Last week, we saw Jesus show Thomas his hands. We saw him invite Thomas to touch, to feel the wound on his side. With the resurrected Christ, all is not forgotten. The things that really happened are not denied. Today, the theme is carried further, this time with Peter. Peter has already been a witness to the resurrection. Remember, he was the one that listened to the women, the one who ran to the tomb to see if Jesus was there. He was there when Jesus came to them in the upper room. Peter, as much as anyone, has already experienced the Risen Christ. Or has he?
Today, you can almost feel the resignation that has taken hold. Can’t you just hear that dull and empty voice in him that said, “Go back to what you know. Go back to what is comfortable. You knew how to fish once; you can do it again. It’s a way to make a living and something to do—a reason to get up in the morning. So he heads back out to the water.”
Then there’s that strange moment, when, as soon as it becomes clear that this person standing on the shore is Jesus, Peter puts on clothes, because he was naked, and then jumps in the water. I want to be with you and I don’t want you to see me. As perfectly human as that it, there’s something sort-of heartbreaking about such ambivalence.
But the really profound, heart-stopping moment occurs after Jesus has cooked breakfast and fed his friends and now, it is just the two of them, just Peter and Jesus together, really for the first time. There is the three-fold question and answer. Do you love? No, but really, do you love me? Please, do you love me? Three times, Peter had denied him, three times, he is asked such a profound and piercing question. The symmetry here is awful and undeniable. And maybe it is how Jesus makes it possible for Peter to begin to participate, truly participate, in the life of resurrection.
Jesus has just asked for the naked, unadorned truth. These are not Precious Moments figurines we have here, and this isn’t a Disneyworld version of resurrection. The real thing has its own sting because it is not based on denying what has happened. Both Thomas and Jesus in different ways had to face into the what had happened—what had been done to another, who they themselves were. Only then could resurrection mean something more than a nice breakfast of bagels and lox on the beach with a friend they’d never thought they’d see again.
For me, and somehow, especially this Easter season, the question is still, what does this have to do with us? How do we, not just as individuals, but as a community, say that Resurrection belongs to us also, that it shapes us and has power in our life together?
It seems to me that one part of the answer involves all our own small and large betrayals and denials, all the ways in which we crucified and were crucified, the ways in which a community kills and dies – usually not in a stark and clear way, like Jesus was killed, but dies by a thousand small cuts. How we start out all excited and fired up with a new possibility and end up feeling instead that we are at an awful dead end.
We know that voice: Ah, let’s just go back and fish. Let’s worship and sing like we always did. We can’t do more. I don’t want to those people to change my church…
We must be vigilant, suspicious of our impulse to fall back on what’s known and comfortable. When that voice inside invites us to consider the old dispensations, we have to gently and clearly remind ourselves that even if we try to go back, we have already changed, so in fact, there is no going back.
It helps too if we can recognize the insidious and constant temptation to cover up, to put on some clothes, to avoid seeing ourselves and being seen just as we are. This week, we turned in the Parochial Report, or as Sherod calls it, the Pinocchio Report—a summary of the things that matter to the Episcopal Church at the national level: On average, how many people came to your church on Sundays and how much money did you raise? They may be the shallowest of metrics, but I also recognize how scared and vulnerable I feel when I look at our average worship attendance. Our numbers are so small in comparison to everything we must get done…
Every Sunday, we come to have breakfast with the Risen Christ, and we are, after all, a beach town. The beautiful sun at the top of our stained glass window is the sun that shone that morning in Galilee. The feast is prepared by the same hands. Imagine sitting together, all of us, young and old, Latino and Anglo, traditional and contemporary, newcomer and old-timer, what would it be like if we had just finished breakfast and Jesus asked us, “Do you love me?”
I can hear our first answer; it would be immediate. ¡Claro que yes! of course we love you.
Then, what would it be like to have the question asked again, as if our answer were too quick, too easy, too superficial?
Would we too be hurt if, going deeper, taking some risks to answer a second time, our response was found to still came up short and we were asked again? Do you love me? Would we be capable of hanging in, despite our hurt, to dig again, to really ask ourselves what it means to say that we love the Lord.
Peter was uncomfortable, he was hurt, he was pushed way beyond his comfort zone that morning. That was also a turning point for him. Until then, resurrection had been little more than a warm fuzzy, something briefly glimpsed, partially understood, certainly not claimed and allowed to empower and direct. Willing to hang in with that hard conversation, Peter, this silly, tempestuous, misguided person, made himself available to be transformed into an extraordinary source of grace and hope in the world. This was resurrection that meant something.
You and I, this small, fragile, silly, struggling community that we can’t even call St Ambrose, or El Centro, or the New River Regional Ministry because we are all of those things, none of those things, and more, we are a new faith community coming into being, we can’t just read these stories from a distance and think that if we know the story and take a small host in our hands, drink some cheap wine, that will make the difference. No. We need resurrection that matters. And that means that like Simon Peter, we have to allow the Lord to have that hard, hard conversation with us.
Do you love? Feed my sheep.
Do you love me? Tend my sheep.
Do you love me? Love my sheep.
You. You, as who you are, the naked truth of who you are.