Preached by Rev. Dr. Jason Haddox
Once again, as it has been for many years on this day…
…the annual pilgrimage to the holy city has taken place;
Once again… within the gates of the sacred precincts,
…the necessary rituals have been enacted with all due decorum and ceremony;
Once again…the holy pilgrims are preparing to depart and return home.
Indeed, some have already departed.
Peter and James and John, Nathaniel and Thomas the other disciples have left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee in the north, back home again.
(What? You thought I was talking about a golf tournament?**)
Once again, it has been a grand and glorious festival.
Now it is time to go home, to get back to normal.
Except that Normal has moved.
Normal is no longer where it was, when it was last seen.
Normal fled the night they walked with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane,
and there Judas met them with the temple authorities,
and Jesus was arrested and led away under guard,
and all the mechanism of the Roman imperial political system was set in motion against him.
Normal was destroyed on Friday when Jesus hung on the cross for three hours,
and then cried out one last time and was silent.
Normal was redefined at dawn on the third day,
when Mary Magdalene stood weeping at the entrance to the empty tomb,
and then realized in shock that the one whom she had mistaken for the Gardener
was her beloved Rabbi and friend, risen from the dead.
At first, she did not recognize him.
She didn’t know who he was.
And then all at once, she knew.
And that knowing changed everything.
Peter and Andrew, James and John and the others have all been in Jerusalem, they have all been at the festival, they have all seen all of these things—and they are ready to get back to normal. Whatever that might look like.
“I’m going fishing,” Peter declares. “We will go with you,” they answer. Resurrection or no resurrection, they still have to make a living. Fishing is what they know. So that’s what they do. All night and into the early morning hours. They cast the nets, and draw them in. Over and over. And nothing—not one undersized lake trout, not one old shoe, not one broken piece of pottery. Nothing.
They are back home again in Galilee, fishing in Lake Tiberius, also known as the Sea of Galilee. It was here that Jesus had established his reputation by walking on the water, stilling the storm, and feeding thousands of people with bread and fish. They are back in familiar territory; they know the habits of these fish in this lake. They are doing the best the know how to do, and yet it just doesn’t seem to be getting them anywhere. They are tired, they are discouraged, they are wondering “What is wrong here? I just don’t get it.”
Perhaps you know that feeling as well. I know I do. When we do our best, and seem to be getting nowhere at all. Heart and soul all in, and yet nothing—not even an old waterlogged shoe.
At dawn, the weary fishermen see someone standing on the beach. It is hard to see anything after the long night, and they don’t know who is calling to them: “You haven’t caught anything there, have you?” “No, nothing.” (Peter probably appended some smart-aleck comment under his breath about the wiseacre knowing so much about fishing over there…) “Cast the nets once more, and you will find some.”
And they cast the nets once more. And something begins to happen. The ropes begin to pull, the surface of the water begins to splash and boil with tails and fins flipping and flopping, eyes and gills sparkling blue and silver, red and gold in the morning sunlight. They seize the ropes and haul with all their strength to bring the nets into the boat, nets that groan and strain under the stress of trying to hold the abundance of fish. They see what their eyes had longed to see; they know what their hearts had desired to know. “Normal,” once more, was shifted from its customary place.
All at once, they knew.
And that knowing changed everything.
Peter is the first to speak the word: It is the Lord! In his quick-tempered enthusiasm he jumps into the water and makes for the shore as fast as he can; the others stay in the boat and follow as quickly as they are able.
Jesus greets them, with a fire for warmth, and a meal of fish and bread.
A small breakfast gathering is enough; there is no need to feed five thousand hungry pilgrims today. They do not talk much; there is no need for much talk today.
This is “the third time” we are told, that Jesus appears to the disciples after the resurrection.
Now back at home in their ordinary circumstances,
Jesus is present with them in their daily occupations.
The frustrations and setbacks of those daily occupations
have been miraculously transformed by Jesus’ presence with them.
Jesus meets them where they are, and feeds them a simple meal, in the midst of their everyday lives.
This is now what Normal looks like.
Jesus asks Peter: “Do you love me?” Not once, but three times.
Three times Peter is invited to affirm what Peter had three times denied,
on the night of Jesus’ arrest.
Three times he had been asked “Do you know this man?” and had said No;
Three times Jesus brings him back home to himself, asking him “Do you love me?”
There is no rejection; there is no judgment;
There is only welcome and warmth, and a simple meal,
and the chance to say “Yes, I love you” for real and for ever.
Last of all, he tells them: Follow me. Come with me Peter, walk the way that I will show you. Come with me, James and John. Come with me, Nathaniel and Thomas. You don’t know where the way will lead you, but you know who your leader is. You don’t know all the twists and turns of the journey, but you walk in the light of the risen Christ, who goes before you and leads you deep into the life and heart of God.
That invitation is for us as well.
Come and eat the simple meal. Come and be welcomed and forgiven and restored.
Come walk the way of my holy pilgrims, good people of St. Augustine of Canterbury Church.
We don’t know for sure where or when Jesus will appear—but when he appears, we will know.
And that knowing will, and does, change everything.
** This sermon was preached on the Sunday of the 2013 Masters’ Tournament in Augusta.