Saturday, April 16, 2016

Easter 3: Silence on the Beach

Easter 3 - a quick reflection before the Cathedral AGM

Reading: John 21.1-19

I was figuratively ‘stopped in my tracks’ the other day when I came across a sentence from Martin Luther King where he said: “Our lives begin to end the day we keep silent about things that matter.”  

Why do we keep silent?  There is usually a multitude of reasons.  Much depends upon the context.  For example in church life a lot of ‘silence’ reflects our anxiety not to give offence; we don’t want to rock the boat or become unpopular; we don’t want to appear foolish; in some instances maybe we just don’t want to name the ‘elephant in the room’- for something just too painful, too controversial.

Now this is all relevant to this gospel this morning.  This chapter of John is fairly contentious and there is some debate about how it relates to the gospel as a whole and how it is likely to be an addition.  That debate continues …

But, for our purposes this morning we encounter a gathering of the disciples by the Sea of Tiberius.  We don’t know what they have been talking or thinking about.  All we hear is of Peter’s decision to go fishing and the agreement of the others to go with him.   For the rest, we are surrounded by silence – and it is reasonable and very human for us to wonder what that silence might have held.   Was it a comfortable and companionable silence or was it one that had within it some unexpressed  anxieties and questions?

For example, could there still be some confusion or uncertainty over the resurrection? Are the disciples still trying to get their heads around what has happened? Thomas is the one who had doubted and then acknowledged the risen Lord, having placed his fingers in the wounds; might it be that he still has questions as to what he had seen and touched?   Then what about Peter: is he still troubled by the memory of that night in the High Priest’s courtyard when, standing by the charcoal fire –three times he denied knowing Jesus?  Does the silence on the beach hold some questions and painful, shameful memories? 

The breakfast on the beach settles these issues.   Sharing the bread and the fish by the fire is the opportunity for recognition and renewed understanding the disciples needed.  

But after breakfast Jesus deals with the issue that troubles Peter: by the charcoal fire (recalling the scene from the time Peter denied him) Jesus asks Peter 3 times ‘Do you love me?’  In the gentlest way possible the painful and shameful memories are brought out into the open and dealt with by the Risen Christ.   Jesus has spoken about the things that mattered to Peter and the other disciples – and the way for the future is opened to them.

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