April 12, 2020
Video of whole service: https://www.facebook.com/185862493481/videos/253081955814381/
Scripture: John 20:1-18; John 21:1-14
So Happy Easter, everybody! We are doing Easter right this year because in our scriptures today, we heard about not 1, not 2, but 3 appearances of the post-resurrection Jesus. That’s a whole lot of resurrection! A whole lot – even for Easter!
We’ve got the first resurrection appearance to Mary Magdalene in the morning in the garden. The second one is that evening in the room where the disciples were hiding, and the third one is awhile later, back in Galilee. Some commentators guess that it could have been up to a month later. We actually skipped over a fourth resurrection appearance in the Gospel of John. That one was a week after the resurrection – and it was the one featuring the disciple Thomas (who wasn’t with the disciples for appearance #2). Here in the gospel of John, the risen Jesus, the risen Christ, just keeps showing up.
As I read through the appearances this week, I noticed a theme. The disciples have a whole lot of trouble recognizing the risen Jesus. Commentators throughout the ages who read about the appearances in all four of the gospels have also noticed this theme. Even if we just focus on the Gospel of John, though, it becomes apparent that the disciples have real trouble recognizing the risen Jesus.
I mean, Mary is standing face-to-face with him having a conversation, and she thinks maybe he is the gardener. In the doubting Thomas text that we skipped today – well, you know the story. Thomas says he won’t believe it’s really Jesus until he actually touches his wounds. I mean, why was that necessary? Jesus was standing right there, and Thomas wasn’t able to comprehend it was Jesus.
Finally, in the fishing story that we just heard, Jesus shows up as this shadowy figure on the beach. Even though Jesus is close enough to call to the anglers, they cannot recognize his face or even his voice when he calls out. When they get close to him, they are all still a little hesitant to say out loud, “Hey, we think this is Jesus.” These are the disciples who had literally sat and ate and walked and talked with him – and learned at his feet. They were with him in person for years. Yet when the post-resurrection Jesus shows up, sometimes it is really hard to recognize him.
I can relate. I’ve been finding it really hard to see Jesus since this coronavirus thing started, and I am going to guess that I am not alone in that. Here we are, distancing ourselves from people we love, not able to gather physically as a community here at church or even in our homes. Maybe like the disciples, we are feeling afraid and unsure of what life is going to be like in our new reality. Maybe we have heard of people getting ill and dying in the world around us, and our hearts are heavy. Maybe we are worried for our own safety and the safety of our families. Maybe we have even lost someone we loved recently. All of this anxiety, all of this grief, all of this uncertainty: it sure makes it hard to see Jesus.
Sometimes it might even make us want to give up on Jesus.
Many commentators believe that the disciples’ decision to go back to Galilee meant they might have been giving up on the mission of sharing the good news of God’s love with the world. When Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” it’s like he is saying, “Forget this. Jesus has appeared a couple of times, but now he’s gone, and he’s never coming back. I’m going back to what my life was like before I met him.” Now, the Gospel of John makes a big deal of the fact that, whatever the disciples did after the resurrection, they did it together. They were in the room in Jerusalem together. They went back to Galilee together. And here, when Peter says, “Forget it. I’m going fishing,” his friends won’t let him go alone. They say, “We are going with you.”
So they all go fishing together: Peter, the-formerly-doubting Thomas, Nathanael, John and James, and two other unnamed friends. They wouldn’t let Peter go off in his doubts and despair alone. They are all together when they see Jesus on the shore, after the big catch of fish that lets them know that this is Jesus! Peter, who was probably wearing a loincloth to fish, puts on his coat and jumps in the sea…which seems very weird and possibly dangerous to me. But I wonder if Peter was so surprised, so excited, he wasn’t even thinking straight! He’s like “Oh, gotta go see Jesus! Better put my coat on first!” It’s as if he kind of forgets there is a body of water between then. So he jumps in the sea, fully clothed, and swims.
Again, his friends don’t leave him alone. They take the boat – and bring in the big catch of fish. Jesus already has fish on the fire and bread to offer them. They add their catch to his, and they know it is him: Jesus, the one who had given them peace and the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, the one who feeds bodies and souls. Jesus, the one who provides the first fish – and then multiplies our efforts in ways we can’t even imagine. They saw Jesus, and they saw him together.
Of course, being together is a real challenge for us these days. Sure, we can spend time in prayer and study in solitude, by ourselves, in order to see Jesus. I have been doing that these past few weeks, and I’ve experienced moments of consolation in doing so. But the times I have seen Jesus most clearly…the times I have felt his presence there like he’s sitting in the room, are the times when my friends have supported me. Let me be clear. By “friends,” I mean you: my co-disciples, my co-laborers in trying our best to share this resurrection hope with the world. I saw Jesus because of you.
Shortly after our social isolation started, I was on the phone with one of you. I confessed that I was feeling sad that all of our church plans had been interrupted, and I was worried that delays caused by the coronavirus might meant some of our big dreams wouldn’t happen at all. And you said, “Yeah, things might not happen how we imagined them… but God always has better dreams for us then we can imagine for ourselves.”
One of you sent just a little handwritten note when you mailed in your offering. It was addressed to me and our Office Manager Cindy. And it just said, “Pastor Chris and Cindy, God is with us.” One of you texts me almost every day just to tell me how your day went and to share with me these words: “Each day is one day closer to us being able to get together again.”
One of you sent me a card, with a picture of your kiddo’s stained glass chalk art. And you wrote: “Took a picture to remind us that beauty CAN come out of some of the world’s biggest disasters.” And then…then! You took my words from last week, the ones I’ve been carrying around like an unhelpful mantra, “Coronavirus ruins everything,” and you fixed them. You literally crossed them out, like, “Take that, Pastor Chris! We are not going to let you go off in your doubt and despair alone.” You fixed it, writing “Coronavirus does(n’t) ruins everything.”
Every time I hear from you, in texts, in notes, in a well-time phone call, I wonder, “Where does this hope come from? Where does this resilience come from? From where do these people have this kind of faith? This joy? ThislLight?”
And then I see Jesus: the Risen Christ. I see him because even though we are physically separated, we are together. I see him because even when it seems like we are alone, we are not. Because of you, I can see Jesus.
Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed.
Thanks be to God.