It is an appropriate theme for this season. The good news of this morning, the good news of the entire Easter season, the good news at the heart of all Christian faith, is that Jesus Christ is alive and that Christ invites us to live into resurrection faith.
But our gospel reading for this morning reminds us that there is a challenging side to this good news. The fact is, resurrection faith is hard and sometimes wavers.
It seems like one encounter with the risen Lord would be enough. After that, we would never doubt again. After that we would never again be selfish or distracted or mean-spirited. After encountering the risen Lord, it seems like we would be new and better people, more loving, more forgiving, more gracious, more joyful.
But we know from our own lives that faith tends to ebb and flow, that we move forward and backward, that we live lives of greater and lesser love, greater and lesser openness to God, greater and lesser faithfulness.
In our gospel reading for this morning, we can see the same in Peter.
Our reading comes at the very end of the Gospel of John. After our reading, there are only six more verses in the Gospel. Jesus has risen. Jesus has triumphed over death. If this were a fairy tale, we would be ready for the conclusion that they all lived happily ever after.
That is not what we get. What we get instead is Peter wavering.
By this time, Peter has followed Jesus for three years. By this time, the risen Lord has appeared to Peter twice. By this time, Jesus has breathed the Holy Spirit into Peter. And yet Peter’s resurrection faith is still a work in progress.
Immediately before our passage, Peter has rejoiced in his encounter with the risen Lord. That was a high point in his resurrection faith.
But as our passage begins, Peter announces that he is going fishing. That is Peter, the former fisherman, trying to go back to the life he had before becoming a disciple. Peter is turning away from everything he has learned from Jesus, from everything he has become during his time with Jesus. So it is no surprise that, when Jesus appears, Peter does not recognize him. Peter’s resurrection faith has ebbed.
Jesus brings Peter back. With Christ’s help, he and the others catch fish—LOTS of fish. The beloved disciple recognizes the risen Lord. And then, in the funniest scene in the reading, Peter, who was fishing naked, puts on his clothes and jumps into the sea.
Apparently Peter was not thinking very clearly. But that is OK because Peter was once again filled with the joy that comes from encountering the risen Lord. Peter’s resurrection faith is back.
And again, it does not last long, even in Jesus’ presence. It is as if Peter both knows and doesn’t know who he is having breakfast with. Peter wonders enough that he considers asking Jesus who he is. But Peter is convinced enough that he might be Jesus that Peter is afraid to ask.
Peter’s fear might seem odd. But as the story goes on, his fear becomes understandable.
The risen Lord summons Peter to work. Peter’s job is to feed Christ’s sheep.
And Peter will suffer as he undertakes the work that Christ gives him to do. Jesus warns Peter that he will die for Christ’s name. Christ’s last word to Peter is “follow me.” Take up your cross and follow me. Discipleship, answering Christ’s call, can be a costly business.
That cost is, I suspect, one reason why Peter’s resurrection faith keeps wavering. Peter is afraid of what his risen Lord is calling him to do. So Peter closes his eyes and his ears and his heart. He tries to go back to fishing. When he suspects Christ is standing right in front of him, he is afraid to ask.
This happens to us too.
We know Christ, crucified and risen. We meet Christ in the breaking of the bread. We meet Christ when we gather in his name. We meet Christ at work in the world around us. In those times, we are filled with resurrection faith.
And then, for whatever reason, we lose our nerve or our focus. Suddenly we cannot see Christ clearly. We doubt, and we struggle. It seems like Christ is absent. Even if we think we may be seeing Christ right in front of us, we are unsure, and we are afraid to ask.
It is perverse good news that even the most impressive apostles of the first generation had times of doubt and struggle just like we sometimes do.
But the real good news of this morning is that Christ does not leave the apostles there. When Peter’s resurrection faith ebbs, Christ appears to him. Christ feeds him. Christ talks to him. Christ enables Peter to see and to know the risen Lord once again.
That is Christ’s promise to us too. Even in the hard times, we continue to listen for a word from Christ because we know that Christ will speak. We continue to look for Christ even when we have trouble seeing him because we know that Christ is there. That hope keeps us going when our own resurrection faith begins to waver.
But there is more good news in our gospel reading. When Peter tries to go back to his old life as a fisherman, he fails. Peter and the others do not catch any fish. And the reason for their failure is that they are not fisherman any more. Their time with Jesus has changed them, even if they cannot see it in the moment. Like it or not, they have become disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That is true for us too. Over time, living with Christ changes us. We may not notice the changes as they happen. When our resurrection faith wavers, we may doubt that we have changed at all. And yet life with Christ transforms us into disciples, whether or not we are consciously aware it. Thanks be to God for that!
Here is another piece of good news. We can help each other.
When Peter fails to recognize Jesus, the beloved disciples helps him to see. The beloved disciple tells him that the man on the beach that day is the risen Lord.
We can do the same for each other.
Sometimes we struggle to see. But sometimes it is our brother or sister who struggles. In those times, we are called to speak like the beloved disciple. In those times, we are called to point to the Christ who stands right in front of us. In those times, we are called to testify to the truth of resurrection faith.
But the best news is that, despite the challenges in the life of discipleship, Christ promises us joy.
Sometimes we suffer. But in the end, resurrection faith enables us to make the words of our Psalm our own. In the end, we too can say to Christ, “you have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.”
And so, on this third Sunday of Easter, I again give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus Christ, for the possibility of resurrection faith, and for the invitation to live into the joy of Christ. Alleluia, alleluia! Amen.