We celebrate this morning the Third Sunday of Easter, continuing to read the Gospel accounts of the appearances of Christ in the days immediately following the resurrection. The Easter mystery of the resurrection—Jesus Christ risen from the dead—is so central to our faith that the Church takes fifty days just to celebrate and ponder it.
In all the appearances of Christ to His disciples following the resurrection, there are always two things taking place: restoration and mission. Whether it be to Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, or the disciples gathered together in the upper room, Jesus begins by restoring them from the state they are in, often one of brokenness and unbelief. Then He prepares them for mission, to go out and proclaim to the world that He is risen!
Our Gospel this morning—the third time Jesus appears to His disciples, according to St. John—reveals those aspects of restoration and mission in a powerful way in the life of St. Peter.
Ah, proud Peter! Remember it was Peter who had said to the Lord, at the Last Supper, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be” (Matthew 26:33). But then he had stood by the fire, warming himself along with the enemies of Christ, and had proceeded to deny his Lord and God three times. It was a bitter moment that he would never again forget.
However encouraged Peter may have been by the previous two appearances of the resurrected Christ, it is clear in our gospel that he is simply not himself. He is moving not forward in faith to proclaim the resurrection but backwards instead, retreating into what would have been most familiar to him. He says to the other disciples: “I am going fishing.” That is what Peter knew best; it was what he did before he met Jesus. Many of the other disciples were also fishermen. They respond, in turn, “We also will come with you” (John 21:3).
And it is right there, in the midst of all that is familiar, that Jesus Christ reveals Himself to them…yet they do not know that it is Jesus. They encounter that Stranger on the shore, who tells them to cast their net off the right side of the boat. They had been fishing all night and had caught nothing, but they listen to Him anyway.
Suddenly their nets are at the point of breaking and all the disciples are amazed at that tremendous catch of fish…except for St. John the Beloved Disciple. He alone is not caught up with the fish because he alone is able to recognize that this has happened once before!
Remember when St. Peter, St. John and many of the disciples had first met Jesus? It was in Peter’s boat. Jesus had come aboard and began to teach the people standing on the shore. Then He turned to Simon Peter and said, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4). On that occasion, Simon had at first protested: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets” (Luke 5:5). Then they had caught so many fish that the nets were tearing and Simon Peter was hooked! He, and the other disciples along with him, began to realize just who this Stranger was.
And now, in this morning’s Gospel, St. John remembers that remarkable day. He sees it taking place all over again and he immediately cries out to Peter: It is the Lord (John 21:7). Peter, it’s Him! It is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and He is appearing to us again! Suddenly the entire direction of that Gospel changes. St. Peter is no longer going backward and withdrawing. Now he dives right in, literally!
All the disciples go ashore, and no one questions any longer who this Stranger is. They all know that it is the Lord. That is when Jesus invites them to “Come, have breakfast” (John 21:12). He invites them to share in an intimate meal with Him. And suddenly, at that meal, Jesus again does something very familiar, something they all would have recognized. St. John tells us He:
“Took the bread and gave it to them” (John 21:13).
Just as He had done in the miracle of the loaves and the fish. He took the bread and gave it to them, and they, in turn, fed over 5,000 people. Just as He had done on the night before He died, at the Last Supper. He took the bread, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body…” They would never have forgotten how He gave Himself to them on that night, and here He is, doing that very same thing again, restoring those disciples at that meal and preparing them to go forth on the mission of proclaiming the Good News of the resurrection.
And finally, Jesus enters into that beautiful dialogue with St. Peter: “Peter, do you love me?” Three times He asks Peter that question, one for each of the times that Peter had denied Him! Jesus restores St. Peter, and then He sends him out on mission: Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Peter, if you love me, then go where I am sending you! Go and serve those whom I have entrusted to you!
This is a very powerful gospel, and a very timely one, as well. The world we live in is in desperate need of being restored. Now, more than ever, are we in need of the restoration and new life that God alone can give.
Our country has just experienced, in this last week, the worse shooting tragedy in our nation’s history. It would be impossible to express the amount of pain and suffering that is pouring out from the community at Virginia Tech. And yet, even in the midst of that, we should not be surprised to find Jesus Christ entering directly into that sorrow and grief. We should not be surprised to see Christ entering into the things most familiar to the families and loved ones of the victims there—friends, family members, communities, churches—and restoring broken hearts, restoring new life and restoring hope. He does it all the time.
The people of Virginia Tech. have not been forgotten by God. And neither have we. We gather here this morning, in what is for us the familiar place. How many times have you listened to the Gospel proclaimed here? Or knelt here in prayer to ask for help for yourself or your family, to give thanks to God, to lift up your heart to Him?
This is the familiar place where God comes to us, and makes Himself known. It is where He enters directly into our lives and says to us what He says to the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias:
“Come, have breakfast” (John 21:12). Come, and share in this meal together. Come, eat My Body and drink My Blood. Come here to this place, and experience the power of the Eucharist, the power of the resurrection, and be restored…and then go out and share that new life and new hope with a world that is in desperate need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
2,000 years ago Christ came among His first disciples and He restored them to Himself and then sent them out to set the world on fire. Where is He sending us this week, as we leave this place restored and renewed and ready to proclaim—with our words and actions—that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead?