Breakfast on the beach with Jesus. This is the first thing that caught my eye when I read the gospel lesson and I have heard this story many times before. I don’t recall this particular image. How wonderful does it sound to be able to have breakfast on the beach with Jesus at sunrise? Then it got me to wondering why Jesus decided to have this impromptu breakfast on the beach.
Of the named disciples in this passage, each had expressed their doubts about their relationship with Jesus and each ultimately made a confession of faith. Just last week we heard the story of doubting Thomas who asked for proof and upon seeing Jesus, says “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Then there is Nathanael who, when asked by Philip to go meet Jesus, proclaimed that “nothing good could come out of Nazareth” but upon meeting Jesus he tells him, “you are the Son of God, the King of Israel” (John 1:49). Then there is Peter who so vehemently stated he would not deny Jesus but then did so three times before he was crucified.
Other than seeing Jesus briefly in the locked room, Peter had not had the opportunity to have a conversation with Jesus. Perhaps this was the purpose of the early morning meeting. Jesus knew that Peter needed to forgive himself for denying that he knew him. Jesus also knew the burden of his betrayal would cause Peter to have trouble moving forward in his faith life. Imagine the guilt and shame Peter must have been feeling. He sees Jesus on the beach with a charcoal fire. It was by a charcoal fire in John 18:18 that Peter denied three times knowing Jesus. He was surely thinking about those betrayals by the fire when Jesus pulls him aside for a chat. He probably felt he deserved a harsh judgment and may have even been expecting a reprimand. Instead, Jesus gives him another chance to be in a loving relationship with him. Jesus brought the hurt into the open by three times asking Peter for a confession of faith. Each time Jesus responds to Peter’s professions of love by giving him something to do: feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. These pronouncements of love (confession) allow Peter to move on and leave his troubled thoughts behind him. He is given another chance to be a disciple and he is not just forgiven but also given his marching orders. He is commissioned to do work that matters. He is given a purpose and an opportunity to use his gifts. Peter is restored – to himself, to Jesus and to the community.
Though the words “forgiveness” never appear in this biblical story it is still a critical underlying theme. Peter is us; the Easter story tells us so. Our perspectives change in the light of the resurrection just as Peter’s perspective changed in the rising of the sun (Son!) on the beach. The resurrection invites us to look clearly at how we have made choices in our life out of fear rather than love and encourages us to move away from the fear that holds us back. To witness to the love shown to us in Christ Jesus. And just like Peter, God is calling us forward to do something. I know, I know, as Lutherans we dismiss the idea of God expecting us to do anything because we are saved by grace through faith, not works. But do we use being justified by grace through faith as an excuse to do nothing; to be unchanged; unaffected by the gospel. Do we live our life as if Christ’s life, death, and resurrection makes no difference?
Maybe this is one of the reasons people only come to church on Easter. They want to hear a sermon that comforts and inspires but not one that actually asks them to do anything. What often gets missed is God’s unmerited and unexpected promise of grace, mercy, and salvation actually invites us and frees us to live lives of meaning and purpose. We are called not only to proclaim God’s love, shown to us in Jesus, but to act on it. At All Saints we are a community of faith that values participation. We want people to feel part of a community and to feel that what they do matters. When we embrace our relationship with God, that love and sense of belonging and purpose are what brings happiness to our lives.
At the ELCA Youth Gathering this past summer before we went out to do our service projects in the community, they included as part of their worship, just as we do, the confession and forgiveness of sins. I remember the worship leader, after stating our absolution, saying at this very moment in time you are 100% forgiven; there is nothing separating you from the love of God. Now take this feeling with you as you go out to do ministry in His community. While not part of our weekly liturgical verbiage, this is what absolution means. And I remember thinking, WOW, and feeling that being 100% forgiven, there wasn’t anything I would not be able to do with the help of God. But that forgiveness is not just a one-time feeling that you can only get on Sunday mornings because that is what Jesus’ death and resurrection was all about. Knowing we are forgiven should carry us through the week and bring us back again to hear the words once more.
What happens next in Peter’s life is really quite remarkable. Treasuring that feeling of forgiveness and absolution given to him by God, he lives a life of faithful discipleship, in the name of Jesus. He is killed for it but this forgiveness gave him the strength to make those professions when before he was too fearful to even acknowledge knowing Jesus. And, while most of us will never have to worry about facing death for proclaiming Christ to the world, God has redeemed us for a purpose.
Each week we are beckoned to church where we are greeted with absolution, grounded in identity, commissioned with purpose, and sent to make a difference in the world God loves so much. God’s love, set loose in the world in the Resurrection, needs our hands, our feet and our heart to make it concrete in our place and time. Like Peter, we are invited to change our perspective, and cast our nets, and share the love of God that is freely given to us and what we reap will be plenty for everyone. Jesus invites us: come and have breakfast; my body and blood given for you. You are freed, forgiven and loved…now, come follow me, we have sheep to feed.
- Do you think that Peter was planning to apologize to Jesus when he saw him? What makes you think that he might or might not have been planning to do so? Why is initiating an apology and saying sorry so hard?
- Why didn’t Jesus give Peter a “firm talking to”? Why didn’t he make him apologize? If you were Jesus, what would you want to say to Peter about what happened before, when he denied knowing you and left you alone when you needed him most?
- The question and the command posed to Peter by Jesus are meant for us as well. What does it mean to you to say that you love Jesus? How are you called upon to “feed Jesus’ sheep” where you are today?
- Peter goes on to live a life of faithful discipleship, claiming the Name of Jesus, and he was killed for it. What gave him the strength to do that when before he was too weak or fearful to acknowledge knowing Jesus?
- If we are completely loved, completely forgiven and completely free, what does that imply about how we are to feed the flock? How can we take the confession and absolution of our faith on Sunday morning and carry it with us through the week to live out a life of faithful discipleship to Jesus?
- Jesus did not want Peter to dwell on the failures of his past, but to look forward in confidence. How does this story impact the way we are the church in the world today? Are we making choices about budget and mission based on our fear of failure or are we pointed forward with the light of the Resurrection at our back? Does our fear of failure prevent us from trying something new?