roof over their heads. In essence, by going back to Galilee, what the seven were really doing was returning to their former way of life. Back to what they knew they could do best…and do without the presence of Jesus. After all…he was gone. They hadn’t seen him since Jerusalem and as power-filled as that experience all was…they had come to realize that “life goes on”. It was time for them to quit living in the past…and get on with providing for themselves. So they go fishing.
Let’s call this part of the story: déjà vu. It seemed they had all been here before…sitting in this same boat…just waiting for the fish to bite (or as in their case…swim into the net)…at which time they would all spring into action. Grabbing onto nets almost too full to hoist…often times ripping under the load of such a catch. Talk about a rush of adrenaline! Hearts pounding…arms straining…the smell of fish teaming to the brim and so full of life! It was in these very waters that the disciples had made some spectacular catches…and they knew it! But as time wore on…they began to realize something else as well. Their best catches had been made...only when Jesus was by their side. Now look at them.
No wonder they weren’t catching any fish. John says they fished all night long…and didn’t have a single bite. I suspect that some of us can relate. Time after time they cast their nets into the waters…and time after time they come up empty…just like their empty hearts. I’ve heard it said that it is always darkest…before the dawn. Now I wouldn’t know from personal experience…but I do believe that such a saying is true. What I can say from personal experience is this. It is at the darkest times in my life…when I can’t quite “see” which way to turn…that I find myself “listening” more intently…for the voice of God. Which is why I don’t believe that it is by coincidence that the disciples in today’s story…even though they couldn’t “see” Jesus…were still able to “hear” his voice.
And yes, it was when they followed “his directions” that their nets were filled. It is déjà vu all over again: the boats, the nets, the stranger on the shore. Only one disciple recognizes who the voice must be and blurts out: “It is the Lord!” Is it any wonder then, that when they all reached the shore…the one they find there waiting is not a stranger at all. It is Jesus…now playing the role of their host. Unlike the last meal they had shared together in their old life…this was now the first meal of their new life together with the resurrected Lord.
The good news is this story is filled with clues for those times when we all find ourselves drifting out to sea in the middle of the night…too afraid to know which way to turn…leaving us with no idea as to how to begin again. One clue is that it is probably a good idea to pay attention to strangers…since Jesus has been known to use a whole host of disguises. Another clue is a sudden change in the way we perceive “life”. One moment it may look hopeless…yet in the next, we begin to “see” possibilities we never saw before. One moment our problems look too big to even budge…yet in the next, we begin to “see” ways of lightening the load. And like today’s disciples…one moment all we can “see” is an empty net…yet in the next, we begin to “see something wriggling” in it where there was nothing only moments before.
Whether it is alittle…or a lot…the point being that “something is alive” where before there appeared to be only darkness and death. “It is the Lord!” to quote the beloved disciple. Now I ask you…how did he know? How does any of us know? By staying on the alert…and watching the shore…the sky…the faces of our brothers and sisters. By listening really hard. By living in great expectation…and by refusing to believe that our nets will stay empty and that our nights will last forever. For those with ears to hear…there is a voice that turns all dead ends into new beginnings.
“Come,” the voice continues to say, “…it’s time to…go fish!.” Amen