“After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’
They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’
They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’
So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?
He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’
A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’
(Jesus) said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’
(Peter) said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’ “(John 21:1-17)
I sat with Barb’s daughter Karen in my office this week planning this service. She told me the story that when her family moved to Old Saybrook when she was four years-old – her first memory was going to the beach.
On that warm and sunny day at the beach, Barb noticed another mom with her daughter of what looked to be about the same age, and Barb being Barb – she went over and started talking to that little family.
A lot of us have been in similar situations – just being friendly to someone who happens to be there or enjoying a moment with a stranger. In this case it was taking a break before soldiering through pressing to do lists. After-all, there was probably plenty to do being new in town, with a young child in tow and a house to unpack. Deena and Karen and the two moms became lifelong friends.
It didn’t occur to Barb not to jump right in.
When Karen first told me this story – I thought to myself, well that sure sounds like Barb doesn’t it? Never a wallflower. Ever the extrovert. Always a story. Steadfast in her smile and laugh. Social. Social. Social.
I thought of all the things she participated in around here at St. Paul – book groups and dinners, events – any social activity, you name it, she was here. When I was new to this congregation 4 ½ years ago, I came to my first New Adventure luncheon and Barb being who she was – she sat down, right next to me, introduced herself and started talking. She couldn’t help it. We sat engaged in conversation the better part of the afternoon. It didn’t occur to her not to jump right in.
And she seemed to live her life that way everywhere, didn’t she? Libraries. The garden. Her bunnies. It seems to me Barb had one speed. Just jump right in – she didn’t want to miss anything.
Our Gospel reading reveals Peter jumping right in.
Perhaps Peter had different motivation than Barb – I don’t think of Peter as not wanting to miss out so much as so happy to see his friend Jesus again that he dropped everything – just to see him again – including the huge catch of fish that the very presence of the Risen Jesus appears to inspire.
When Peter saw Jesus cooking on the beach – he stopped his fishing trip and just jumped right in to go see him.
Whether or not you are familiar with this story, you may have noticed there is some awkwardness to this interaction. Peter and the others recognize Jesus, but at the same time they don’t. They feel joy about being with him and yet they are also a little bit afraid.
They share the intimacy that comes by eating together – yet there is also some distance between them. This is not finding new friends on the beach, introducing oneself and getting on with it. It is jumping right in to a new reality – of life and death and resurrection that confronts us in our fears and insecurities while at the same time bringing hope and completeness.
Think of what this little community had been through in the last several weeks. They thought they had it made as they entered Jerusalem beside Jesus – who rode in on a donkey as the new king. In a few short days they saw him arrested, and Peter denied knowing him three times. As Jesus died – what could they have been feeling: Guilt? Fear? Sadness? Disappointment? Disorientation?
Probably all of that. Probably more.
Then came the news – and with two previous Easter encounter that Jesus was not dead… but alive! Death had lost its sting.
Mary Magdalene tried to embrace him.
Thomas longed to touch him.
And Peter – well, here he is. He had run with the beloved disciple to the tomb on Easter morning, and it is implied he’s there when Jesus appeared to the others as well – but this is his big moment. As this breakfast with Jesus on the beach came to a close, the focus shifts to the three questions Jesus asks – or more pointedly – to the same question he asks Peter three times… “Do you love me?”
This question poses another pointed question: Would Peter, dare, jump right in?
We could read Peter’s responses a couple of different ways:
The first might be that Peter is a bit hurt as our text suggests (John 21:17). Peter keeps answering “YES!” but Jesus keeps after him anyway. There is some comfort there – we often need repetition and those who stick with us to reinforce and really learn something meaningful and deep and true.
The other way to hear this little interchange is the I way I often have over the years – that it is about restoration. That in each of the three questions, “Do you love me?” Jesus provides Peter with the opportunity and gift only he can give – a renewed relationship that could overcome each of Peter’s denials with his pure, undeserved, relentless love and mercy.
And in either of those reactions – the repetitive learning that penetrates our defenses and the unexpected grace that covers us so completely that we know we belong we can each find ourselves standing with Jesus on that beach – this Easter moment finds us all. The Sun is shining bright. The sand is in between our toes and we are fully alive; freed from whatever it is that has been holding us back from this moment.
But there is a third possibility that a colleague of mine C.J. Clark reminded me of this week – that I think fits Barb a little better than either of these two previous renderings of this Easter encounter, and that is this – by answering Jesus’s question affirmatively, “Yes Lord, you know I love you” comes Jesus calling,
“You love me do you? Then feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.”
In other words, our lives become about loving God and helping other people – and it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that. And wasn’t that who Barb was?
She took the joy she knew and shared it; jumping right into people’s lives.
I wasn’t there on that encounter on the beach when you first moved to Saybrook Karen, but could it be that your mom saw you needed a friend? Or maybe she saw Deena playing alone and thought you might be better off together? Anytime her family and friends faced hardship or isolation she would in her own generous and gregarious way link you to a better possibility than what you were experiencing.
Do you love me? Feed my lambs.
Is it possible, that all those years in the library seeing all those faces come in – some happy; some sad; some grumpy; some confident; some searching; some determined; some anxious; some going through all the emotional ups and downs we all face; some full of wonder; and many, many kids – that she knew that her warm face, her kind heart, her ability to tell a story and listen to yours might be just soft enough, warm enough, human enough, joyful enough to make your day better, brighter, sunnier, and more connected?
Is it possible she did those things not just because she didn’t want to miss out, but because she didn’t want you to miss out on this beautiful life either?
Do you love me? Tend my sheep.
Could it be that Barb “got it”; understanding her own fear of being alone, or left out, that drove her to connect people and use the gifts God gave her to do that; like the time she sat down next to the new pastor, even though she wasn’t technically a “member” here per se, but she was just as much a part of this community as anyone. She welcomed me and made me feel at home.
Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
Maybe we could all learn a little something from Barb. Not to be afraid of who we are or what we are called to do, because the bright sunny days carry you through the dark and gloomy ones because there is love there. A love that is always to be shared. And if you want to know how to honor her witness and see that love in your own life that can make you alive in ways you may have never known or long forgotten – then I invite you to do as Barb did.
Jump right in.