2022-05-01 Easter 3
Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
“There and back again, a Hobbit’s tale by Bilbo Baggins.” Familiar words to all the J.R.R. Tolkien fans out there, no doubt! It was an incredible story that gave birth to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. And now, all the books have been made into epic movies that bring the pages to life with special effects and cinema delight! When I was on my vicarage in Kitimat, BC, I had a day off so I thought it would be a great idea to watch all 3 of the Lord of the Rings movies back to back to back. All. Day. Long. It seemed like a great idea at the time, but 9 hours and 20 minutes later, I felt like the most utterly useless human being in the world! I could have spent the day outside doing something productive instead of being a lethargic couch potato! But such was the price of going there and back again with hobbits, elves, dwarves and men!
Today, we’ve come full circle. There, and back again, as it were. The disciples, after walking in the dust of the Rabbi for 3 years, have come back to where they came from. After 3 years of epic travels and journies, they’re going fishing. The familiarity of years and years of slinging nets and scaling fish isn’t easily forgotten. They walked with Jesus, learned from Him, saw His miracles, performed some on their own, watched as He was crucified and then stared in wide eyed wonderment at the empty tomb. “Christ is risen!” was on their hearts and minds … but now what? After three years of spiritual battles and adventures, they’re back where they started. The peace and tranquility of the sea, the boats, the nets, the sun just peaking up over the horizon. What could be better if you were a fisherman?
I can relate to this story, just as many of you can if you’ve done any fishin’ in your days. The only thing that is lacking in this story is … the fish! If you’ve ever taken kids fishing you know what this is like. You go and get setup with rods and hooks and bait but the fish just aren’t biting. The bobber won’t go down! Kids don’t have the patience for it and it’s a drag for adults too because all too soon the kids are whining and complaining, wanting for snacks and tablets and smartphones, something with some excitment for crying out loud! The disciples, after a long night on the sea are feeling the same way. It’s probably why Jesus calls them “children” from the shore. “Do you have any fish?” (21:5). “No” they say, sheepishly. Rather embarrassing for seasoned fishermen to come up empty handed! “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (21:6) Jesus said. Now the disciples are really embarrassed. Turns out they’ve been fishing on the wrong side of the boat all night long!
And then, Jesus our Lord works another miracle for His people. Just because He has been crucified and resurrected doesn’t mean He no longer cares for His people. Quite the contrary. He provides for them yet again by allowing them to catch this enormous catch of huge fish that they could barely manage to move. When they all get to shore, they see that there is a charcoal fire going that already has one fish on it and some bread. Even now we see that God is truly taking care of His people by providing for their needs. Jesus knew that they would be cold and hungry after a long night out on the sea and so He prepares a little barbecue of sorts for them. Even now, in the post resurrection time, Jesus is still the Messiah who serves His people.
And really, that’s the whole point of this passage. God truly is the God who serves. Day after day, people brought the sick, the lame and the demon possessed to Jesus. Day in and day out, He healed them. Then when Maundy Thursday rolled around, Jesus got down on His knees and scrubbed the disciples feet. On the cross, He serves all mankind by being the sacrifice, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And now, like a Barbecue Pit Master, Jesus is still serving His disciples. You can’t help but notice how verse 13 has eucharistic over tones. “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and likewise the fish.” Perhaps our Lord is trying to drive home the point that He is the one who truly serves His people, in their presence, around His table?
It’s rather a neat detail that fish became the symbol of the early church. This story we have today of the bread and fish BBQ takes us back to the feeding of the 5000 with … chicken and biscuits? Brisket and buns? Nope. With bread and fish! And, also the parable from Matthew 13 where the comparison is drawn between good and bad fish sorted out of the net. And also in Matthew 17 where Jesus tells Peter to go fishing and the first fish he catches will have a coin in its mouth that they may pay the temple tax. So, the fish becomes a fairly dominant symbol for the church. And recently, it made a come back on bumper stickers and even business cards. Christians using the symbol of the fish to show the world they belong to the church, the family of God.
I think that in the big picture, this has to do with the original calling Jesus gave the disciples. “Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men” (MK 1:17). It’s all about the mission of the church. It answers that question of “Christ is Risen! … Now what?” Well, now it’s time to go fishing! But for the human variety, not the scaly variety. But as this miracle on the sea shows us, this mission will never fly without the miraculous hand of Jesus on it. God is not some kind of divine clock maker, building the intricate creation then stepping back and watching it go. He’s “hands on” all the way. The disciples could do nothing without Jesus. And likewise, we too are completely reliant on God for everything. From our clothes and food and livelihood right up to the mission of the church. It all depends on Jesus.
And Jesus calls us to this mission too. He calls us to fish. Let down the nets. He calls us to proclaim that life saving message that He is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death. And the results of this miraculous catch fill the boat of heaven with believers. The three-fold hallmarks of this fishin’ mission are love, service and hospitality. These truly are the hallmarks of the church, the people of God. Love, because He first loved us and showed us that love through His death on the cross and resurrection from the grave. Churches that overflow with God’s love for people are churches that thrive! They are filled with care and support and grace, just like God is to this world.
Second is service, for Jesus is the Lord who serves His people. From scrubbing feet to helping and healing, our Messiah is the Savior of service. Churches that forget this or don’t embody this same kind of selflessness, sadly they too often fail. They miss the mark of God’s will as they concern themselves with being comfy or inwardly focused. Service is an outward focus. Service puts others before one’s self. It is the backbone of and foundation stone of the Christian life because this is what Jesus came to do for us. We seek to serve each other, looking for ways to put our own selfishness and egos in the back seat. We seek to count ourselves as nothing and others as everything. Husbands and wives, sons and daughters, students and teachers, workers and bosses. Everything in life should echo the words of St. Paul: “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5).
And finally hospitality. This is a massive part of our mission as God’s people. We look at our Lord Jesus on the beach. To his cold and hungry and discouraged disciples, he provides bread and fish and the welcoming warmth of the charcoal fire. He always feeds and fills His people with good things, with His word and sacraments. St. Paul also tells this to the Christians in Rome when he writes “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality” (12:13). This is a friendly and generous receiving of friends and strangers alike. If you go to a restaurant that has awful food and terrible service, do you readily go back?! Heck no! You whip out the smartphone and give that place an equally terrible review! 1 star or less! And that’s after 1 bad visit! But if you go to a phenomenal restaurant that has awesome food and amazing staff that welcome and take care of you, you give them a top-notch 5 star review - and a big tip - because it was a warm and loving place where they welcomed you and treated you like gold! This is how Jesus is to us. Be like Him. Be the 5 star hospitality Christian.
This is the three fold fishin’ mission that proclaims to the world that Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!