Do I look different this morning? I feel a bit different. That’s because we spent a few days on the coast of Maine this week. And there’s just something about the beach, whether it’s the Jersey shore, where my family vacationed when I was a kid, or the Outer Banks, which was for years Tricia’s and my favorite vacation spot, or now that I’m a New Englander, the sandy shores of the Cape or Southern Maine . . . the beach is my happy place. I do some of my best thinking at the beach. I also do some of my best “not thinking,” at the beach. I’m amazed at how I can just sit and watch the waves for hours and lose all track of time. For me, and I’m guessing for many of you, the beach is a place of deep healing.
The disciples, too, found deep healing on the beach. And they needed some healing after the experiences they had had in Jerusalem with Jesus’ crucifixion. Things began to look up when, as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel, the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples in the Upper Room, once on Easter evening and then a second time a week later. But as overjoyed as they must have been to see Jesus, and even though Jesus had breathed the Holy Spirit onto them and sent them back into the world, it appears that they were still stuck in a holding pattern of grief and fear and, honestly, probably just not knowing what to do next. So Peter, the fisherman by trade, said, “I’m going fishing,” and the others, who apparently didn’t have any better ideas, decided to tag along. But let’s be clear: this was not recreational fishing. This was not “let’s take some time to rest and regroup before we get busy.” It would seem that their little fishing expedition was their attempt to return to what they knew how to do because they didn’t know what else to do. And then they caught nothing – which couldn’t have felt good.
But then Jesus showed up on the beach and the healing started. Healing came through his words. Their empty fishnets came up full when they followed Jesus’ instructions called out to them from the shore. Healing came through the meal he offered them on the beach – which even though it was bread and fish instead of bread and wine was nonetheless a clear sign of Jesus’ continuing presence with them, such as we celebrate in the eucharist. And for Simon Peter, healing came through his conversation with Jesus on the beach. Knowing Jesus, I’m rather certain that he had already forgiven Peter. But this conversation must have helped Peter to forgive himself as three times he expressed his love for Jesus, to erase the effects of the three times he had denied being a follower of Jesus. When we can forgive ourselves, we find true healing. That beach on the Sea of Tiberias, or as we know it better, the Sea of Galilee, was a place of healing for the disciples.
Not unlike the church is for us. The church is also a place where we can hear Jesus’ instructions through scripture and the help of the Holy Spirit. It’s a place where we get weekly reassurances of Jesus’ presence with us in bread and wine. And it’s a community established on the foundation of the forgiveness we receive from Jesus. Those disciples might have shown up at the Sea of Tiberias to fish, but what they did was church – church at its best.
Church, at its best, is also an invitation. And clearly, in that open-air church on the sand beneath the Galilean sun, the disciples received an invitation. That invitation is obvious in Jesus’ words to Peter – “Follow me” – and also obvious in the three-fold command to Peter to feed and tend his sheep. But the invitation is more subtle, too. Here’s the curious thing I saw reading this story this time around that I had never noticed before: Jesus already had breakfast cooking for them before they came ashore; and yet he still asked them to bring the fish that they had caught. He already had fish on the fire, yet he asked them to contribute more. Was it because he wasn’t expecting so many disciples to show? That seems unlikely. Was it because he couldn’t have produced more fish? I doubt it. Remember, this is the same Jesus who fed a crowd of 5,000 men plus women and children with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish! Or did Jesus ask the disciples to bring the fish from their net because he wanted them to contribute to the meal, wanted them to contribute to the fellowship, wanted them to contribute to the ministry, not because he needed them to, but because he wanted them to experience the joy of participating in his feeding and forgiving, reassuring resurrection work?
This is the Easter invitation to us: to see what Jesus has already got cooking for us, and then to jump in to cook up some good stuff for the world. And what has Jesus got cooking for us here right now? A quick perusal of our May newsletter shows that he’s got some real energy bubbling up around environmental issues. Maybe the invitation for you is to participate in the book discussion coming up or to help plan, plant, and care for our pollinator garden. Jesus has also inspired wonderful friendship and fellowship here. Maybe he’s now inviting you to contribute to that fellowship by helping out with Coffee Hour now that we’ve started it up again, or to “take the church on the road” as we make plans to share fellowship with some of our members who can’t make it to church. I also see Jesus moving in the church right now in the extension of care to refugees from Ukraine and Afghanistan. Maybe the risen Lord is calling you to participate by donating gift cards through the New England Synod. (For more details about all of these projects, please take a look at the newsletter.)
This is the work of resurrection: receiving the gifts of Jesus and then passing them on. This is the joy of following in the footsteps of our risen Lord: that we get to be a part of a community that is loving and generous, even as he is. To quote our wardens: “As we go forward this Easter season, let us rejoice in the Risen Lord for all he has given to us. Let us each share his love with everyone we meet.”