John 21:1-19 Third Sunday of Easter May 5, 2019
I love the way the gospel of John ends. The risen Christ appears to his disciples during an ordinary day.
The four gospels are four collections of stories that were spoken for years before they were written down. (Those of you who were here yesterday, to hear the gospel of Mark, know how much impact it has, when we listen to the stories being told, with all their drama and comedy and tragedy.) Jesus’ followers began telling the stories after Jesus’ resurrection, to persuade listeners that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah long-awaited by God’s people, the one who has broken into human life with God’s kingdom, and we are to respond to that. The four communities that produced the four gospels collected and told different stories, or different versions of the stories. The writer for Mark’s community wrote the first gospel a generation or two after Jesus’ resurrection, to preserve the stories. The writers for Matthew and Luke’s communities used Mark as an outline, and added other stories. (That’s why Matthew and Luke are longer than Mark.) The writer for John’s community composed a document very different from the other three. In John, for instance, Jesus’ ministry is three years long (rather than the single year in the other three gospels.) And, in John, there are many stories that are not in any of the other three.
During these Sundays of the Easter season, we’ve been reading stories of the risen Christ appearing to his disciples. The gospel of Mark has no stories like that! The stories in Matthew, Luke, and John are all very different. And it’s interesting to see where the gospels writers have created their works by patching together various stories!
That’s really obvious in the gospel of John. Today, we’re in chapter 21. Last week you heard Pastor Griffin read these last verses of chapter 20: 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. And there you can say, “The End,” right? What a great conclusion to 20 chapters of stories about Jesus. But the gospel of John is 21 chapters long! This morning, we’re reading from an additional collection of stories. At the very least, an editor would have been helpful. Consider: 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. After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias …
And, a few verses later, we read: This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. Actually, of course, it is the fourth time that Jesus appears, in the gospel of John in its final form, with the stories of chapter 21 pasted onto the original gospel with its perfect concluding words!
I love this stuff!
So, last week we read of the risen Christ and his followers, all in Jerusalem. This week we’re 80 miles north of Jerusalem. We’re back in the region of Galilee where the disciples all live, at the shore of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus had called his fishermen followers. (“Tiberias” is what the occupying Romans re-named the Sea.) Here’s what we read: After these things 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’re back in Galilee. They have returned to their daily lives – their ordinary days, their routine days of work.
With all that has happened, when Peter says, “I am going fishing,” is he wistful? Is he resigned? He’s not alone. He’s with Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of Jesus’ disciples who have stuck together, offering each other the support and strength that we gain when we’re in community. All of these others decide to join Peter in getting back to work, back to their ordinary, routine lives.
But their work is fruitless, their first night back to it. [T]hat night they caught nothing, we read. And who is the stranger standing on the shore of the lake? Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. How similar this is to the risen Jesus’ first appearance – to Mary Magdalene, who had been the first to see him, right outside of his tomb. During the Easter Vigil we read this, from John, chapter 20: Mary turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. According to these stories, and according to what St. Paul writes, in the resurrection we have bodies. Jesus, in his risen body, is unrecognizable! In these appearance stories of the risen Christ, he has to say something or do something before his followers know who he is. In this morning’s story, it’s the miraculous catch of 153 fish – in the morning, when any professional would know they have no chance of catching any fish, and after a night during which they have caught nothing! For some reason, the disciples obey this stranger’s command to do the work they have been given to do. So they cast [the net], 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!” Peter is so excited that he jumps into the water to swim to shore while the rest of the disciples bring the boat, hauling the net, to the beach.
Do you remember what they find? When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. The risen Jesus has prepared a meal for them! Jesus feeds them – just as the risen Jesus feeds us. In fact, we read words in this story that sound awfully similar to the way the risen Christ feeds us with his body and blood at Holy Communion: Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. (I might add that Altar Guild members ever since have been very thankful that Communion meals have not included fish with the bread!)
Here is the significance of all of this, now that the disciples are back in their home region of Galilee. They are seeing the risen Christ during an ordinary day. In fact, it has been a frustrating ordinary day of work, because the work had produced no results! (When you have a day like that, don’t you find it disheartening, and even demoralizing?)
These stories are told to persuade you and me that it is into ordinary days that the risen Christ appears to us – when our eyes of faith are opened by God. Then we see the risen Jesus.
When do you see the risen Christ in your ordinary days?
What about when you see people who are open to conversations that might lead to connections across the polarizing divisions of our political culture? (I think, for instance, that the risen Jesus is present in our “Pub & Grub Theology” conversations.)
With eyes of faith, don’t you see the risen Jesus when there’s generosity: when folks are giving of themselves, their time and talents; when folks are giving away their money? Think of this. When you deliver food during a “From His Hands” motel ministry evening; when you sort and distribute clothing at FISH; when you sort and distribute food at Grove; when women and children and men who have been battered in domestic violence are given shelter and support at Avalon; when someone lovingly feeds and clothes and bathes his partner who is disabled physically, or unable to function because of dementia; (I could continue!) – in all of these, the risen Christ is appearing to those whose eyes of faith are opened, during our ordinary days. We join the exclamation in this morning’s story: “It is the Lord!”
What joy there is when we receive the faith and the consciousness that we are living in the resurrection!
In the name of God, who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Andy Ballentine
 The gospel of Mark was composed 60-70 AD, the gospels of Matthew and Luke 70-80 AD, and the gospel of John 90-100 AD.
 From the Greek word for “God’s anointed king.”
 From the Hebrew word for “God’s anointed king.”
 John 20:14