I won’t be preaching this Sunday, so here’s the early (7:30 a.m.) service message for Easter morning, April 20.
Easter morning is one of those times when everyone in the church is experiencing one of those highs. The high of Christmas with the birth of Jesus; the high of Easter with the resurrection of Christ. We celebrate, we throw a party– in a few minutes, we’ll eat quite the breakfast spread!
But on that first Easter morning, there was more of a sense of despair. They never understood or expected that Jesus’ words about being resurrected meant he’d actually come back! They thought the guy whom they had followed for years was simply lost to them. They clung to his words and held to his promises, but they didn’t understand many of them.
And then he appeared, and the word spread that he had come back. That he’d share the gift of the Holy Spirit with them in Jerusalem. Everyone rejoiced, right?
Maybe, maybe not.
Remember the last time we saw Peter? Back in John 18, we saw Peter as he denied Jesus not once, twice, or three times. We saw Jesus’ best friend deny that he even knew Jesus, let alone had felt any kinship to him, or followed him for three years.
There’s a lot of brokenness there, right? Jesus died on the cross and he came back from the grave, but that doesn’t mean that he and Peter’s relationship was fixed or made right, does it?
Of course not.
Even though Jesus had prayed on the cross that he urged God to forgive those who had persecuted him, even those who stood by and watched him die, Peter was left with that overwhelming betrayal. He didn’t quite know what to do. He’d betrayed Jesus, he’d seen the evidence of the empty tomb, but he’d never been able to speak to Jesus. So he did what he did best: he went fishing.
Back on the Sea of Galilee, where this all started, when Jesus had called Peter and Andrew, James and John, to become “fishers of men.” Peter went back to what he was before Jesus, to try and sort out what he was feeling and thinking, about three years of following Jesus and three times of denial.
Peter went to his happy place, to get it straight, to get it worked out. He didn’t go to talk; he went to fish. And his heart was echoed in the other disciples, even those who weren’t fishermen. There must’ve been something that felt right about being together, about being out on the water.
But, you’ve heard this before, after an all night fishing outing, they’d caught nothing. But when morning came, as the sun was just coming up, there appeared a figure on the shore.
The man called out, “friends, haven’t you caught anything?”
No, they dully answered.
And then the man did one of those things that only Jesus seemed to know how and when to do. He told them to throw their nets ‘over there,’ to the right side, where they would ‘find’ the fish. Like they hadn’t been ‘looking’ for them before. Like they didn’t really know what they were doing but needed someone else to point it out to them.
And suddenly, they were overwhelmed by the number of fish that they couldn’t even comprehend. Suddenly, the fishermen who couldn’t fish were catching fish thanks to the man who didn’t have a net.
John, who wrote the book of John, said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” It is Jesus.
This may be one of my favorite declarations of faith in the whole Bible.
Immediately, it says. Right away, it says. Without haste, it says. Peter wrapped his cloak back on him, because he’d taken it off to fish, and jumped in the water. Peter recognized in this moment that he wasn’t coming back to the boat. If Jesus was there, then Peter didn’t want to be here anymore.
Peter recognized, in this post-Easter moment, that to be with Jesus, even if Jesus was unhappy with him, was better than being without Jesus. The rock band Disciple sang,
“This was my hell living with out you here, Even heaven is hell if somehow you were not there. Lord, I need to breathe you, drink you, dream you. Nothing ever will compare. Need to breathe you, drink you, dream you, need you.”
Those might as well be Peter’s words. Even knowing that Jesus had risen from the dead wasn’t good enough. Peter needed to be with Jesus, to make things right again.
The Scripture says that the other disciples came in the boat behind them, dragging the net full of fish. We know that the other disciples were coming to see Jesus, that they wanted to be with Jesus, too, but their urgency wasn’t the same as Peter’s. So Peter is the first to arrive, to discover that Jesus already knew they’d catch fish, because he had the fire burning already.
None of the disciples asked who the man on the shore was. Even though they hadn’t seen Jesus, even though they knew he’d died, they believed it was him. They had no doubts. This first century witnesses knew Jesus and knew this man was Jesus.
When they were done eating, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?”
It’s not hard to figure why Jesus asked three times. It was like holding Peter up to a mirror of his three denials! Normally, we’d think Jesus, if Jesus was like us, was throwing his frustration, his anger, his sense of betrayal, right back into Peter’s face. But this is Jesus, this is the same person who says that Peter was the Rock on which he would build his church. This is Jesus who died for people like Peter, for you and me.
And so, instead of pounding Peter with frustration and vindictiveness, Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” He tells Peter to follow him. He lets Peter know in one simple, post-fishing trip breakfast, that he’s forgiven, that Jesus’ resurrection makes everything right. That the beauty of Easter is that we don’t need to be afraid, ashamed, guilty, ‘stuck,’ anymore.
Easter morning isn’t just for “thank goodness, Lent is over!” or hanging out at Grandma’s house. Easter morning is about recognizing that Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection changes everything.
You don’t have to hold onto that (whatever that is for you) anymore. You don’t have to be alone and afraid anymore. You can forgive because you’ve been forgiven. You can be a rock on which Jesus builds the church. You matter, you belong, you’re loved by the great God of the universe.
Give thanks this Easter morning for forgiveness and for second chances.
Christ is Risen. He is risen indeed!