Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I have to tell you, sisters and brothers, there is no new news today. No more eye-witness-jaw-dropping news than what we already know: Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.
And we sing with the angels and saints and all creation in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, “This is the feast of victory for our God. Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”…to be people of God.
No new news today, but lots of assurance and some establishing of ground rules to be people of God in the world.
On this third Sunday of Easter one more of the beautiful, somewhat mysterious stories of Jesus appearing to the disciples. Everything in these stories, from the moment of discovery of the empty tomb, functions to establish ground rules for how to know Jesus in a new way, and how to transition from disciple followers to leader followers. From disciples to church startup builders. The gospels were written after all for the very young church as foundational literature.
So, first off then, why should people trust the mission/the idea of this startup called church? Why should they put their trust in it?
Well, there are witnesses to the claim that Jesus is risen and is as Christ the same as he was before.
Mary Magdalene for example is in John’s gospel the one to discover the empty tomb. Her eye witness and reporting starts a cascading chain of witnessing; eye witness as well as believing upon the word alone, like Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. They run to the tomb. It’s empty. Then Jesus appears to Mary, after that to the Eleven minus one. The story of Thomas accomplishes the very important transition away from our conviction that only eye witness is true and trustworthy to learning that hearing the proclamation of the risen Christ is all we need.
So, first ground rule: Our, the church’s witness to the risen Christ as people of God is trustworthy; it links back to Mary and the Eleven who saw the Risen One; but hearing their witness is all we need.
Second, the people of God are not leaderless. All the people mentioned so far are leaders of the church. And part and parcel of it – this church startup has some structure.
On the shore that morning when Jesus cooks them breakfast there are seven disciples, seven of the early church leaders. They are people we know: Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from John’s first chapter, the Zebedee sons, and two without names. One is the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” and then still one other. These positions are left blank, nameless , for your and my names to go in.
After breakfast, Jesus installs Peter, here formally addressed as Simon son of John, as leader. We learn here who qualifies to be a leader and how they function together.
Peter is the one who denied three times that he knew Jesus while Jesus was interrogated inside the courthouse. His answer to Jesus’ threefold question, Do you love me, clearly gives away how pained he is, caught in the moment of allegiance here on this morning at the shore, his betrayal ringing, echoing deafeningly loud, inside his head anyway. Do you love me? Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.
Peter represented us all in the betrayal, now he represents all who want to help lead as the one being installed. We know that we are capable of betrayal, contrary to our own pledges. And yet loved, forgiven and entrusted in spite of the worst we know ourselves to be. Every leader of every kind knows these fears/these truths; also the unmerited grace of forgiveness and trust, and the responsibility that flows from here. Follow me, Jesus says.
Peter is not alone. In this startup operation all witness, recognize, assure, confirm, consult and discern. The Holy Spirit needs the community, the body of Christ.
Together the other disciples drag the boat full of fish to shore, they are at breakfast and share this meal with Jesus the Lord.
And then take note of the nameless disciple whom Jesus loved. He and Peter seem to be paired. He runs to the tomb with Peter, peers in first. After Peter enters the tomb, the other does too, confirming what Peter sees. He is the one who recognizes that it is Jesus who stands on the shore in the morning light. And when Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs, tend my sheep, the other disciple is right on their heels, following them.
So, the people of God are not leaderless. And there is structure of support and care. They share the load, they share the discerning process, they know each other’s betrayals and shortcomings.
It is too bad that Mary or the other women are not mentioned again in these resurrection stories. She and the women must have been leaders in the early church. The church has certainly benefitted a great deal from the faithfulness and dedication of the women over the centuries.
The third function of the resurrection stories is to show that these church builders, the disciple-leaders are legit – their existence and their mission.
The miracle of the fish catch shows Jesus as Lord. The one who commands the water and the fish, creation, who feeds breakfast on the shore, is the one who installs into leadership. They didn’t make that up.
The over-abundance of the catch bestows on the young leaders Jesus’ blessings, shares Jesus’ power with them. The mission/the charge this Lord bestows on them is no surprise: Feed my lambs, tend my sheep. Care for my flock. Uphold the vision God has for this world, not your own.
You are not in it for yourselves, dear friends, in case you haven’t noticed since you followed me through Galilee to Jerusalem. In this startup you are not in for your own gain, your own reputation, your own needs, your own desires. You are shepherds. Shepherds in my stead. Your job is caring. Follow me. I am with you on the shore, in the light of the new day, in the water, in the bread and wine, in the places of risk and of death.
Proclaim to the world the victory won in the powerlessness of the cross. Live and share God’s vision for this world, God’s hope, God’s love, God’s faithfulness, God’s peace. I have set you free to be people of God.
Make an end to human vision of triumphalism and selfishness, but with the myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands praise and proclaim God’s vision of hope in cosmic worship.
Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.