Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2022
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Three years ago, we baptized Bill and Heather Bane’s grandson, Jase McGuire, into the Body of Christ, the Church. It was the first baptism I performed here at Trinity.
And, on that occasion, I spoke to you about this morning’s Gospel lesson: “Peter and the others (I said) have taken up the nets they’ve left behind. They have gone fishing—but not for people…They have gone back to business as usual. In the story, it’s as if Easter has never happened. They have forgotten God’s new world, and gone back to work in the same tired, old world we know.”
A lot has happened since that Sunday. For a long and lonely season, a global pandemic transformed the ways we gathered, worked, and went to school. It also led to a tidal wave of anxiety, anger, and depression. Many, many people took to the streets to demand justice for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others. During the pandemic, we faced widespread economic fallout, including layoffs and evictions. There were bitter fights (sometimes shootings) over masks, vaccines, and other public health measures.
In general, the divisions and political violence in our country got worse. At the extreme, we saw the January 6 insurrection, where 150 Capitol police officers were injured and five eventually died, amid calls to lynch the Speaker of the House and the Vice President of the United States. And now, of course, we have war in Europe (something that was unthinkable not too long ago), with the Russians openly threatening to use nuclear weapons.
I mention all of that this morning, because many of us long for a return to normal. But the world has never been normal. If anything, the last three years have shown us how messed up it all is. We live in the wake of the sin of Adam and Eve—and of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel.
As Christians, we have lots of soul-searching to do, as we seek God’s will for our world. For we live in a world that is enthralled by the power of death. We live in a world of widespread inhumanity. But Jesus became human for our salvation. Jesus affirmed our dignity by becoming one of us. And he has conquered death, once and for all. And so, we can’t go on living as though nothing has changed.
Jesus is calling us this morning to get back to work. We need to fish for people like he told us to do. Now, more than ever, the world needs his mission to succeed. We need a deeper faith and a more ardent love. We need to live more joyful, Christ-centered lives. The future of the world depends on it.
That brings us to the second part of our reading. The disciples have been fishing all night, but they’ve caught nothing. And then, the stranger arrives. At first, they don’t know it’s him, but it is Jesus. “Children,” he asks, “have you caught any fish?” Then, when they say “no,” he tells them to try the other side of the boat. Once they do what Jesus commands them to do, they catch so many fish that their nets begin to burst.
John, the beloved disciple, is the first to recognize Jesus. “It is the Lord,” he says. And so, Peter (who never looks before he leaps) jumps right in to swim to shore. And, when the others get there, Jesus already has a meal prepared for them. (It’s fish.) The Evangelist observes that “no one dared to ask” who he was. They all know it’s Jesus.
Then (in front of all the others), Jesus asks Peter if he loves him. Three times he asks him. And three times Peter confesses his love. Then, in various ways, Jesus commands Peter to feed his lambs and tend his sheep. But, when Jesus asks him the third time, Peter gets upset. The repeated question is a painful reminder of his threefold denial. There’s even a charcoal fire burning, just like there was in the courtyard the day that Jesus died.
And yet, Jesus is able to bring Peter out of his shame. It is an intimate portrait of Jesus at work to forgive us and restore our fellowship on the other side of our denial and betrayal. Beginning with Peter, Jesus is renewing his disciples for ministry. He is calling us to roll up our sleeves and get back to work.
Earlier this year, Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote an article for the Guardian newspaper. He sought to address what he calls the “continuing background of loss and fear” that “still casts an enormous shadow” on our world. Among other things, Williams spoke about our renewed sense of shared “fragility” and “vulnerability.” We have rediscovered how breakable and woundable we all are. In this climate (I am convinced), we need to recommit to fishing for people and building Christian community. It has never been so clear to people how deeply we need each other.
Here in the West, Williams argues, we’ve been tempted to deny and obscure our human vulnerability for decades . The roots of this temptation lie in our “dazzling technological achievement combined with the absence of any major global war.” (Perhaps he spoke too soon.) Our ancestors, by contrast, knew that we are fragile. For Williams, the lessons of the recent past are that we are “less different from our ancestors than we like to think.” And that “the more secure and prosperous members of the human race are less different from their fellow human beings than they find comfortable.”
Williams goes on to propose a threefold engagement—with science, with the arts, and with religion—to help us find our way forward in the post-pandemic world.
For Williams, real science needs to be distinguished from the kind of “research” that is often “undertaken to prove an existing view correct, and so to reinforce the existing power or advantage of some over others.” Rather, real science helps us “live with our fragility by giving us a way of connecting with each other, recognizing that it is the same world that we all live in.” In genuine scientific inquiry, we have to set aside our “self-protective habits” to discover the challenges we share with our neighbors. From climate change to public health policy, we need to be prepared to revise our views and remove our prejudices in light of the evidence. We need to stay committed to the Truth, even when it proves to be difficult for us.
When it comes to the arts, Williams is equally convinced that they can lead us to “shelve our self-oriented habits.” When we encounter a great work of art, he says, we have to develop empathy for people whose experiences are quite different from our own. Art “opens us up to how the stranger feels, uncovering connections, where we had not expected [to find] them.”
And lastly, when it comes to religion, Williams argues that it adds a “further level of motivation.” Most of the great religious traditions “not only claim that the Other is someone we can recognize [and learn from] but that they are someone we must look at with something like reverence.” What does it mean to revere our neighbor?
This takes different forms in different traditions. But, in the great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), the claims of the stranger come from the fact that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. Williams goes on to quote St. Anthony, the great desert hermit, who said that “Our life and death are [found] with our neighbor.”
And so, if we want to meet Jesus and grow in his ways, we must turn back to each other. We must turn away from the violent and underhanded habits of the world and acknowledge the various ways that we have hurt each other, and then (and only then) become more effective “fishers for people.”
We need to connect more deeply with our fellow human beings, without prejudice or partiality. We need to realize that true joy and genuine communion come only when we learn to wash each other’s feet. As Paul once exhorted the church in Rome, we are to “love one another with mutual affection.” We are to “outdo one another in showing honor.” For it is only by taking ourselves out of the center of the universe that we find true life in Christ.
As Jesus himself once put it, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
Or, as he says to us today, “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Follow me.”