We are often testifying everyday resurrections in the mornings and the daily meals of our lives.
One of the unsung gifts of revisiting scripture, over and over, throughout a lifetime is how we can still find new depths, new meanings, new wisdom in ancient words. We can read a story a dozen times at a dozen different points in our lifetime but that cumulative gift of patience and decades and the Spirit somehow illuminates something new, different, or reorienting. Perhaps the gift of a passage or a story or a line of scripture isn’t fully revealed to us until we’ve lived into it a bit, you know? Or perhaps it is that what it means now at this stage of your life is completely different than what it meant in your teens, your twenties, your thirties, your forties, and so on. It can take time to live into all the layers of sacred stories. Then Scripture becomes an ever-widening circle that include our own stories, needs, times, learnings, sorrows, and experiences with the Spirit, too.
I recently revisited a story near the end of the Gospel of John that I still find really beautiful in its simplicity and invitation. So to set the familiar scene that occurred beforehand, in the hours before Jesus was seized in the garden before his crucifixion, he warned Peter that a time of testing was coming his way. But Peter was adamant that he would prevail: he would never deny his Jesus! saying, “Master, I’m ready for anything with you. I’d go to jail for you. I’d die for you!” But Jesus tells him that sadly, no, before the rooster crows that very morning, Peter will in fact deny even knowing Jesus three times.
After this, Jesus heads to Mount Olives to pray and it was from this place that he was taken by the temple police, servants, and some religious leaders to be interrogated by the Chief Priest. Peter did follow them, but he stayed back.
Even before the interrogation really began, Peter’s own moment of reckoning arrived: three times he was recognized in the courtyard as one who had been with Jesus and three times he denied it, each time more vehemently than the last. Eugene Peterson tells the story this way:
“About an hour later, someone else spoke up, really adamant: “He’s got to have been with him! He’s got ‘Galilean’ written all over him.”
Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about” At that very moment, the last word hardly off his lips, a rooster crowed.
Just then, the Master turned and looked at Peter.
Peter remembered what the Master had said to him: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.”
He went out and cried and cried and cried.”
Peter broke his own heart that day.
We are not so different from him, not one of us. As Philip Yancey wrote, “Christians have manifold ways of betraying their faith. Some publicly renounce it. Others, more subtly, live in ways that contradict it.”1 Isn’t that a whole convicting word for us these days?
When I was younger and deeply enjoying my certainty, I was always a bit judgey towards Peter. It wasn’t until I got older - and I broke my own heart a few times - that I became more sympathetic and understanding of the complexities, the fears, the realities of the situation, knowing that many of do things that surprise us when we’re scared.
We’re all capable of being Peter, who are we kidding? In fact, at this point in my life and in our political climate, I am actually impressed that Peter’s heart was still tender enough to be broken.
After all, it seems more and more of us deny Jesus and never miss a beat these days. So from this vantage point in my life, Peter’s capacity to be convicted, to feel the weight of his actions - to know his betrayal as what it was rather than attempt to justify it - is actually pretty incredible.
However, the story that snagged me happened after all that. Later in the Gospels after the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus meets seven of the disciples while they are out fishing. I’ve heard it preached or taught that by going fishing, the disciples were basically going back to their old way of life. They had given up on Jesus and were headed back to the their nets. I don’t know if that’s the case as the scriptures don’t tell us their motivation only that Simon Peter announced he was going fishing and the other six said, “We’re going with you.”
For all we know, they went fishing because they needed food or because they needed to do something ordinary and familiar as they came to grips with what was happening. It isn’t necessarily a renunciation of everything Jesus taught them or his way of life. (I mean, maybe it was, but I also know that after I’ve experienced something shocking or upsetting, I can usually be found with my nose in a book or out on a walk or knitting, desperate for something that feels familiar and comforting2 so if they wanted to go fishing just for the sake of the familiar ordinary routine of it that tracks with me, too.)
Regardless of why the disciples are fishing, Jesus shows up right at the beach. And once again, he calls out to them and just as he did before, he gives them a new way to fish.
“Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?
They answered, “No.”
He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.” They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in.”
At this moment, the disciple Jesus loves exclaims to Simon Peter, “That’s the Master!” and Peter, ever our grand-gesture guy, flings himself out of the boat and swims to shore. Because of course he did.
When the boat finally returns to shore with the rest of the (dry) disciples, Jesus has a breakfast ready for them - I guess Jesus went fishing, too.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to be on a beach early in the morning but it’s truly one of life’s great pleasures. If you ever have a chance, I hope you take it. I always feel like like some dormant or domesticated part of my soul has been reawakened at that time of day. No wonder Advent focuses so much on the breaking in of light through the darkness, eh? Thanksgiving - another old church word we don’t use much anymore - breathes in and out at a dawn on the shore. Everything seems more possible in the morning.
So there is something about Jesus simply saying, “Good morning!” that makes me so glad.
Even after resurrection, even in his glorified body, here he is on the beach, catching fish and watching the sun come up with the people he loves. Everything Jesus does after resurrection seems fraught with meaning, of course, especially because we know - unlike the disciples - that he does leave, he does “return to the Father” somehow in space and time, however you understand that. So these glimpses become even more meaningful knowing that there were only a few of them written down here in the Gospels and the first bit of Acts.
And so it means something to me now that there was Jesus: sitting on a beach in the morning hours, eating breakfast with his friends, like this is exactly the good place to be. Jesus doesn’t restrict his presence only to the things we think are the holiest things we can do in agreed-upon sacred places with the greatest numbers and heightened impacts: Jesus is often waiting for us on the beach in the morning with a breakfast over the fire when our stomachs are rumbling and the night has been long and our hearts are broken.
There they are on the beach. And damp Peter is still carrying this grief with him. Of course he is. And Jesus is there with them on the beach at the fire, eating fish, as if nothing has changed and yet everything has changed. Both of them are changed, of course: Jesus by resurrection, Peter by his denials and his broken heart over it. Neither one emerges unmarked.
And in that moment, Jesus doesn’t pretend everything is fine and back to normal - whatever that would be now. No, he wants to wade right into Peter’s deep sorrow and heal it.
So he turns to Peter and three times he asks him, “Do you love me?” And three times, Peter gets to respond, “Yes, Master, you know I love you” each time.3 They eat breakfast. The simplicity of the invitation might hide the wonder of healing happening here. Three denials, three affirmations. Three “I don’t know him”s cancelled out by three “I love you”s.
I can confuse myself sometimes into thinking that there is always somewhere better to be. But there is no better place to be than with Jesus. Whether it’s in a tiny congregation on a Sunday or it’s in a developing country delivering babies for destitute women, whether it’s in a crowd of protestors or it’s sitting on a beach with friends around a fire as the sun comes up and everything seems possible again: if Jesus is present with us - and stubbornly, deeply, completely, I believe he is - there is holiness right there. There is an invitation to participate again in what God is doing - still - in this tired world.
It turns out that Jesus is often waiting for us on the beach in the morning with a good breakfast on the fire right in the aftermath of heartbreak. It’s the dawn of everything, again and again.
God is breathing invitation in each morning. Every dawn of our lives can be an altar, an encounter with the divine, an invitation to participate in God’s good work, and there isn’t always a lot of fuss about it.
We are often testifying everyday resurrections in the mornings and the daily meals of our lives.
I suppose that is what snagged me and why I wanted to mention it to you this week. Right now, there was something there about the possibility of being met on the shoreline of our failures and inadequacies, denials and longings by Jesus with the invitation to a good meal, a reminder of what it is still true, and a sunrise.
And then we simply begin again.
And when Jesus says, do you love me?, we can all still say, you know all things Jesus, you know I love you.
Beginning again still,
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This is from his book Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived The Church, page 267. A great read.
This is in John 21 and Jesus responds to Peter’s “I love you” by telling him to “feed his sheep” which is a whole other thing that I keep circling these days but that’s another essay…