The Third Sunday of Easter - St Bride's: Reflection

St Bride's: Sermons

The Third Sunday of Easter

John 21: 1-19

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1 After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself.

There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples.

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No.

And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt his fisher's coat unto him, (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

10 Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught.

11 Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

12 Jesus saith unto them, Come and dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

13 Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise.

14 This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.

19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

"When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon. Son of John, do you love me?"   John 21: 15

The resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ to his friends are the 'crown jewels' of the Christian faith. They are priceless treasures entrusted to each one of us as our personal inheritance! On these appearances hangs the credibility of the gospels. I say this with great care, because unless the central truth of our faith is respected and cherished, Christianity will just become another "ism" to pick from whatever you like. These post-resurrection experiences witnessed by the friends and enemies of Jesus attest to the truth which we say we live by.

Today we are by the Lakeside in Galilee. The days in Jerusalem are over - powerful memories etched into their minds, but somehow everything is healed, they have come home. What is more the nightmare of the 48 hours is ended, they have gone fishing, and it is just like old times!

If you know Northern Galilee, the place where these words were spoken is known as the Place of the Easter Breakfast. Almost hidden down a long path with a spring running beside it protected by pine trees is a tiny stone church right on the edge of the lake. It is cared for by the Franciscans, the custodians of the places where Jesus trod.

When you reach the lakeside there is a bay, and stepping stones out into the lake. There is nothing but the lapping of waves, usually some fishermen, and silence. It is in this place Jesus chose to convince his close friends that he was very much alive. It is the place where they are most at home - by the Lake of Galilee. Today's story is the third time that Jesus has appeared to his disciples to say "all is well".

The first time was in Jerusalem behind locked doors when he bid them "Peace be with you", that was on the actual day of the resurrection. The second time was eight days later same house, Jesus to Thomas put your hand in my wounds and see for yourself. Thomas, "My Lord and my God".  Now the third time, by the Lake of Galilee, "Come and have breakfast, we go fishing".

It is a wonderful gospel record, a deeply personal account of an encounter between Jesus and Peter. It has great poignancy for in Peters mind is Good Friday, the House of Ciaphas and denial.  "I do not know the man". How painful that Jesus should ask Peter three questions by the lakeside; but he insists, "Simon Son of John, do you love me?" "Lord you know I love you".  "Simon Son of John, do you love me more than these?" "Yes Lord, you know I love you". "Show how much you love me, will you give me all?" "Follow me".

Three years have gone by, Galilee, the desert, Jerusalem, still the same request, "Come back Peter, feed my sheep". Peter never saw Jesus again by the Lake of Galilee, he was now to carry the cross and proclaim his own conviction in the Lord of Life. Not only was Peter to lead by the quality of his own life, he had to prove to his friends that in spite of public and private denial and betrayal - he could be trusted. Try that for starters: Jesus knew that Peter loved him, but he had to convince the other disciples that he really could be trusted and loved Jesus.

The Acts of the Apostles witness to the fact that Jesus had backed a winner. For it is the courage of Peter which brings new strength to all, and as passionately as Peter had denied Jesus in the courtyard before the death, so he now proclaimed the resurrection of the Man crucified. Peter's story is our story, denial and affirmation when it suits us. And if we do not publicly deny, we certainly make a mockery of God's love in the way we treat each other and live our lives.

And so we, each one of us will have our Easter Breakfast. In the quiet of our homes, sometimes in a confrontation in our work place, sometimes denying a friend, or denouncing an enemy; Jesus will look at us and say "Do you love me?"

God will find a situation and he will say to us, "My son, my daughter, why have you let me down, what have I done to you?" He will make us face ourselves and then he will lift us up, but only when we can see the truth.

Jesus went through the experience of hell on a cross, the devastation of claustrophobia in a grave, and then gently came back to his friends because he loved them, not to prove a dogma or doctrine, in fact in rising from the dead he broke every dogma and doctrine in the book! It meant going to the extremes of human hatred in order to bring about God's love to heal and change humanity forever. And there can't have been a more difficult bunch to change than the disciples, not even the congregation of St Bride's Fleet Street!

At the centre of obstinacy and tantrums was good old Peter, full of his personal opinions, if he was going to deny Jesus he was really going to do it well. Not once, not twice, but three times in a row when he was most needed!

Little did he know that one day in the peace of a fishing bay he knew so well the Lord would ask for his love and loyalty over breakfast. And that is how he calls us, not in the lofty holiness of a great cathedral, or the silence of a lonely place, however much we may think that is where it happens.

The real action of conversion happens somewhere else, when we least expect it and when we are not looking. The God of surprises grabs us in the middle of a row, at work, on a bus or train, when it's a real nuisance, "leave me alone Lord". And it's always a practical call - love the person you most dislike, now or it may be too late!

Try and understand your husband, your wife, your lover, your friend. Is your job wrong or is it you? Is your life wrong or have you gone wrong and blamed everyone else? Could you handle it better? Jesus looks us squarely in the eye and says, "I am alive, I am real, I am through death, I have saved you. I am of today, the past is over, leave it alone and look to the future? I am the God of now - get on with your life".

And so you find yourself in this church this morning, we can't know your expectations, you may have none. You may have come here out of habit: nothing wrong with that as long as you aren't brain dead! You may wish you weren't here, curiosity may have drawn you in, you may be on you're way to being lulled to sleep by this address, go ahead be my guest!

Perhaps you seek forgiveness, or need it; perhaps you want assurance and hope. Perhaps, as in my case all of the above and more. Whatever the motivation we welcome you to Fleet Street today. We do so by the Lake of Galilee, at breakfast, we are joined by Jesus, Peter, the disciples and the Lake. This is where Jesus makes himself known to his friends. Each individual disciple had to face the deeply personal question from Christ, "Do you love me?"

True in each other they found the courage to go on, but in Jesus Christ they came face to face with ultimate reality; absolute love, an undistorted image of God himself.

The disciples had to face the profound question that in the face of Jesus Christ the only world which mattered was one in which they came last and others came first. Now that was tough to understand!

The victory Jesus promised was an ultimate victory over self. There were no other victories to be won, nothing to fear and only love to gain. The knowledge of self, in the presence of Jesus Christ, meant for the disciples freedom to be fully human. To stop playing games with each other and be truly themselves in the knowledge that it was God they faced.

And so by the Lake in Galilee Jesus releases his friends from guilt, from each other, to be God's people and his true friends. And today all those centuries on in this church which has stood for hundreds of years witnessing its own death in bombing and resurrection in a new build, Jesus Christ again meets us here for our Easter Breakfast and calls us by name: Peter, John, Thomas, Mary, Fred, Claire, Ruth, Marlene, Chris, Paul, Frank, Richard, Elizabeth - "Do you love me?"

Can we reply, "Yes Lord, in spite of what you see and hear - I love you. Feed my sheep, tend my lambs, do something for me". An exasperated Jesus calls through history "If you love me, for God's sake get on with bringing my world back to peace and love". Get on with it, and pass the cornflakes and toast, breakfast is nearly over.


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