Not being meat eaters, we hardly ever have BBQs. But I have to say that whenever someone in our strata is having a BBQ the smell that wafts in the air is quite lovely- perhaps because it also symbolizes warmer- longer days. I recently came a cross a tongue and cheek definition of a BBQ that may or may not resonate with you. “A barbeque is when a woman shops, then creates innumerable salads, dressings, sauces and puddings, organizes cutlery, plates, napkins and drinks, while a man burns some sausages and burgers and asks the woman how she enjoyed her night off.” While that is not what happens in my household it obviously does strike a chord with many. Today’s story is essentially one of Jesus having a BBQ on the beach. The Gospel passage today is full of detail that is difficult to distill into one brief sermon but for me, this is one of a few stories in which I can completely see, hear, smell and taste what is going on, on that beach. I can see the water and haul of fish, I can hear the rejoicing and I can smell the fish frying on the fire. I can even taste the grilled bread. We all know that there is something special about sharing a meal together, going over to a friends place for a BBQ. In part because we get to enjoy true fellowship and often deep conversation. That is exactly what happens at this BBQ on the beach.
I think that Jesus is quite deliberate with his actions on the beach on this early morning. In part because having a meal together is a lot less threatening then sitting down to have a serious talk with someone. Perhaps this story also hints at other open air meals that Jesus has shared with his disciples, like that of the feeding of the five thousand. Jesus even stirs up memories of the last supper as he hands them bread with their meal. But perhaps we are getting ahead of ourselves. You might recall last week that the closing verses explained the purpose of the Gospel, basically providing a conclusion to the book. But here we have an epilogue of sorts, one more chapter and one more story in which Jesus appears to 7 of his disciples, presumably the 7 who tended to do a lot of fishing. The chapter also starts with, “After these things” which leaves us with the unanswered question of when this account took place. There is, a timelessness to this story. It could have happened a day after, months after, even years after Jesus’ resurrection. It could have even happened after Pentecost. We simply don’t exactly know when this story took place other than it happened after the resurrection.
What is also really interesting is that this story outlines exactly how the early church functioned. There was a post-resurrection appearance and ministry, a meal and a commissioning. Breaking it up even more we have the presence of Jesus among the disciples, the joy of recognizing Jesus within the community, Jesus’ provision for his disciples especially as the presence is felt at the “table” or BBQ and Jesus directing devotion into action. This narrative not only demonstrates what mattered to the early church but directs how the church should act and live today.
Sometime after the resurrection Peter declares to his comrades that he is going fishing. In this world of unpredictabilities Peter decides he’s going to do the one thing that he knows he can do. He’s going fishing. The other six disciples decide that they too are going to join him. At first I was a bit frustrated with Peter and the others. They just spent a few years following Jesus, all the way to Jerusalem where he was crucified but according to John’s Gospel, they have since encountered the risen Lord in their midst and have received the holy Spirit. We many not know the exact time of when this event took place but it takes place AFTER Jesus appears to the disciples in the locked and AFTER Jesus has breathed the Spirit upon the disciples. So, yes, according to John’s version, this story takes place after John’s Pentecost experience. So what are they doing returning to what they did BEFORE Jesus came into their lives. But it turns out their actions are important for us as we understand the role of Jesus in our own lives. The disciples returned to their normal patterns, what was familiar to them, and in their daily routine and comforts Jesus seeks them out. Marion Soards says, “Whether or not we should understand that the disciples have come to take the risen Jesus for granted, this story informs us that he did not abandon them. He came to them as they fished, there in the middle of their everyday lives, and he blessed them in a way that was both unexpected and seemingly more than anything for which they could have hoped.” Jesus seems to know exactly what the disciples need- even when they themselves don’t know.
Jesus blesses us in the middle of our everyday lives. But how many of us are like the disciple whom Jesus loved, how many of us are like Peter and how many of us are like the others? It is the disciple whom Jesus loved who recognizes the Lord right away. Note that this disciple does not get a name, church mythology would tell you that it is the author, John himself, but I like to believe that it is any one of us. It is Peter who, upon hearing this news, jumps into the sea to swim to shore, which does not appear to be all that far of a swim since the boat was only about 100 yards from shore. I also need to say something about Peter here. I don’t know why the line that “he put on cloths because he was naked and then jumped into the sea” is recorded but it strikes me as a bit odd. First of all, who fishes naked?! Second of all, normally when I’m jumping into the water I don’t do so after I’ve put clothes on. But maybe that’s why this detail is important- Peter’s rejoicing isn’t always rational but it is always genuine. Sometimes I’m like Peter and sometimes he and I are on different pages. Or maybe most of us are like the disciples in the boat, who skeptically approach the shore, perhaps with hope but also with caution.
Once ashore Jesus’ instruction to bring some of the fish they have just caught is important. Jesus is the one who got the fire going, there is even some fish and bread already prepared. But Jesus still directs the disciples to mission, to bring something to the feast, to bring something to the table. Yes, this narrative helped develop the church, yes it should direct us into the future but it is also important to note that this is what every Lord’s supper should be like. This is what coming to worship and gathering in fellowship should be. Think of the very best BBQs you’ve been to- Likely a situation were everyone brought a little something to the table. It adds to the feast and fellowship. Soards also has comments about this, here they are, “The Lord’s people called to the Lord’s Table, bringing something of the Lord’s provision, and eating in the mysterious assurance of the real presence of the Lord.” Jesus makes himself known in our daily routines and then asks us to bring something of ourselves or our belongings to participate in this ministry in which Jesus leads.
Jesus wanted to spend time with his friends but he also had some important things to say, things that were heavy on his heart and mind, but also a conversation that Peter needed to have so that instead of returning to routine he would be forever changed and be empowered to be the apostle that Jesus needed him to be. I think that, that is one of the reasons Peter returns to fishing, is because he doesn’t feel, after the denial he did, that he is the rock upon which this church should be built. Jesus has to assure him that he is. Still doesn’t explain the naked fishing but who knows!
Most commentaries on the conversation between Jesus and Peter connect the threefold questioning as a threefold “undoing” of the earlier threefold denial that Peter did. And there is nothing wrong with this connection. I love the image of the firelight of the beach fire even reflecting that of the courtyard just before dawn on the fateful day the cock crowed. However, I don’t think that it really is an “eye for an eye” kind of situation but rather a reassurance and empowerment of Peter. What is important is that in this heart to heart talk Jesus calls Peter’s love and devotion into action. It’s all fine and good to say we love the Lord but it means nothing if we don’t demonstrate it by feeding the sheep. Simply loving the Lord is not the stuff of true discipleship. But it is important to know that on those days when we just need some routine or turn to the familiar or former comforts that Jesus is the one who shows up and refuels us with spiritual food.
It is still unclear to me whether it is safe to have BBQs or not, but we as a church, as a community, need to think of the things we can bring to the table not only in our immediate fellowship but abroad and see how our love can empower action. Christ is indeed the host, I don’t know if that means he’s the one over the grill or working in the kitchen but it does mean that we all get to enjoy the overwhelming joy of the presence of Jesus in the good friends and fellowship we have with each other. Amen