Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. (Read the whole passage)
My first day of being a pastor was a Sunday. There was a big celebratory service with special music, excited friends and family to cheer me on and a happy congregation. The day before I had been ordained, another big celebratory service with special music and crowds of family and friends. I took Monday as my day off. And then on Tuesday morning, with nothing in my schedule and as the only employee, I wandered over to the church building. I stood in my office wondering, “Okay, now what do I do?”
The third Sunday of Easter is a bit like that moment. Two weeks ago was the big service and celebration with special music and crowds. Last Sunday things died down, but it was still the after-party with Jesus appearing to the disciples and then to Thomas. But today, while resurrection is still heavy on our minds, we are left wondering now what?
John’s gospel tells us about the disciples who were in the same boat… literally. The disciples to whom Jesus has appeared to twice in the span of a week and empowered them for the ministry of the kingdom decide that fishing is the obvious next step. Peter, to be precise decides that now after following Jesus around for 3 years, witnessing miracles and teachings, the triumphal entry, the crucifixion, and the empty tomb that going back to what he knows is best. And few of the others agree, James and John sons of Zebedee, along with of all people scholars Thomas and Nathanael.
On the other hand, in Acts we hear about Saul on the road to Damascus. He is not two week removed from the resurrection, but about 10 years. Yet, the events of Easter have inspired him to zealously and murderously persecute Christians. And Ananias, the fearful follower of the way is hiding in fear, precisely of people like Paul.
All of these disciples, or soon-to-be followers of Jesus, have been affected by the events of Easter differently. They all make different choices in how to react to the resurrection, but they also share a similar experience. They are struggling to make sense of what the Risen Christ means for them and for their world. They have heard the Easter stories, they have lived them in fact, but they are as lost as anyone in how to move on from that world changing moment.
This odd collection of followers of the way of Jesus, are just like any group of people who gather to become the church. They are just like us. Perhaps we are like Peter, bold to risk it all in one moment, and then timidly back to business as usual in the next. Perhaps we are like Paul, concerned that everyone around keep the rules just as we do. Perhaps were are like Ananias, faithful yet fearful of showing that faith. Perhaps we are like James and John, Thomas and Nathanael, interested and engaged, but easy influenced to try the next thing that comes along.
Like those varied disciples, often the only thing that binds us all together as followers of the way, as the body of Christ gathered here, is our common belief in the Christ and the resurrection. Follow by our shared struggled with just what to do with this good news.
The early church called themselves followers of the way rather than Christians. They wanted to emphasize that they followed the way of a living person, which is not always easy or clear. Kind of like following someone in a busy crowd, it easy to get jostled and shoved about, to lose sight of the one we are following.
Today, two weeks out from Easter, the reality of the Risen Christ is a confusing struggle. It was all a big party on that Easter morning, but today we are left to sort out just what happens next. And considering pillars of the faith like Peter and Paul, James and John, Ananias, Thomas and Nathanael struggled to sort it out… what chance do we have? Are we supposed to go knock on doors to ask people if they have heard the good news? Should we all find ten friends to bring to church? Do we need to pray in public more often? Should we be preachy and pious like Christians on TV?
Being followers of the way is not easy two weeks out from Easter.
As Saul marched down the road to Damascus, on his way to enforce the rules he thought were right, Jesus met Saul where he was. Jesus didn’t just meet Saul, but Jesus blindsided him, blinded him literally. Jesus met him on the way and redirected his path. The encounter with Jesus changed the course of Saul’s life. Saul became Paul.
As Ananias hid away in fear, Jesus met Ananias where he was and encouraged him to go despite his fears. Jesus called Ananias to be the hands and feet of Christ, to help Saul become Paul, to welcome Paul into the body of Christ. Ananias’s life was changed.
As Peter returned to the fishing boat not knowing what to do next after the resurrection, Jesus called to him from the shore. Jesus met Peter where he was. Jesus asked him to feed my sheep. Jesus reminded Peter what it means to tend to the body of Christ, that Peter couldn’t walk away from it all. Peter’s life was now forever tied to the fortunes of the followers of the way.
As James and John, Thomas and Nathanael shrugged their shoulders and follow Peter to go fishing, Jesus met them where they were. He showed them that he was still the one to follow, still they who knew where to cast their nets for fish, and where to cast their nets in fishing for people.
Jesus meets each of his followers as they struggle with how to proceed, with how to make sense of the Risen Christ. Jesus finds them in their Easter confusion, and gives them what they need. He makes them blind, he encourages, he has hard conversations he shows them abundance. Jesus meets them and points them back to the way. He points them to the way he showed them before Easter and reminds them that they are still followers of the way afterwards.
And in the same way Jesus meets us. Jesus meet us as we struggled with how to proceed, Jesus meets us in our diversity of struggles whether we are like Paul, like Peter, like Ananias, like Thomas and Nathanael, like Jame and John. Whether we are unsure, afraid, bold one moment timid the next, whether we just go along to get along, whether we are confused and struggling. Jesus meets is here.
Jesus meets us in all the other struggling and confused sisters and brothers in faith that gather here week after week.
Jesus meets us in the word of God. In the stories of faith of all those disciples and followers who have struggled before us along the way. In the stories of faith and life that we share with each other, around cups of coffee here, at the water cooler at work, over backyard fences with neighbours, at kitchen tables with family and friends. Jesus meets us in the words we share as the body of Christ.
Jesus meets us in the waters of baptism. In the forgiveness, life and salvation that we hear every time we confesses our sins and receive forgiveness, every time we welcome and new member into the body of Christ, every time we gather on the banks of Red, the banks of the Mississipi, the Amazon, the Nile and anywhere God’s people are together, being washed in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus meets in the water we share as the body of Christ.
Jesus meets us in Bread and Wine. In the meal of life where we gather at God’s table, where we are nourished in faith. Jesus meets in the Body of Christ we are given to eat, Jesus makes the Body of Christ the Church, Jesus sends us to the Body of Christ, food for the world. Jesus meets us in the meal we share as the body of Christ.
Jesus meets us wherever, whenever, whomever we are.
And at this point in the sermon, it would be easy at this point to tell you now that Jesus meets you, go and bring ten people to church, go and convert your neighbour, pray on the street corner, be pious and rule followers, evangelize whenever you get the opportunity.
But that isn’t the good news, and that is not what Jesus is telling the disciples, Peter, Paul and the others.
The Good News is simply that Jesus comes to meet us. That Jesus finds us and meets us and shows us the way. That no matter how much we struggle with what comes next, no matter how fearful, or uncertain, or wishy washy, or ardent we are. The Good News is that Jesus is the one coming to us.
That we are followers of the way, because Jesus shows us the way.