Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” [The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”]
1 I will exalt you, O LORD,
because you have lifted me up *
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried out to you, *
and you restored me to health.
3 You brought me up, O LORD, from the dead; *
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.
4 Sing to the LORD, you servants of his; *
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.
5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, *
his favor for a lifetime.
6 Weeping may spend the night, *
but joy comes in the morning.
7 While I felt secure, I said,
“I shall never be disturbed. *
You, LORD, with your favor,
made me as strong as the mountains.”
8 Then you hid your face, *
and I was filled with fear.
9 I cried to you, O LORD; *
I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? *
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
11 Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me; *
O LORD, be my helper.”
12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; *
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; *
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
For most clergy, one of their favorite days of the entire year is Easter Monday. Almost every church of every denomination closes its office that day. By then, not only the clergy but also the church office staff, the musicians and everyone else who participates in planning and leading the church’s worship is ready for a break. We have observed Ash Wednesday and all the special services, studies and events of Lent. We have completed Palm Sunday, special Holy Week services such as the Way of the Cross and Tenebrae, the Bishop’s annual service of the Renewal of Ordination Vows and the Blessing of Oils, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Great Vigil of Easter, and Easter Day. Finally, it is time to breathe a sigh of relief that we have survived the season once again.
This time of year, all the members of the church can enjoy that sense of completion. Together we have celebrated Jesus’ birth and baptism, followed him through stories of his public ministry, watched him as he made his fateful journey to Jerusalem, listened once again to the story of his suffering and death, and celebrated the apparent conclusion of the story: his resurrection.
Even last Sunday’s gospel reading, the conclusion of John chapter 20, made it appear that the story was now complete. On the eighth day after Jesus’ resurrection, after he had appeared once again to his disciples including Thomas, the evangelist provides his entire gospel with a wonderful coda: “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.” Period. End of story.
Except that it’s not. Some later editor, probably in the 80s or 90s of the first century, added chapter 21 which serves as an epilogue to the Gospel according to John. We heard part of that chapter here this morning. It is an addition to the gospel, a continuation; but everything that happens in that chapter sounds vaguely familiar, like we have heard it all before.
Way back at the beginning of the gospel, at the start of Jesus’ public ministry, those who would become his disciples were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They had caught nothing; but, at Jesus’ word, they suddenly experienced a great catch of fish. Jesus fed the crowds by the side of the lake. And then he called Peter and the other early disciples to follow him. Now, after his resurrection, after what seemed to be the end of the story, to quote the famous words of Yogi Berra, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” What is going on here? What is the evangelist trying to tell us?
Let’s take a closer look at today’s gospel reading. When the scene in that reading opens, the darkness has passed. The sun is now rising over the waters of the lake. Jesus is alone on the shore, preparing breakfast. It is obviously the start of a new day. But it is not just the start of any new day. What the evangelist seems to be picturing for us is the start of the first day of the new creation. Everything seems familiar. Everything is beginning once again, the same way that it had three years earlier. But it is not exactly the same. Now, because of Jesus’ resurrection, everything has been changed. Everything has become new.
Jesus is the same, only different; at first, his disciples don’t recognize him. Once again they are fishing. But this time, their nets, which earlier were at the point of breaking, are more full than ever, and yet they are not torn. The disciples, too, are the same, only different. Peter, who had denied Jesus three times, now professes his love for him three times; and Jesus three times gives Peter a special responsibility in feeding, in serving, Jesus’ sheep.
So what is this new day, this new beginning, all about? What does it have to do with John’s church? More importantly this morning, what does it have to do with us and with our church?
I suggest that whoever wrote this epilogue took his or her cue from Jesus’ words in the previous chapter. In that chapter, and specifically in the gospel reading that we heard last Sunday, Jesus appears to his disciples on the evening of Easter. He greets them, then declares to them: “As the Father has sent me, so now I send you.” He then breathes on them and fills them with his Spirit.
In effect, what Jesus seems to be saying to us in this concluding chapter to John’s gospel is: “I have completed the work that God gave me to do. I have been faithful to the Father’s call. I have given myself completely to the work of God and have poured out my life in service to the world. And now it is your turn. Now it is your turn to do what I have done. Now it is your turn to give yourself completely to the work of God and to pour out your life in service to the world.”
The story that John has told up to this point has been the story of Jesus. The new story that is just beginning is our story: the story of all of us who have been filled with the Spirit of Jesus so that we might now do in our lives what Jesus did in his life.
I sometimes think of this time of the year that began after the Great Vigil of Easter, that is the time from Easter morning through the Day of Pentecost, as the “so what” of the resurrection story. Jesus has been raised from the dead – so what? What difference does it make? What does it mean for the world? What does it mean for us?
Throughout Christian history, this season has served to help answer those questions. New members of the church have traditionally been baptized at the Easter Vigil. The next fifty days have been called the time of “mystagogia”: a Greek term meaning “the time of leading into the mysteries.” It has been a time in which they have further explored the significance of what it means to have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus.
These Great Fifty Days, as they are known, can serve that same purpose for all of us. They can serve as a time for us to explore further the implications of our own baptism. They can serve as a time for us to live in the epilogue to John’s gospel: to embrace the risen Christ. But especially, they can serve as a time for us to listen to the risen Christ and to follow the risen Christ as he sends us to do what he has done: to give our lives in response to the call of God and in service to the world.
This is the time of year in which the risen Christ speaks to us, just as he spoke to Peter long ago: “As the Father has sent me, so now I send you… If you love me, go out and do what I have done: feed my lambs, feed my sheep.”