Beginning with Breakfast

Jesus story the way John tells it really has 2 endings. There is the one where he appears to the disciples as they huddle together in fear behind locked doors, breathes his peace on them, and sends them out to be him for the world. What a wonderful ending to the whole Jesus story! But then John keeps on going–because, well, there were just too many good stories to tell about Jesus in the days after his resurrection, and John just had to tell a few more. On some deep level I get this–many of us are not very good at endings. Beginnings we can get behind. Endings are just hard. We love visiting new babies, but are much less comfortable visiting dying people. The truth, of course, is that we have to have both–there are no beginnings that don’t come with an ending. And as much as John sometimes irritates me with his wordiness, here I give him a lot of slack–he wanted to give us as many stories as he could so we would have something to hang onto. Something to hold us through the long difficult times when we wonder just where Jesus is. Dark nights in which we wonder if daybreak will ever come. John knew we, like the first disciples, would have such long nights so he wanted to give us one last story to help us out.

We don’t know exactly how long after the resurrection it was that this morning’s story occurred, but it was long enough afterwards that the disciples had left Jerusalem and gone home–back to Galilee. After what they thought was the ending, they went back to where it had all begun. But not all of them. John reports that 7 of them went home but doesn’t really say where the others went–which means the group of disciples had started to come apart at the seams–going in different directions. The 7 who went home decided to go fishing. Which, while on the surface just looks like a nice pastime–a way to chill out, sit still, and reflect, was a lot more than that. Because, for the 7, fishing had been their occupation when Jesus showed up on the beach a few years earlier and invited them to follow him. They were not fishing to relax, meditate or heal, but fishing to go back to their old lives, to the only thing they really knew how to do without him. The whole adventure with Jesus seemed now to be just that. It had been great–and hard. But he was gone and it was done. Time to get back to real life, to get on with the future. To do something that would put food on the table. To look after themselves and their families.

So they go out in a boat, going through the familiar routine of dropping a net and waiting. Each caught up in his own thoughts. Not sure if it was yesterday or decades since they had done exactly this. When exactly was it that he had come up to them and spoken to them like he had known them all their lives–in such a way that they knew without a doubt they were going to drop their nets and take off after him? And on reflection it was probably foolish to have done so–to leave the comfort of their routines and their lives for someone so untested and unknown-for something so risky. Something that could come to a quick and bloody end. They should have known it would all come back to this. So they go back to their nets. And they wait. And wait. And nothing happens. After fishing all night they have nothing but empty nets–nets that reflect the state of their hearts. Now what? Nothing much to do but sit in the boat and wait for the sun to turn the sky from pitch black to red and gold.

And that is precisely when they hear him. Calling out across the water. Naming the truth of their situation, that they have no fish. And suggesting that they try the other side. And once they do that, the net is full–alive with fish. Exactly as before–the first time this happened–the first time he showed up 3 years earlier on the same beach. It is not the end at all. Or perhaps it is, but the end has led them back to the beginning.

One of them yells out, “It is the Lord”, and chaos breaks out, each of them desperate to get to him. Peter, impulsive soul that he was, leaps right into the water and swims for shore. Leaving everyone else to do the hard work of picking up the oars and rowing home. And when they all get to the shore–there he is. Sitting next to a charcoal fire with fish on it, and bread. The beloved one.

Come on, he says, to the soaking, exuberant crowd, let’s have breakfast. This is one of the things I love about Jesus–his fondness for food–he is constantly feeding or eating with people, especially after Resurrection. But this time he is not serving supper–that was the last meal they had in their old life together. This was the first meal of new life–breakfast.

I have thought a lot about why the Gospel writers (and Jesus) talk about food so much. There is an awful lot about bread, wine, fish, and more in the bible. Maybe it is as simple as the fact that eating is necessary to life, and so is he. Maybe it is because sharing food is so human, so much part of what makes us human–eating in community. Many of us, when we are eating alone, will turn on the tv or prop a book next to us. We want company while we eat. It seems that eating together is one of the clues to his presence–one of those moments ripe with the possibility of discovering the risen Lord in our midst.

This Gospel breakfast story is absolutely full of clues for all those times we are stuck in the sea in the middle of the night, afraid we have come to the end of something with not a clue how to begin again. The first thing it tells us is that we should probably pay attention to strangers–especially those who seem to know things about us that they really shouldn’t know. Doesn’t matter if the stranger is giving advice about nets, or just standing looking at you with eyes that seem to hold the sun, pay attention because Jesus never seems to run out of disguises.

Another clue that he may be around is a sudden change of fortune–but don’t look for sudden riches as rags seem to be more his thing. Rather, those moments where everything looks hopeless then suddenly you look again and see a new possibility. One minute the net is empty and the next there is definitely something moving around in it. A living thing where there was only emptiness, darkness, death.

It is the Lord! Yelled out the Beloved Disciple. How did he know? How do we know? Maybe it is as simple as by staying on the lookout. Watching the shore, the sky, other’s faces. Listening hard. Living in expectation and refusing to believe that nets stay empty and night lasts forever. For those with ears to hear, there is a voice that can turn all our dead ends into new beginnings. Who even now says to us, come, come and have breakfast.


With thanks to Barbara Brown Taylor whose thoughts and words influenced this sermon.


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