Fr Peter Beck presided and preached. The Gospel reading was John 21.1-19.
Read on for sermon text and the service video.
During the service, it was announced that Mother Meg Harvey will be taking up the role of Vicar of Amberley from the first of August. We will be very sorry to see her go and will hold her future ministry in our prayers.
In the readings we had on Easter Day, last week and today, despite the most stupendous happening that there has ever been, the triumph of life over death and love over hate that we celebrated in the Easter festival, it’s quite clear that for those disciples, those who know Jesus most closely, the proverbial penny just hadn’t dropped. For them, the mission of Jesus has failed. Demoralised and unable to reach beyond their fear to experience the presence of the risen Christ in their midst, they had skulked back to their old life, the slippers that were so familiar to them. Peter and some of his mates had got out of Jerusalem, left behind that fearful place, and had returned to Galilee and decided to get back to doing what they knew best – fishing. It was over. They had failed. Demoralised and not sure what to do next they had run away back to their old life. And they would have known that this life lacked the promise and life that Jesus had offered them.
They went fishing and they failed. No luck, no fish. Empty nets. The story of their life without Jesus.
Then of course as they are returning to the shore they see this stranger who says to them ‘children, you have no fish, have you?’ And he tells them to back out into the lake and cast their nets on the other side. They could have told him to buzz off for they would have been tired and down-hearted. But something about him obviously impelled them to give it another go. And low and behold they are overwhelmed by the catch. John, you remember he who saw and believed on Easter Day, and like the others has scuttled back to his old life, must have been overwhelmed again when he exclaims ‘It is the Lord’. And Peter [and I can’t work this out] who was naked, put clothes on and leapt into the lake to rush to Jesus. [I’m sure there is a powerful sermon on Peter’s self-condemnation and shame here]
And Jesus invites them to breakfast. He just won’t stop inviting them. From the Last Supper to breakfast on the beach. If we stop and ponder on what the writer of the Gospel is getting at, how all this resonates for us as we read it. Despite their failure, remorse, guilt, shame, whatever, the disciples are once again invited to join Jesus in a meal. God’s love will never let us go, no matter how much we sin, fall short.
The Last Supper is the first celebration of the Eucharist, the mass we celebrate today. And so is this breakfast on the beach. Jesus celebrates the mass. Jesus invites his disciples to bring themselves and all that they have [some of their fish] and bids them dine with him. ‘He took the bread, we read, and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish’. And like the disciples at Emmaus their eyes are finally opened in the breaking of the bread. The risen Christ in their midst. Didn’t their hearts beat within them! I’ll bet they did!
After breakfast Jesus has some very specific business with Peter. It always bears repeating that Peter, in so many gospel stories, is a stand-in for us. His enthusiasm, awkwardness, lack of understanding, and enormous love for Jesus are just like our own. So when the gospel story focuses on Peter, it’s fair to say that we are also a part of the story.
Peter is given the opportunity to undo his three time denial of Jesus with three affirmations of his love. Jesus tells him what to do with that love: feed the flock. Though the word “forgiveness” never appears in this story, it is nevertheless a critical theme. Peter, the impetuous, big-mouthed disciple, gave in to fear, and failed to acknowledge Jesus, failed to stick around for the bitter end. Now Peter is given the opportunity to face his risen Lord and begin again.
And this story offers some of the deepest implications of Resurrection for us: we are forgiven. We are invited to start over. We are completely loved. And we have a job to do. This isn’t only Peter’s story; it’s our story, too. When fear holds us back, love calls us forward. When we feel trapped by the way things have always been, Jesus invites us to cast our nets on the other side of the boat – change our perspective, in light of the Resurrection.
So what does this mean for you and me? Are we held back from the abundant life Jesus promises by guilt, shame and fear? If we understood ourselves to be completely forgiven, completely loved, and completely free, how would that change the choices we make in life? And if we, the people of St Michael and All Angels are completely loved, completely forgiven and completely free, what does that imply about how we are be and act as the people of God in this parish and city? What will that mean as soon you will begin a parish consultation as you look at call a new vicar.
We are called not only to proclaim God’s love, known to us in Jesus, but to act on it. That means setting aside fear, and the way fear binds us into small lives; and embracing love as the basis of every action we undertake.
God’s love, set loose in the world in the Resurrection, needs our hands and feet and hearts to make it concrete in our place and time. Like Peter, we’re invited to change our perspective, and cast our nets where the love of God is available for us and there’s plenty for everyone.
Jesus invites us: Come and have breakfast.
In the morning light of Resurrection, there is no room for guilt and fear. We are forgiven, loved, and free, and we have some sheep to feed.
I end this sermon with a George Herbert poem which has changed my life. The poet is describing the heavenly banquet to which we are all invited but which this particular guest is too ashamed and fearful to accept.
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lack’d anything.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungrateful? Ah, my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And knowe you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down and eat, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
Jesus invites us today in this mass – ‘Come and have breakfast’!