2004—Third Sunday of Easter—C
We have moved from the bitter weeping of Peter in the night-into dawn hours when betrayal and abandonment riddled his spirit with a wrenching remorse. We are in a new place with Peter, wondering, watching, observing the power of his being "sent forth, " an experience that comes to him through a meal, a meeting, and a healing with the risen Christ. With our holy imagination, we can be right in the midst of this powerful movement from night darkness into light, and most importantly, we can witness this movement from a broken heart and frightened spirit that bears a striking resemblance to our own lives if we would see and hear the depths of the meeting with Jesus presented in this gospel.
Imagine yourself standing in the near dawn light waiting on the shore. What do you wonder about the figure who is standing and then kneeling, kindling a fire, tending it for warmth, for firelight that will cook a breakfast? The bread is in his hand. The voice is unmistakable, known immediately by John who says, "It is the Lord." See the vitality and aliveness of Peter's body/spirit. No longer is he a man crouching in the shadows. He plunges into the waters, leaves his band of fisher-friends, and swims to shore. And what a sight awaits him and his friends it is the sight intimate and familiar, the kind missed deeply by anyone who has known grief and the absence of one with whom there has been table fellowship and intimacy. For grief stricken Peter and friends, the meal is provided. Life is restored in the breaking of the bread. The fire, the fish, the bread. The feast is prepared.
"Come and eat," Jesus says, his words are true to the core of the relationship and relating he lived and lives in kinship with his followers. There is this enduring desire of Jesus to leave no one alone, far from a meal but rather he is always present to say, "Come and eat." Can you hear Jesus say these words to you? This is what matters to me in this scene. I believe that in the depths of our hearts, we are invited to come into the story as deeply as we can until we can hear him speak these words and know that they are for each of us. He breaks the fast of night, breaks open a new day with his presence in a meal. And no words are needed. They are together again.
But when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus speaks and the meeting that is restorative, transformative and healing takes place. The one who has provided nourishment, total nourishment for their body/spirit invites and guides Peter into a deeper experience of wholeness and healing, a fuller nourishment of soul that comes when remorse is turned into joy. In this identity-forming exchange/engagement between Jesus and Peter, the total focus is on their meeting though we can imagine the others are present, perhaps silent in their amazement and wonder. They who have known the fear and abandonment in the garden when they could not watch one hour now watch and see and hear an amazing exchange.
Here is Jesus about what matters most relationship, relating, loving, forgiving, healing. The question is not about authority or power or some fine turning or tuning of Jewish law; it is about love. "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?" Suppose in truth this is the only question that matters in our meeting with him or in our experience/structure of Church. Imagine what it would be like to have him say our name followed by "daughter of __" or "grandson of __" and we hear our heritage, who we came from and then we are invited to respond to the question, "do you love me more than these?" Could we hear the question? And then How do I respond? What does "yes, I love you Lord" involve in our times and lives?
In her book, A Cry Like a Bell, poet Madeleine L'Engle imagines Peter's transformation:
"So I go down and in,
into the deepest, narrowest,
darkest, most brilliant
places of the heart.
I am battered by its beat
throbbing in my veins,
In the small space
between the beats,
yours, not mine,
yours is its time
to keep me here, in time,
in, deeper, deeper,
in the beating of my heart
so I end where I began
and once again I start
to learn that my disgrace
is ripped, is torn apart,
and mended by your grace. "
For me, this is a gospel about a meeting and a mending as the enormous compassion of Jesus is manifest, as reconciliation is modeled by the way he meets Peter and moves him forward in an empowering way, saying, "Feed my lambs," "Tend my sheep," "Feed my sheep." Each sentence is coupled with an awareness of the movement in the spirit of Peter as he professes a desire for agape, the love that is deepest and fullest and most whole. I think this exchange is one of the most beautiful and touching in all the gospels for its intimacy and depth and realness, revealing what is possible between Jesus and each of us, from the one who would feed us the food that truly nourishes and then calls us to shepherd, each of us, woman and man. Each of us is called into this relationship, in the feeding and tending of those entrusted to our care.
"Mended by your grace," the poet says to concretize an event, a movement of the spirit that is difficult if not nearly impossible to record. We can only imagine and wonder what happened when Peter returned to his family, when he and the other friends and followers left the shores and walked back on the road to their homes, with their fish and their memories and their restoration of the core relationship that death did not destroy. Rather, they walk in grace and with the strength of a meeting that touches their deepest pain.
In the story of Peter in and out of prison in Acts, we see the cost of saying, "I love you Lord." And we see the face of Peter's courage, a gift of spirit he shares with the early Christian community. "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." Acts: 5:11-12. These words I hear with the clarity and power of a first-time proclamation of truth. What would it mean to be called forth daily, to live so intentionally with Resurrection passion that teaching and preaching are woven into the fabric of the day from morning until and through the evening.
The readings that lead up to the gospel speak of what happens on earth in Acts and in the envisioned realms in the Book of Revelation. They are rooted in a wisdom that speaks to what we need to know clearly about what can happen when one witnesses, professes, and proclaims to be a follower of Jesus and how we are connected with all creation. For Peter, there is imprisonment and the amazing movement of the angel that brings freedom. There is courage to be and to become a follower and there is inner strength to preach daily. Are we not called to the same daily teaching and preaching, all of us, each of us? Are we not called to find meaning, both personal and communal meaning in these words, "teaching and preaching," as a profoundly deeply link between the followers of Jesus and ourselves. What would the Church look like if "teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ were given a fullness of forms, expressions, and mediums by each woman, man and child? What would the Church look like if the words "teaching and preaching" opened, unfolded, evolved, and created new forms of expression so that we became as a Christian community bonded and connected to the original blessing and belief of Peter that we see demonstrated so powerfully in today's readings.
In the visionary book of Revelation we are given a brief but not unimportant passage where the lamb is encircled by one voice of praise, a new song where angels and every living creature, us included, have a place. All that is created is intimately connected with the one who creates and there is a eternal sense of place. Isn't it striking that in a church which is experienced by many as narrowing, restricting and constricting, that we hold forth this image of place where everyone who is created belongs. We need this kind of vision to inspire, comfort, and sustain us in its organic, whole sense of union and harmony. Here in the vision that incarnates a truth of creation for all creation. There is one Lamb and every creature "which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as in the seas - all are speaking with one voice, one song of praise. How far we are from this vision of "blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him." Perhaps the gospel is saying that the way to this blessing and praising is in a meeting and a mending of heart not with the powers that be or are against and over but with the power of the Compassionate, holy/healing one named Jesus.
The movement from the meal to the meeting to the healing is finally for me a movement of wholeness; it is about being nourished and giving nourishment in the name of Jesus. This transformation is costly, asking everything of us.
Questions for reflection: 1) If the gospel story is about nourishment, it is also about hunger. What are the hungers of the people with whom we journey? What is the food they seek that will truly sustain them? 2) How is our church community a way to a meal, a meeting, a healing? 3) What is the teaching and preaching that could be envisioned to create a truly healing and healed church?
Reflections on Readings for Sunday, April 25, 2004