Live as an Easter people

Easter 3 – Peter’s Mulligan – May 1, 2022

Peter’s Mulligan

Live as an Easter peopleAlleluia! Christ has risen!  We’ll say that again and again throughout Eastertide, because living in the light of the resurrection is an enormous idea, and it’s hard to take it all in.  We can take our time, because we have 50 days in Easter.  If we spend 40 days in Lent getting ready for Easter, surely we can take the full 50 days of Eastertide getting our minds and hearts around what it means to live — as the Church remembers St. Augustine said — as an Easter people The disciples mean well — I think we all do.  But they’re always a beat slow, a step behind, or don’t hear things quite right as they struggle to understand how to live in Eastertide.  I think most of us can relate to that.  When we catch up to Peter and the disciples today, it’s just weeks after the crucifixion and the women’s discovery of the empty tomb.  They’ve gone back to Galilee — to Capernaum, probably — and have resumed their lives as fishermen.  They’re in the 50 days of the first Easter.  That’s a lot like us now, after the pandemic, and in these 21st century days when going to church every Sunday is not a given.  They’re wondering what living as an Easter people means to them, and just what they’re supposed to do about it. 

They aren’t trying to decide whether to have one or two services on Sunday during the summer months, or whether to use Rite I or Rite II in the Book of Common Prayer.  They’re trying to figure out the basics — how to live, work, provide for their families, care for one another, and live in the way of love that Jesus taught them.  This was a time of new beginning and slow-dawning understanding, and it took more than hearing the words just once for it all to sink in.  It took every sense they had, and repeated experience.  Remember Jesus and Peter’s conversation at the Last Supper.  Jesus says that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows.  Peter is hurt, and insists that he would die for Jesus.  Yet, as Peter warms himself by the charcoal fire in the Garden of Gethsemane, he does exactly as Jesus predicts.  

Breakfast on the Beach

Broiled FishIn today’s gospel, there’s another charcoal fire, this time grilling fish on the beach in Galilee.  Charcoal fires have a very distinctive smell.  The scent of a charcoal fire can make us hungry for steaks, hamburgers, or grilled chicken even before we smell them cooking.  This compelling, evocative, hunger-making smell appears only twice in the New Testament, both times in John’s gospel, first in the Garden of Gethsemane and second at this early morning breakfast on the beach where Jesus gives Peter a mulligan — a do-over — on what it means to live a resurrected life.  I don’t know about you, but I want to lean in close for Peter’s do-over.  The smell of the charcoal fire makes me hungry for the new life Jesus is serving up on the beach at the dawn of this new day.  

Just to set the stage, the moment is classic Peter.  Peter is the disciple who will always go all in for the gospel, even if he looks a little foolish doing it.  This time is no different.  Back up in the Galilee after the women discover the empty tomb, the disciples are trying to figure out how to live their lives in the every day of it all.  They go out night fishing, but return at dawn with empty nets.  They spot a man on the shore, and when they realize it’s Jesus, Peter’s brain seems to short-circuit.  First he puts clothes on — because he’s naked, John’s gospel tells us.  THEN he jumps into the water, fully clothed, while the other disciples ride the short distance to the shore in the boat, dragging the net, which is now full to bursting with fish after Jesus has given the disciples some fishing advice.  

All of this detail in this short passage — Peter’s nakedness, quick dressing, and immediate plunge into the Sea of Galilee — begs the question:  why tell us so much about Peter’s behavior at this moment?  Of course John’s gospel doesn’t say, but after our attention has been grabbed like this, it’s reasonable to consider whether Peter’s actions make sense in that sequence, and if not, what insight we can draw?  The charcoal fire reminds us of that terrifying cold, dark night in the Garden of Gethsemane just outside the walled city of Jerusalem, but Peter’s second chance is on the gentle lapping shore of the Sea of Galilee — their home — at the dawn of a new day.   As the psalmist says, weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. Others ask Peter three times in the dark that night do you know Jesus?  On this new dawn, Jesus himself asks Peter — three times — Do you love me?

Feed My Lambs

Jesus AppearanceWe all know the answer.  Peter loves Jesus so much that he actually couldn’t even figure out whether to get dressed or swim to shore first when he sees Jesus on the beach.  Peter responds Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.  And Jesus says to him each time, Feed my lambs.  John’s gospel notes that Peter’s feelings are hurt when Jesus asks a third time if Peter loves him.  But this is Peter’s second chance.  In fact, Peter gets three more chances, matching the number of times that he denied Jesus in the Garden, and hinting that there are as many do-overs as you need in the new life of Easter.  

And do-overs are exactly what Jesus asks of us as an Easter people.  If you love me, Jesus says to Peter, feed my sheep.  Soup’s On resumes Tuesday at 5:00, with Chef Jackie presiding to welcome our guests to a community meal at Emmanuel.  Tend my lambs, Jesus tells us.  Newport Classical hosted a piano marathon of three concerts and a master class this last weekend, filling the Recital Hall with brave and inspiring music honoring and supporting the people of Ukraine, drawing in people who have never been inside Emmanuel before and raising, at last count, over $20,000 for the WHO’s emergency relief efforts in Ukraine.  Tend my sheep, Jesus says.  And yes, do it over and over and over again.  The slow-dawning realization on this new day of Easter is that, like Peter, we are both shepherds and lambs — hosts and guests.  Like Paul on the Road to Damascus, our blindness is lifted, and we can see that we all get as many do-overs as we need.  Resurrection life is all about the mulligan.  Amen

Your Favorite Brass Quintet plays Sunday, July 3 at 9:30 am on the lawn