Text: John 21:1-14
We are exploring some of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus found in the gospels – last week in Luke and today and next Sunday in John.
After the resurrection, the disciples eventually saw Jesus up close and personal - even Thomas, who was not present the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples and who had his doubts. And it seems that this was supposed to be the close of John’s gospel. Chapter 20 ends with,
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
That seems like the ending, right? But then there is another chapter. It’s like people were saying, “Tell us another story!” It’s like a concert when the performer leaves the stage and then comes back for an encore. John can’t help but add another story, or two. An epilogue. A postscript. This story, he felt, was important.
Have you ever got a post card from a loved one? Maybe they been away for a couple of weeks and they send a post card with a picture of the ocean or mountains or a big city skyline. There are a few lines telling about what they have seen and done, or maybe about the business meetings they have endured, and then they sign it. Of course, these days you are a lot more likely to get an email or a text, which may be about as lengthy as a post card. But then they add at the end, “P.S. I miss you more than I can say.”
The postscript can be more important than the photo or descriptions of their activities. A postscript is not always an unnecessary add-on; sometimes it can be the most important part.
This postscript to John, this epilogue, is important because like the disciples, we can all face that question of what happens after Easter.
After the resurrection, Jesus had appeared to his followers, to his closest friends, but then he was gone. And it was really hard to know what to do. It’s not like any of them had been in this situation before.
We don’t know exactly when this episode takes place, but it has been long enough that people are heading home. Folks are starting to go their separate ways. Seven of the disciples are together, back in Galilee. And Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”
What else would he do? He was a fisherman. This is what he did before leaving it behind to follow Jesus. So he and his friends get in the boat and head out on the lake.
For a lot of people, fishing is an enjoyable way to spend the day. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, it is a stress reliever. But if you are picturing Peter and John and Andrew and the others casting their line and just sitting back and swapping stories, think again. They used nets. Heavy, smelly, prone to tearing, retied and repaired over and over. Peter, Andrew, James and John were commercial fishermen.
They had been out all night and had nothing to show for it. They had not caught a thing, not even that first fish. Then they hear a voice from the shore. “Friends, you don’t have any fish, do you?” Well, why don’t you just tell the whole world?
But the disciples are pretty laid back about it. They respond that No, they hadn’t caught anything. Then the guy says, “Try the other side of the boat.” It’s kind of ridiculous advice coming from some random guy on the shore, but they figure, “Why not?” and there is a phenomenal catch of fish, unlike anything they had ever seen. It is miraculous. John yells, “It is the Lord!”
And then, in one of the weirder verses you’ll find in the Bible – and to be fair, there are a lot of really weird verses – Peter, upon realizing it is Jesus, puts on his clothes and then jumps in the water and heads for the shore. I have no idea what that is about. I don’t know whether to laugh because he put his clothes on to jump in the water or laugh because he took his clothes off to fish in the first place.
Peter leaves the rest of them to struggle with the phenomenal catch of fish, and the others finally manage to make it to shore. When they all get there, Jesus has fish cooking on the fire. And he has bread. Jesus has breakfast on the beach for them.
In this time of staying home, the thought of someone else preparing a meal for you, and you can just sit down and eat it with friends - you don’t have to pick it up curbside or at the drive-through window and take it home - is very appealing. When we get together with friends or with family, what do we do? So often, it involves food. We prepare a meal. We go out for coffee. We go to a restaurant. We have a cookout. There is this strong connection between food and fellowship.
I looked at the sign-up sheet in the Fellowship Hall and saw that the youth had signed up to host and provide food for our Fellowship Time after worship on the second Sunday in May. Well, we were at home in April, making our own Easter breakfast, and we will be at home again in May.
We’ve been having a Virtual Coffee Shop on Tuesdays. And we will have a sort of virtual Fellowship Time following worship today. But not being together in person, and not having refreshments, unless we provide them ourselves - it just isn’t the same. Some things translate fairly well to Zoom, but sitting down to a meal together is definitely not one of them.
It is interesting that our scripture last week – of Jesus joining the travelers on the road to Emmaus - also involved a meal. When Jesus broke the bread, they recognized that it was him.
Meals are so prominent in the gospels - the Passover meal, the Feeding of the 5000, a meal at Mary and Martha’s house, the big wedding banquet at Cana. Jesus was criticized for eating and drinking with the wrong people. When you shared a meal, it communicated acceptance and friendship and care and respect and bonds of fellowship.
Beyond all of that, and beyond the fact that the disciples were no doubt hungry, this meal on the beach actually serves another purpose.
We don’t know exactly when this took place, but the past days and perhaps weeks had been completely surreal. Did it really happen? Was Jesus really alive? When they had seen Jesus, was it just a specter, just a ghost as it were? Or was it perhaps their collective imagination?
Yet here was Jesus, doing the most basic and down-to-earth things. Building a fire, eating fish and bread. Very human stuff. Very tangible, bodily stuff. This was for real.
Back on Maundy Thursday, we read words that Jesus spoke when he and the disciples gathered in the Upper Room. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he said. “I will come to you.” And he did. After all was said and done, after the book was finished, while they were wondering what to do next and starting to go back to their everyday lives, Jesus shows up on the shore.
I am thinking about our lives, thinking about this time we are in, thinking about how disconnected many people are feeling. And if you are here this morning, it means you are able to at least use technology to some extent to connect with folks – a lot of people are unable to do that.
This can be a time of loneliness, a time of great anxiety, a time of uncertainty for the future. And in this time, Jesus says, “I will not leave you orphaned. I will come to you.” And he does, in the middle of our everyday lives, whether we are fishing on the lake or walking the dog or sitting down to a meal alone or worrying about family members that we cannot visit right now or working in the hospital with other stressed and frightened staff and patients.
Jesus comes to us and maybe asks us to try something else, something new, something as simple as casting our nets on the other side of the boat. And we may be blessed abundantly.
There is another strange little detail in this story. They caught exactly 153 fish. Who would count how many fish? And what is the point? The church has long seen this as an allegory. Some claim that it was thought there were 153 different kinds of fish, and this represented the universality of the gospel – it is for all people. This has long been thought of as a story about evangelism – what if it means we will have 153 new members? Worshiping via Zoom we already have our sights on 153 in attendance.
I think it is maybe best to just say this was a miracle that the disciples did not plan or expect. It came as they went about their everyday lives.
What do we do after Easter? What do we do in this strange time, this kind of Post-normal, postscript time we are in? We have breakfast with Jesus, who comes to us in unexpected ways, bringing joy and power. Amen.