Sunday, May 1, 2022
Third Sunday of Easter, Year C
Prayer of the Day
Eternal and all-merciful God, with all the angels and all the saints we laud your majesty and might. By the resurrection of your Son, show yourself to us and inspire us to follow Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
Readings and Psalm
Acts 9:1-6 [7-20] Paul’s conversion, baptism, and preaching
Revelation 5:11-14 The song of the living creatures to the Lamb
John 21:1-19 Jesus appears to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias
Title: Life after Resurrection
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
So what comes next? After the shouts of “Christ is risen” and the “Alleluias”? What do you do after you’ve witnessed something beyond explanation? What do you do after your life has been changed because you’ve seen a miracle? Not just a healing type of miracle where a leper’s skin is made whole again or a blind person can see. To be sure, those are impressive enough. But those garner a WOW, right? A “Thank God.” Maybe they take your breath away for a moment. Maybe you try to explain it away. Those things can be explained. Sort of. Comprehended. Almost. We try anyway.
But what do you do after you’ve seen a dead person alive again? I’m guessing none of us can really answer this question based on personal experience. We can only imagine. We can only conjecture what it must be like to witness something so life changing as the dead rising. And once witnessed, imagine what we would do next.
Well, looking at the story of those who DID witness something as beyond explanation as the resurrection of the dead – their answer to the question of: “what would you do after?”, “what would you do next?” is, ready for it, they would (and they did) go fishing. Yup. That’s exactly what they did. They went fishing. Or to expand the picture. They went back to what their lives were before following Jesus. Surprised? Well, that is our word for this third Sunday of Easter. If last week was all about doubt, this week is all about surprise. What do you do when you’ve been surprised beyond anything you could expect, imagine, explain, embrace, (do I dare say) beyond anything you could believe?
In today’s gospel reading, we see those disciples returning to their safe place. To what they knew well. To what they understand. To their familiar. And who can blame them. It’s a good place to be for the processing that was necessary. While I often take jabs at those first followers for being clueless and confused; this time I am not mocking them. I get it. I would probably do the same thing. Well, not fishing. I am the most unlucky of fisher folk, it is definitely not my safe place at all, it is in no way my familiar. But it was theirs. And they went there.
And now rather than them following Jesus; Jesus follows them. Meets them in that familiar place. One more miracle confirms to them that it is indeed the risen Jesus. Because some of last week’s doubt is still lingering. And that’s okay. Jesus is happy to follow us and keep on confirming that there is new life in the power of the resurrection. He is so happy to do so, so accommodating that he sets a table for them there on the beach. Sets a table for us here. One more miracle of the risen presence to behold, to be surprised by, to be challenged by, to embrace, to consume, to live into.
What do you do after you’ve committed what you may consider an unforgiveable sin? We can look to Peter for the answer to this one. Sure, all the disciples abandoned Jesus when he was arrested. Deserted him, leaving him to die alone. But Peter is the one who went so far as to deny him. Three times, in fact. Tried to act tough by staying close by, but then, in the moment of truth, he said he did not even know who Jesus was. I don’t know about you, but I can sure relate to that. Maybe not denying in specific words, but certainly in my actions that make it seem as though I don’t know who Jesus is, what he teaches, how he loves.
What does Peter do? Well, surprise (it’s today’s word), he actually does the right thing. No, he does not engage in a long, well worded, detailed apology and confession. He doesn’t even bring it up when he sees Jesus again. But what he does do is he sticks around. He does not go off with his tail between his legs. He does not deem himself an outcast. He does not end it in shame the way Judas does, missing the chance to hear the words of forgiveness that Jesus will speak from the cross. No, Peter stays and hears the good news of new life in the risen Christ. New life that makes each day new. But I gotta figure that Peter is also hoping that Jesus is letting bygones be bygones. However, Jesus does ask him three questions to mirror the three denials. And perhaps Peter’s guilt is rising to the surface by the time Jesus gets to that third question. (Perhaps he would forever be haunted by the number three.) But one hopes that there is a takeaway for Peter when contrasting those two occasions of three questions: the do you know him’s vs. the do you love me’s. In the first three, Peter retreated into only thinking of himself, more importantly only relying on himself. However, when Jesus does his replacement three, he is calling Peter to look beyond himself, to see his role in the ministry that will continue after Jesus has departed this earth. A ministry Peter will not be alone in. But a ministry that will demand his very life while it gives him life, new life…renewed life… and renewing life, surprising life,
But on this surprise Sunday, no one is more surprised than Saul who will later be called Paul. What do you do after you have witnessed something that completely demands that you rethink everything you have ever thought, been taught, believed, and fought for, even killed for? Not sure if any of us have ever experienced such a dramatic change as that which turned Saul the murderer into Paul the missionary. But for Saul what followed that initial life challenging and life changing encounter on the road to Damascus was prayer, a lot of prayer. And a mentor and guide. And a community to connect himself to. He was wise to see he was not in this alone.
And while Saul’s surprise knocked him off his horse and set him on a completely new course. There is one who was surprised to the point of shocked, frightened to his core, filling him with confusion and questions. And that is poor old Ananias. We don’t know his back story, but he must have been quite the model of a believer. Because he was asked to put his life on the line for the sake of the gospel. It wasn’t that he was being asked to go and debate someone with differing ideas. Ananias was being sent to introduce himself to the very person – Saul – who (as far as he knew) was sworn to kill him. And he goes. “Hey, Ananias, you’ve witnessed the resurrection in your own way, what are you going to now?” His answer – he’s going to trust. Trust to the point of doing something beyond explanation. How pleasantly surprised the old man must have been when he heard Saul’s story, when he saw the transformation into Paul.
Where are you witnessing the surprise of resurrection?
Perhaps finding endurance in yourself that you never thought you had.
Or offering forgiveness and understanding beyond what the world would suggest you give another.
Maybe, in spite of doubts, you are still hearing that loving voice of the creator assuring you that you are loved and cherished.
Or is your level of trust a bit of a surprise taking you in a direction or to a place that you once you could not imagine.
This past week I was blessed to overwhelming by a conversation about end of life issues that, in the light of the resurrection, was transformed into one of the most life affirming dialogues I have ever experienced.
We are not left to encounter or process these surprises on our own. The gift of the Holy Spirit, given to us in the waters of baptism, the gift as some like to say – God with in us – who is our advocate and guide, our catalyst and nurturer. As we mark these 50 days of Easter, as we keep the alleluias fresh and full, as we desire to continue to stand in the morning glow of the empty tomb, but know we must move on and move out; we can also use this season as a preparatory season like Advent is for Christmas and Lent just was for Easter. For we are preparing for the next big day of surprises – Pentecost. And this year, as we look to a time of transitions, this is a good year to explore deeply the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in us and in this community of faith. For the surprises of God continue to fill us with resurrection new life in Christ through the work and power of the Holy Spirit, and so we continue to rejoice
Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!
The Rev. Mark Erson,
(Artwork by Kate Cosgrove)