Jesus appeared to his disciples many times after his resurrection – even in their everyday work. Are we missing God’s resurrection promises looking right at us today?
Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. – John 21:3-4
The house we moved into a few years ago is great, but it has a few weak spots. One of them is our front lawn – the previous owner installed a new septic system there (yay!), but their contractor put in pretty poor soil. Between the soil and a small army of moles, it’s been hard getting the grass to grow there. This spring, I am trying again. I spread seed, soil and fertilizer a few weeks ago, and waited through the rains and the cold to see something – anything! – showing signs of life. Yesterday afternoon, I inspected the most likely patch – nothing. This wasn’t going well at all, it seemed.
And then, this morning, what do I see but a whole bunch of nice grass sprouts. Wait a minute, those weren’t there, yesterday, were they…were they? Well, if they came overnight, they didn’t come because I had been staring at the ground. God’s miracle of creation was ready to do its work, whether I was aware of it or not. But when I became aware of it, it seemed like a miracle.
The resurrection isn’t real, is it?…Is it?
So it seems with God’s resurrection promises. As modern people, the story of the resurrection can seem like wishful thinking, or perhaps a first century public relations campaign by Jesus’ first disciples to get the attention of people who had not experienced Jesus. It’s clear to me from my studies and faith experiences that the resurrection was a real experience for Jesus’ disciples. Jesus appeared among his disciples again and again in Jerusalem, on the road to the town of Emmaus, and outside of Jerusalem, in Galilee. Over a period of forty days, the resurrected Jesus made his presence known many times to his disciples, eating with them, teaching them – there, and yet more than just “there.”
Several years ago, a very devoted Christian woman died in our church. She had brought many people into our church, with a quiet, sure faith. I kept her in my daily prayers for several days after she had died. Then, one day, her face appeared to me in my prayers, smiling, and then she was gone. Wow, that was something, I thought. Should I mention this to anyone? Will they think that I am weird? Finally, I mentioned it to a trusted faithful person in our church. She said immediately, “I know, she came to me, too.” Our eyes locked for a moment, each of us knowing that we had experienced something that was real, and yet, beyond our everyday sense of real.
Is the resurrection a ghost story, a “zombie Jesus” trekking around, as some people say today? No, I think that this is just our modern sense of things, trained by media and modern values, trying to put something in a box that’s just not possible to put in a box. It’s not a matter of Jesus’ appearance to his disciples being natural or supernatural – those are categories that meant nothing back in Jesus’ time, and they mean less today than we might think that they do. I think that the love of God in the resurrected Jesus, the love that was in that woman in our church, was cranked up to 11 on a scale of 10 in the resurrected Jesus. God’s love for us that showed itself in Jesus was always there, everywhere, throughout and beyond all space and time, but it was hard for people to see. Through the resurrection of Jesus, the full meaning of what God’s love means to us in real life broke through, and showed itself as it had never done before in history. God was real, God’s love in Jesus was real, and God’s Holy Spirit was real. We finally had a chance to see the whole package!
Tell that to someone just trying to get by.
In spite of this, Peter and some of the disciples were eager to get back to work after Jesus’ resurrection. As people who have just been through the very powerful experience of Lent and Easter Sunday, we can probably identify with the exhausted, defeated, and bewildered Peter deciding that dropping a net in the familiar waters of the Sea of Galilee was the best “Plan A.” Peter had held the empty wrappings for Jesus’ body in his empty tomb, an overwhelming discovery. What did Jesus’ resurrection mean? Luke’s gospel tells us that Peter headed home after this (Luke 24:12), and John picks up the story at the shores of Galilee. “Great, now what?” was a thought probably close to what was in Peter’s mind. And so it can be with us. We experience Easter joy, and then, not sure where to take it, we head back to what feels familiar, safe, and rewarding.
Once we get a taste of real faith, though, we know that life will never be the same. What used to be rewarding just isn’t going to do it for us like it used to. Our story has become knitted into God’s story, and so the old story of our life begins to look like Peter’s empty fishing nets. There has to be a better way, and we struggle to find it. Our old fishing grounds are just that – fished out, unrewarding. Hmm, maybe there was something to that resurrection story, after all. But how to get that magic back? Fine, Jesus is risen, but please, God – just help me to get a life.
Then along comes Jesus. Again.
And like me looking at the ground, hoping to see my grass, Peter’s answer to his emptiness was right before his eyes on the shoreline, in plain sight, and yet, somehow, Peter had missed it in the midst of trying to make things work his way. There was a bigger ending to the story than Peter had ever imagined. How could it be that a resurrected Jesus would come back to them? At the very moment when Peter had been defeated yet again in his own plans, Jesus reveals God’s plans for him. Jesus gets right down to business – he doesn’t even bother telling Peter that it’s him. He tells Peter where the fish are abundant. Peter succeeds through God’s way beyond all of this wildest dreams. Is he seeing things? No, he can count the fish for himself. God’s plan works. And the Son of God, at first appearing to Peter and the other disciples as if they were seeing things, was as real as real gets.
My grass may yet fizzle again this year. But God’s plan is a lot more rewarding than a splash of green in front of my house. The story of my life will fade like the grass soon enough. God’s story never ends. My real-world life seems a lot more real when I try to let go of my way, my goals, and embrace God’s way, God’s goals, forged in eternal love. As we look at our work, our families, our bills, our health, our community, our churches – are we ready to stop worrying about the modern world’s distrust of the resurrection, and to start filling our nets with the abundance of its promises? Let’s go fishing!