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3rd Sunday of Easter

08 April 2016

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Acts 9.1-6 (7-20) or Zephaniah 3.14-end; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-14; John 21.1-19

 

Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

THE final chapter of St John’s Gospel has divided scholars. Some believe it to be part of the original; others (the majority) believe that it is a later addition to a work that ended with John 20.30-31, following similar themes, but working towards a different purpose.

The miraculous catch of fish has affinities with the catch recorded in Luke 5.1-8, which also records a telling encounter between Jesus and Peter. The meal in which Jesus is fully recognised has echoes of the meal at Emmaus (Luke 24.30-32).

And yet these things are not enough to establish a common source. Perhaps it is salutary to read the story of the lakeside breakfast, and Peter’s opportunity to be restored after denying all connection with Jesus, knowing that the Church can treasure and be built up by such events, even while acknowledging that there is much about them that remains elusive.

The participants in the action are also teased by what they think they see, but hardly dare to believe. After the crucifixion, they had gone back to their old lives as fishermen (John 21.3). Fishing provided an assured living, whereas there were few clear and practical directions in their last conversations with Jesus.

One by one, the seven recognise the Lord. First, it is the “disciple whom Jesus loved”; then Peter, who acts on his colleague’s word (John 21.7); then the other five (John 21.12). Their embarrassment about asking the figure on the shore who he was suggests the confusion of emotion and convention. Normally, we assume, it would be correct to ask a stranger’s name before accepting hospitality. Here is a person who feels both strange and very familiar, and whose name they hesitate to pronounce.

It is left to Peter to call Jesus “Lord”, after Jesus has addressed him as “Simon, son of John”, taking him back to their very first meeting (John 21.15-17, 1.42) to admit three times that he knows and loves the Lord when he denied. In this new beginning, he is given a distinct role as a shepherd of the kind described by Jeremiah, who will bring the flock “back to the fold”, protect them from fear and dismay, and make sure that none are lost (Jeremiah 23.3-4).

Recognition is also the central theme of Paul’s experience on the Damascus road. The question from an invisible speaker: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9.4) draws a paradoxical reply from the ferocious pursuer of Christians. He calls Jesus “Lord”, before knowing who he is (Acts 9.5).

It is, of course, possible that Paul responded to a dramatic show of force by assuming that a more impressive agency than the dead prophet of an annoying sect was at work. But that would not account for his immediate obedience (Acts 9.8). He both knows and does not know, understanding that the power that overcomes him will be the power that commands him for the rest of his life, yet not having any personal sense of relationship with it.

The first step towards that relationship will come as Ananias (with some reluctance) lays hands on him, and releases the gift of the Spirit in the name of Jesus (Acts 9.17).

The Easter season has been associated with Christian initiation from a very early time in the life of the Church. This year, once again, candidates presented for confirmation in the Common Worship rite will have been asked by the bishop: “Are you ready with your own mouth and from your own heart to affirm your faith in Jesus Christ?” (Common Worship: Initiation Services, Church House Publishing, 2005).

A rubric following the question suggests that “testimony may follow”, and although this option is avoided in settings where liturgical control is prized, it can be an unexpectedly moving and joyful contribution. Here is an opportunity for those who have come recently to faith to discover what the impulses of their hearts sound like when translated into speech.

For those whose faith has become a matter of routine, here is a chance to hear it new in the mouth of another person. There are times when you have to hear yourself say something before you know that you believe it. If the vision of the writer of Revelation is in any way a reliable guide to life in the nearer presence of God, we will never stop needing to hear ourselves acknowledging “the one seated on the throne and the Lamb” (Revelation 5.13).

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