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You Can’t Go Back

4/10/2016 Third Sunday of Easter  The text is John 21:1-19.

Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Although it may not feel like it, spring is in the air. The seasons have changed, even in New England. And winter is nothing more than a memory.

Ah, memories of spring…when I was in my 20s, the change of the season had a special place in my life. No, I wasn’t into purchasing spring clothes or doing a bunch of yard work. But spring was marked by a date circled on the calendar. It wasn’t Easter or tax day that was marked in red. It was the beginning of fishing season. Every year, like clockwork, I would pick up my license, mark the calendar, ready my fishing gear, and when the day came, trek to my favorite early season fishing spots along the Farmington River in CT. It didn’t matter if there was still some snow on the ground. It didn’t matter if hands and feet froze as I stood on the bank. It didn’t even matter if I caught anything. What mattered was that life had come full circle. Once again, I was out there, relaxing, enjoying the day and breathing in the fresh spring air.

But, what mattered to Peter in today’s gospel, as he took off fishing, was very different. He and the other disciples had nothing better to do. They had witnessed the crucifixion of the one who had called him away from the family fishing business. He and the other disciples were now alone. Peter, even though he had seen the risen Lord, still hadn’t gotten it. He still didn’t understand – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Peter didn’t understand the power of the resurrection. What Peter did understand was that life had to go on after Jesus. So, he went back…back to what was familiar to him…the job of catching fish…and he was joined by John and the crew.

On that spring day, these men did not go fishing for pleasure. They didn’t go fishing to usher in a new season. They went back to fishing, back to the only thing that they knew how to do. They went back to their former lives, their lives before Jesus, their lives before witnessing the miracles of Christ, their lives before the resurrection. They went back and acted as though the past three years, the time they had spent focusing on the developing gospel, had been a big waste of their time.

But, the Lord who had chosen them and called them to follow…the Lord who blessed them with his peace…the Lord who came to them Easter evening and showed them his hands and his side…the Lord who gave them the gift of the spirit and the power to forgive and retain sins, this Lord and God was not about to let them off the hook now.   So, once again, Jesus came to them. Jesus came to them for the third time as the men were heading to shore after a night of unsuccessful fishing.

In a scene reminiscent of the original call of these fishermen, Jesus stood on shore. The men who had spent the night fishing and had caught nothing were given instructions as to where to place their nets. And lo and behold, there be fish! Lots of fish! So many, that the nets should have broken, but as before, the nets held firm.

And so it was here, in the midst of normal life-time activities, that the Lord came. The Lord came to the disciples and once they obeyed him, one of them recognized him. In hearing that it was Jesus, the naked Peter clothed himself, jumped into the water and swam to shore ahead of the others. It was then that the fish were brought in and some were cooked on a charcoal fire already prepared by Jesus. It was then that the disciples sat down and ate with Christ for the first time after the Last Supper.

On the surface, this story should be enough for all to proclaim – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Yet there is more to this story than a fish tale. There was more here than a great catch and a meal with friends. For in the midst of the gathering, Jesus questioned Peter, forgave his sins, confirmed his faith, and commissioned him once more for service. In a three-fold confession of love which mimics the three-fold denial of Jesus that took place before the crucifixion, Peter was prepared for a new life and given a new job – to tend the Lord’s flock, to feed the Lord’s sheep. Peter may have wanted to go back, go back to his life before Jesus, but he couldn’t. The Lord would not let him any more than the Lord will allow any of us to live as if we have never proclaimed – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Jesus has a job for us that may not seem glamorous and inspiring – for, that job has us getting down and dirty as we take care of the needs of others.

If Jesus can choose a bumbling Peter, the one who confesses the Lord, but doesn’t understand what his own words mean – then Jesus can choose you to carry on his work. If Jesus can choose a bumbling Peter, the one who denies him in fear of retribution, then Jesus can choose you to tend to his sheep. If Jesus can choose bumbling Peter, the one who is determined that life must go on without the risen Christ, then Jesus can choose you to be his arms and legs in the world. Yes, you may feel unworthy and unprepared. And yes, you may want to live your life as if you never proclaimed: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! But it’s not your choice that counts. If you look back on it, God has never chosen the likely candidates to carry his promise to the world. Jesus, in following his Father’s footsteps, chooses bumbling Peter and a religious fanatic who wants to kill every man, woman or child who confesses the risen Christ, known as Saul. And in this present age, he has chosen you, you who have proclaimed – Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! For once one encounters the risen Christ and confesses faith, there is no turning back. The old self, the old ways, change.

The old self and the old ways change, whether you are a Peter, one who is a bit thick and slow to understand. Or whether you’re a Saul, one who rejects the lordship of Jesus. Whenever you encounter the crucified and risen Lord, life changes. Faith has a way of breathing fresh air into old lungs. Faith lightens the spirit as the burden of sin is lifted. Faith brings hope. Hope brings courage and endurance. Courage and endurance bring a new life of service and witness to the one who gives life to us all.

So, yes, my friends, the seasons have changed. The bleakness of winter has given away to the fresh breath of spring. The tomb is empty and Christ is risen. Alleluia! We may never see the marks of the nails and the spear as Peter and Saul, but Christ still comes to us in word and sacrament, in the witness of others, in midst of everyday life. Jesus still forgives our sin, gifts us with the Holy Spirit and commissions us for mission. We, who have been so blessed, cannot go back. For Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia and Amen!

May the peace of the God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.



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