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I love this story.
I love everything about it: from the all-too-familiar scene of defeated and disillusioned dreamers gone back to their sad, old ways to the thrilling glimpse of the Risen Christ as grill chef, inviting his hapless friends to a resurrection breakfast of loaves and fishes on the beach.
I love the realism of it: from the fog of grief to how often we keep doing the only thing we know how to do, even when it isn’t working, to how very, very hard it is to change our sense of what is possible, to the redemptive power of a good breakfast, especially when someone else has prepared it.
I love the vivid writerly details: from the roll call of disciples who had failed Jesus to the tender way Jesus addresses them as “children,” how these professional fisher-people need a former carpenter to tell them where the fish are, to Peter’s bizarre clothing choices, to the boat being 100 yards from shore, to not just a lot of fish but one hundred fifty-three.
I love the symbolism of it: from the empty nets and despair of nighttime to how everything looked different in the light of day.
I love the way Jesus takes Peter aside—Peter, the one who denied both Jesus and himself three times, to his overwhelming shame—and gently restores him to a place of honor and rehabilitates his sense of self.
I love the clear, liberating, and empowering way Jesus explains what it means to love him: It is not a matter of creeds or doctrines, but rather the concrete (and much harder) act of caring for God’s children, of putting others first, of choosing again and again and again to follow his way of extravagant and self-giving love.
I love everything about this story, but maybe what I love most is its forward spin, how it moves us from the last supper to the first breakfast, from shameful endings to new beginnings. I love the gentle way it acknowledges how things are—and how we are—and how difficult change is, while also pointing us to something better. I love how Jesus is always showing us the way to something better. Not pretending that getting there will be quick or easy, mind you, but handling us with care—both showing us how to feed ourselves and giving us food for the journey.
Looking at our broken hearts, seeing our weary souls, and saying, “Come and have breakfast.”
If the last supper was something to remember, a meal around God’s table that made a holy connection between the liberation of the exodus to the promise of life abundant, then the first breakfast is the meal of the new, resurrection life.
At the last supper, Jesus took the bread and wine and blessed them and shared them, saying, this represents how I have poured out my love and will give even my body so that all may know the glory of union with God. We still feast on the leftovers of that holy meal.
And yet it is so easy for us, like those first disciples, to all but forget about Easter. After the Alleluias have been said, the glorious hymns sung, and the balloons and the butterfly have come down, it’s back to regular worship (or not), back to regular life, back to going fishing and making a living and getting the kids to where they need to be and doing all the things, and then collapsing into bed each night. Easter has come and gone and Lucio Perez is still here in sanctuary, separated from his family; our precious earth is still dying; gun violence still kills; white supremacy still oppresses and distorts and kills; injustice continues.
And so it easy for us to spiral down into discouragement and weariness instead of spinning forward into resurrection and the promise of new life.
At the first breakfast, Jesus looks at his disciples again, gone back to their old ways, stuck in their same struggles, living in this broken world, and says, “Put down your nets. Put down your pain. Put down your striving, and come and eat. Come gather round the fire, and rest. Come and let me feed you. And then he does—building the fire, watching the bread, turning over the fish so that it’s done just right.
He’s still preparing that meal, and still calling us to the table—because this world God so loves is still a mess, and it’s still hard for us to change our ways. We’re still looking for life and love and meaning in all the wrong places, like fishermen casting their net on the wrong side of the boat. We’re still walking around in the dark, having a hard time seeing the Christ among us. We’re still hungry and weary, and in need of a tender pep talk.
Yesterday some of us participated in the Northampton Pride Parade and Festival. As always, it was a wonderful time, and a glorious way to be church together, sharing God’s love for all people. We walked the parade route and then got to the Fairgrounds, where ivy tillman and several others had set up an amazing welcoming table with buttons and pins and stickers and candy and information about the church, and where our incredible crew of folks spent the afternoon making more buttons and greeting hundreds of people with kindness and generosity, acceptance and love, while I offered Blessings to Go.
I had just gotten to our table when Jim McGovern, our Congressman, walked up. The crowds had yet to gather, and, unusually, he had no aides with him. He was just a regular guy, walking alone around the Fairgrounds on Pride Day. Because he has been here several times to meet with Lucio, he recognized me and stopped to talk. Jay Killough came out from behind our table and joined the conversation.
With all due respect to our hard-working, long-suffering, and generally terrific Congressman, I got the feeling he was struggling. He was like a fisherman who had worked all night in the dark and was catching nothing. He was like someone who had forgotten all about Easter, who couldn’t see that morning had broken, and another world was possible. He had nothing hopeful to offer. More than once he said, “If Trump gets re-elected, . . .”
I think he needed someone to feed him breakfast.
When I left Pride yesterday, I checked my phone for the latest on email and Facebook and Twitter. I particularly wanted to know if there were any updates on Rachel Held Evans, the former evangelical turned progressive theologian whose books and Twitter feed have fed millions of people who struggled with the exclusion, judgment, homophobia, misogyny, racism, and bad theology of so many churches. I had been praying for her for a couple of weeks, every since I learned that she had gone from having an infection to reacting to antibiotics to being in a medically induced coma. Along with tens of thousands of others, I checked in daily for updates on her health.
And when I checked my phone yesterday afternoon, I learned that she had died early yesterday morning. At age 37. Leaving behind not only her husband and friends and countless followers and readers, but a three-year-old son and a daughter who is about to turn one. Obituaries in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many online sites have documented her vast following, her prophetic voice, and her huge impact on the church.
I can’t say, like so many on Twitter and Facebook are still doing today, that I was “gutted” by the news of her death. I cannot say, as so many are, that I wouldn’t be here without here. I came late to her message and was not a close reader of her books or her blog or her Twitter feed. But I can’t help but feel that this kind of thing is not supposed to happen. I can’t help but wonder about the efficacy of the fervent prayers of a multitude. I can’t help but feel sucker-punched by the realities of life and death.
It’s as if I need someone to feed me breakfast, someone to remind about Easter, someone to point me to life.
Thanks be to God, Jesus is standing on the beach and huddled under a canopy at the muddy Fairgrounds. Thanks be to God, the Risen Christ is sitting in these uncomfortable pews, preparing a meal at Not Bread Alone, and sleeping downstairs in what used to be a meeting room. Thanks be to God, you and other church members and countless people in our community are still working for justice, fighting climate change, standing up for what is right, feeding God’s little lambs (sometimes at Coffee Hour).
Thanks be to God, we are here this morning, gathered around Christ’s table, learning what it means to love, declaring our intention to follow, and allowing ourselves to be fed.
Many of the obituaries about Rachel Held Evans are quoting her last blog post, written on Ash Wednesday, in which she talks about the inescapable reality of death. I prefer to focus on her statement about the reality of new life:
“Even here, in the dark, God is busy making all things new,” she says. “So show up, open every door. At the risk of looking like a fool. . . Anticipate resurrection. It’s either just around the bend or a million miles away. Or perhaps it’s somewhere in between. Let’s find out together.”
When I was leaving the Pride Festival yesterday, a woman walking by helped me load my muddy, rolling Blessings to Go sign in my car. “What’s a blessing?” she asked. I told her, and then I blessed her. And then she started to cry. As she walked away in the rain, as she walked into the rest of her life, she said, “Thank you. I really needed that.”
Come, and eat. Taste and see that God is good, that love will win, and that we, with all our weaknesses and struggles and doubts, are God’s Easter people.