Livestreamed service

John 21:1-19,
as rendered by the First Nations Version of the New Testament

        You know what they say: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

        A good breakfast jump-starts both our metabolism and our brain; it gets us going early in the day and it can keep us going for several hours. Studies show that eating a healthy breakfast can also help prevent weight gain, high cholesterol, and digestive problems.

        And yet I don’t think nutrition was of great concern to the Risen Christ as he scrounged together some bread and fish in the pre-dawn darkness and headed to the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I don’t really think his heart was set on making some tasty food, even as he arrived at the beach, built a fire, and placed the food over the coals just so. I don’t think Jesus was focused on providing the most important meal of the day, even as he prepared what was surely the most consequential breakfast ever.

        Jesus knew that what his friends needed was not so much physical nourishment as spiritual sustenance. He wanted to both comfort and empower them, to feed their souls from his own hand, just as he had done with the bread and the wine at their last supper together.

        Just as the very best breakfast served to you at the Roadhouse Cafe, Jake’s, Esselon, or your favorite breakfast spot doesn’t hold a candle to the most humble fare prepared by someone who loves you, someone who calls you out of bed and then sets down before you food and drink that is piping hot and made with love, Jesus knew that what his friends really needed in that moment was some comfort food, emphasis on comfort.  

        They were struggling, you see—Peter, James, John, and a few others. Actually, they were beyond struggling; they were lost, at sea in every sense of the word; drowning in grief, discouragement, and loss of purpose.

        However hard we might find it to hang on to the amazing Easter joy of two Sundays ago, these people had actually seen the Risen Christ. He had appeared to some of them more than once; they had spoken with him, and at least one of them had put his hands in the place where Jesus’s body had been pierced while he hung on the cross.

        And still, they struggled. Still, they had a hard time resisting the feeling that everything they had hoped for was gone. What were they supposed to do now?

        Because the Risen Christ was no longer with them in the way that Jesus had been, because he’d already told them he was going to go away, and because life was still hard and scary in all the ways it had been before Jesus first called them away from their livelihoods to follow him.

        Who among us can not relate to what they are going through?

        Grief is real, and change is hard.

        Guilt is destructive, and the person we find it the most challenging to forgive is often ourselves.

        Loss—of a loved one, a dream, or the vision of a particular future—is devastating, and it can leave us questioning everything.

        And so it was that even though Peter and the other disciples believed—or at least, wanted to believe—the ridiculous truth that their beloved Jesus had risen from the dead, everything around them said otherwise.

        And so it is that we, faithful people who want to believe that our prayers, our ministries, our church, our faith makes a difference, can relate not only to the flailing disciples but also to Covid case rates that are on the increase again after two years of separation, cancellation, limitation, vaccination, and more masks than we can count.

        We, too, know what it is to devote ourselves to a journey, a purpose, a cause with great dedication and sacrifice, only to find that the systems of racism, injustice, poverty, and authoritarianism have deep and strong roots. For a while we remain determined; we re-double our efforts and promise to keep going, and then a court ruling, a hateful law, human cruelty, an inhumane war, or just the endless demands of daily living take all the wind out of our sails.

        Most of the time we’re willing to do the two steps forward, three steps back thing, and then one day we’re pushed twenty steps back, and we begin to think about giving up. We begin to fantasize about staying home and dropping out. We think about giving up and going back to our old ways. The old ways may have been hopeless and depressing, but at least there was much less heartbreak.

        This is where Peter and a few other disciples were on the morning that Jesus made them breakfast.

        “Forget this resurrection nonsense,” says Peter, one of a few former fishermen. “I’m going fishing.”

        If only it were that easy.

        Which is to say: Thank God it’s not that easy!

        In the middle of the night, Peter and the others gather their nets and go out into the deep. Hour after hour they throw their nets out and haul them back in—entirely empty. It would have been different if they’d caught even a few fish, but nothing?!?

        They had gone fishing to test the waters, so to speak, to see how it would feel to pick up where they had left off, before Jesus gave them more life than they ever knew existed and then Rome took it all away. Fishing had seemed like a good back-up plan, but now they were beginning to wonder if the whole universe was against them.

        But here’s the thing: There’s really no going back. The old ways, the way things used to be—they may be the same, more or less, but we are not. We may think we can just pick up where we left off, with the unsatisfying job, the pleasant drug- or drink-induced feeling, the troubled relationship, the safe, self-centered life—but it’s not that simple.

        Those things may have satisfied us before, we may have even enjoyed them or found meaning in them, but when we try to go back to them we discover that the low-grade thrill is gone—because we have gotten a glimpse of something so much better, because we have tasted the abundance God wants for us and lived into the hope of justice and peace.

        What we once found just fine now leaves us . . . empty.

        This, too, is a revelation. This, too, is a life-giving word, pointing the way toward our own recovery and resurrection.

        And it doesn’t always require turning our lives upside-down. In the case of Peter and the other disciples, it’s a simple as casting their net on the other side of the boat and then, when they are overcome with the abundance of their catch, realizing that the person behind that guiding nudge is none other than Christ himself.

        And then it’s breakfast time, like no breakfast they’ve ever had before. Jesus greeting them with bread and fish grilled to perfection, and then telling them to bring some of the fish they’d just caught—not because they needed more fish for breakfast but because Peter and the others needed to remember that they, too, had something to offer. Something the world needed.

        Because Jesus knew, and they were about to discover, that when what we have is valued, when we bring all of who we are to the table, both we and the meal, both we and the world, are the better for it.

        In a few minutes, we are going to gather at Christ’s table to celebrate communion. I hope you will bring all of who you are. I hope you will understand that the realm of God needs you and your gifts, and that you need the comfort, strength, hope, and joy that a little bread and juice can provide when prepared for you with love.

        Before that, I want to say a word about Peter’s conversation with Jesus—that awkward exchange where the guy who denied Jesus three times is asked by Jesus once, twice, and then a third time if he loves Jesus.

        Having fed and comforted Peter, Jesus is now leading him back to life, ever so tenderly.

        Remember, Peter? It’s all about love. Don’t you remember, Peter? The joy you felt when you joined me in caring for others.

        Do that, and everything else will work itself out.

        Follow the love, and your heart will mend and your vision will clear.

        Live out the love, and the world will never be the same.
And so it was that breakfast on the beach, comfort food followed by love talk, put Peter and the others back on the path and made the church possible.

        Follow me, Jesus said. Follow the love.