The First Lesson: Acts (9:1-20)
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.”
The Response: Psalm 30
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.
The New Testament: Revelation (5:11-14)
Then 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.
The Gospel: John (21:1-19)
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
Do you remember last Sunday’s gospel reading? Well, don’t feel bad if you don’t. I’m not sure that I remember exactly what I did yesterday!
Last Sunday’s reading, the second half of John chapter 20, gave us what was apparently at one time the conclusion to the gospel according to John. It began on the evening of Easter, when the disciples were gathered in a house with all the doors locked. Jesus came to them anyway, greeted them with “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so now I send you,” and then gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit. It continued a week later in the scene when Thomas was with them and Jesus appeared to them again.
John then ends the chapter with a wonderful conclusion to his entire gospel: “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.” A wonderful conclusion. Period. End of story.
Except that now it’s not. Sometime, probably late in the first-century, some unknown editor added an Epilogue, a 21st chapter, the first part of which we heard as our gospel reading this morning. It’s a strange one: a narrative that appears to be an amalgamation of multiple stories that do not always flow logically or fit together seamlessly. And its greatest strangeness is the context of the narrative taken as a whole.
The story told in the first 20 chapters of John’s gospel ended with Jesus’ disciples gathered in Jerusalem. That is where his Palm Sunday entry into the holy city, his last days, his Last Supper, his condemnation, death and resurrection, and his post-resurrection appearances to his followers all took place.
But today, we’re suddenly back in Galilee; Jesus hasn’t been there since the beginning of chapter 7, two-thirds of a gospel ago. The disciples are out fishing on the Sea. All night, they have caught nothing. Jesus calls to them from the shore to let down their nets, and there is a miraculous catch of fish.
We find ourselves waiting for somebody to say, “Tell me if you’ve heard this one before”; because all of us have. It sounds like a rerun of the first part of the gospel. It is like we’re back at the very beginning of the story, that we have somehow been transported back to where it all began, and that nothing has changed.
But looks can be deceiving. Nothing has changed; but, at the same time, everything has changed. The cast of characters has changed; now there is a new community: a crew of seven on the boat, one of whom (Nathanael) is unique to John’s gospel and two of whom (the sons of Zebedee) have never appeared in John at all up to this point. The much earlier “great catch of fish” took place completely within the context of a commercial endeavor; now, with Jesus’ call to “Feed my lambs… Feed my sheep,” would this new band of believers look a little more deeply at what they have, beyond their own needs and those of their immediate families, to opportunities to feed the hungry literally as well as figuratively? When this company of disciples brings in the great catch of fish, they find that Jesus has already prepared for them a breakfast of fish and bread; they thought that they were bringing in the abundance of gifts; but were they prepared to be surprised by the even greater abundance of gifts that God was already providing for them in this new life? Peter, who had stood by a charcoal fire at the high priest’s house and denied Jesus three times, now stands at Jesus’ charcoal fire and declares his love for his risen Lord three times. And Jesus, who has given the supreme example of what it means for someone to be his disciple, now calls to Peter and to us: “Follow me”; his work in the world is now ours as well. Everything is the same; but everything is different.
We might find the key to understanding the dramatic transformation in this story in the declaration of the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved.” In response to the great catch of fish, John tells us that he turned to Peter and exclaimed, “It is the Lord!” Another valid translation of these words is “The Lord is present!” And it is the presence of the risen Lord that changes everything, even those things that seem to be the most familiar and the most mundane.
The fourth of T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” includes the thought-provoking lines:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
That seems to be where Jesus’ followers found themselves in this mysterious story. They were back to where they had started; but, because of the presence of the risen Jesus, nothing was the same. They saw everything differently. And suddenly, they really knew the place for the first time.
What about us? Now that we have once again made the journey through Holy Week and Easter, has our observance transformed us in such a way that we can look at the people and places and activities of our everyday lives and, in a sense, truly know them for the first time? Are we able to recognize the risen Christ, not in a stranger standing by a charcoal fire on some distant shoreline long ago, but in the strangers whom we encounter in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in our grocery stores, and on the streets of our cities? And when we do, are we ready and willing and maybe even eager to follow the risen Jesus in providing for them from the overwhelming abundance of God’s gifts? In the presence of the risen Jesus, are we ready to feed his lambs, feed his sheep?