You know what it’s like when you haven’t seen someone for a really long time? Or even, a short time, but a time that has been packed with so much experience, or change, or growth, or life that it feels as if an entire lifetime has come and gone? You know that feeling of wanting to reach in to that person’s soul and open it up, and hear all the words you want to hear, but to know that you need to go slowly, that in time they will unpack their experiences, just like they unpacked their luggage? And you just have to trust: There is time. We will get to it all. Do you know that feeling?
This morning we come to the end of our travels in the gospel of John. And we find the friends and followers of Jesus have returned home, following the astounding and heartbreaking and terrifying and surreal events of Holy Week. That week in which they saw Jesus soar to the peak of popularity, and crash to the depths of humiliation and even death, and then, somehow, rise again… and it has all been too much. They’re home now, they’ve gone back to Galilee, and they are trying to find some normalcy by returning to their old occupations and resuming their old habits. Do you know that feeling? Of just wanting to feel normal again?
So, naturally, they have gone fishing.
And into their attempt at normalcy comes Jesus, though, as when he showed up on Easter morning, folks are having some trouble recognizing him at first.
But once he provides them with an enormous catch of fish, followed by a nice grilled-fish and bread breakfast on the beach… they know something’s up.
And they want to ask him things—mostly, “Who are you?”—but they don’t. Because they do know who he is, and it is a week or so after Jesus was crucified, died and buried, and then, somehow, raised from the dead. And what they really want to do is to reach into his soul and open it up, and hear all the words they want to hear. They want Jesus to fill in the enormous gaps in their understanding, to help them make sense of it all. They want to ask him all sorts of things. What would you want to ask?
Were you really dead?
What was it like, being dead?
What did you see?
Where did you go?
Did you see God?
Are you God?
Who are you?
But they don’t ask. Maybe they are overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions they have for Jesus. Maybe they are afraid of Jesus. Maybe they think there’s plenty of time for him to unpack all the stories in the days, months and years to come. Maybe they are right about that.
But then, as they are gathered around a charcoal fire, it is Jesus who asks a question. He asks three questions, but really one question. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” It seems like a very long time ago, but do you remember the last time Simon Peter was huddled around a charcoal fire, and one question was lobbed at him three times, all boiling down to, “Hey, you, do you know that Jesus guy?” And now, following a hard night of fishing, but fresh from a swim, and having been fortified by some breakfast, it’s as if Peter is given the opportunity to unsay the things he said, to undo the thing he did, and he answers, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
To which Jesus responds, “Feed my sheep.”
So much to say. So many questions to ask. So much to catch up on, to learn, to re-learn in the light of this new and unimaginable reality. And it can’t all possibly be captured in even this last chapter of this extraordinary and strange and beautiful gospel.
Try to tell the story of your once-in-a-lifetime experience, in just a few minutes.
Try to tell the story of life, and death, and life again.
Try to tell the old, old, story, of Jesus and his love.
You can, and you can’t. If all the details were written down, I suspect that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
But there remains a deep longing, in Jesus’ friends, and maybe in Jesus, too, to fill in the gaps. And the way Jesus deals with that is: Come to breakfast. And feed my sheep.
The final gift Jesus leaves his people is the gift of the shared meal. They step off the boat after a hard night of fishing, and he invites them to take their fill. And in the light of their love and devotion to him, he invites them to invite others to share a meal as well. Experience fills in the gaps where words fail. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a tangible, human, bodily experience is worth infinitely more.
Jesus invites us to the meal. He invites us to come, from our days of work or play or rest, from our nights of joy or sorrow or confusion. He invites us to bring our questions.
Who are you?
Am I doing the right thing?
How do you want me to love?
How can I be the person you want me to be?
Will you be with me?
Jesus invites us to the meal. Come, he says. Come and eat.
Thanks be to God. Amen.