Words fail me when I’m confronted with a text like this one. How am I going to wring any more meaning or significance or beauty out of a text like this? How I wish with all my heart that I could have been there! John makes us feel as if we are – privy to an intimate breakfast at dawn with a handful of disciples and Christ, risen from the dead, living and loving them still. I’ve been to where this took place — not the exact stretch of shore, most likely, because we don’t know exactly where it was, but to the Sea of Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee.) I went with a study tour from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in January 08. It’s one of the places I’d go back to and spend more time there on my own, if I ever get the chance.
This was a big Sunday. I had the privilege of baptizing my first infant. It was also my first baptism as an ordained minister. (I baptized a four year old girl, and her grandmother, in Michigan.) It’s such a privilege to be part of people’s lives in this special way — as their pastor. I am truly blessed.
I tried to capture the way that Christ changes things totally around for us. For those disciples, the change happened when He filled their nets and then fed them breakfast. For us, Christ still changes things by absolving us of our sins, drawing us closer to Him through His Word and Sacrament, and promising to be with us wherever we go, whatever we encounter. This is simultaneously a very ordinary and a very miraculous catch. Ordinary — a disappointing night at work, with breakfast afterward. Miraculous — Christ, risen from the dead (which no one else has ever been able to do on their own, by the way), miraculously providing a huge catch of fish, miraculously providing the food they eat, defying all laws of time and space to be with them. All out of love. Just out of love. Amazing. One gropes for ways to extol the power and love of our Lord…but we still profit in the attempt. May this bless you, and may you come to know the risen Lord more fully.
1Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3“I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.[b] 9When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”
11Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (john 21:1-14 niv)
When you lose someone you love, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do afterward. How do you fill up your days? How do you decide what to do? Nothing really seems like it matters. Life can feel aimless, like it has no point. The disciples probably felt that way after Jesus died. Of course, he rose again, but they didn’t grasp that fully right away. They still had to grapple with all the strong feelings that Holy Week stirred up in them. After Jesus had risen from the dead he had told them to go to Galilee and wait for him, so we find them in our gospel for today on the Sea of Galilee today, fishing. They had to do something to keep busy. They didn’t know how long they’d be waiting for Jesus and the promised Comforter. They probably wanted to keep their hands busy and their minds occupied. So seven of the disciples go out on the lake like they always did.
They cast out their nets and draw them back in, all night long, but they don’t catch anything. Now it’s early morning, and they’re thinking about heading in. The mist is rolling across the lake. It’s still dim out. The sun hasn’t even started to come up yet. The disciples look over and see someone standing on the shore. They don’t know that it’s Jesus. He calls to them. He addresses them with a fatherly term; we’d say “boys” or “lads.” He tells them to throw out their nets on the other side of the boat, and something in his voice makes them obey. It’s odd that someone would address them like that, and odder still that someone would give them fishing advice and they’d listen, but they do what the stranger says. They throw out the nets and start to pull them in.
All of a sudden they find that the nets are so full of fish that they can’t bend their arms to pull them in. They’d expected them to be empty, and now they’re so full of huge flopping fish they look like they’re going to rip. They grunt in surprise and haul at the nets, but the nets are too full to pull in. As they strain to haul the huge catch on board, something clicks for John. Their nets had filled like this one other time. Once, a few years ago, Jesus had stood on the shore in the middle of the day and told them to let down their nets for a catch, and they had caught more fish from that one cast than they knew what to do with. Christ had filled their nets like this once before. That’s got to be Jesus on the shore now! Nobody else could do this! John turns to Peter, who’s also grappling with the nets, and says, “It is the Lord.” All of a sudden, in an instant, an ordinary night of work, a pretty disappointing one actually, turned into something far more wondrous and amazing. Christ had come to his disciples and given them a miraculous return on their work. With his mere presence and a few powerful words, just by being there, Jesus transformed a down day at work into a holy moment, an encounter with the living God.
If you’ve ever thought that God belongs in a box labeled “Sunday morning” and the rest of your time goes into boxes labeled “work”, “fun”, “chores”, “me time”, and that the contents of all those boxes never touches each other or goes near each other, you’re wrong. It’s not like God stays at the church and you come visit him once a week for an hour. Then you go out and live the rest of your life totally apart from him, without any contact with him, with no influence from him on your life or without any input from him on who you are and how you act the rest of the week. God’s already in all those other boxes. He’s in your work and in your play and in your family time. He’s in your commute and your busy times and your downtime. He’s there in your rising and in your lying down, when you go in and when you go out. Whether you’re up or down, happy or sad, angry or calm, he’s there.
Do you live like God is there for everything? Do you acknowledge by the way that you live that Christ is present and with you? Do you share all your life with Jesus? Or do you think of yourself as meeting with him only on Sunday mornings? Because he really is there the whole time. He is with you always. He’s promised to be. He’s with you at work and school and the playground and the office and in the car and in the kitchen and in the breakroom. Everywhere you go, everything you do, from the mundane to the boring to the aggravating to the mind-numbingly routine, and everything in between. He’s there; do you live as if he is?
By God’s grace we can each say that Jesus is Lord. We trust in him and we look to him to provide for us. He has taken away our sins and given us an open heaven when we die. But there’s more than that. Jesus is Lord not only of my soul, but also of my coffee break and my clocking in and out and my to-do list and my planner and my attitude at work and my wages after taxes. Not just Lord in a church building on Sunday morning. All day, every day, in every place. We owe him everything because he gave us everything and he still gives us everything.
Have you ever wondered why this account was recorded in Scripture? Jesus doesn’t share any deep secrets in this text. He imparts no precious heavenly wisdom. He declares no difficult or exalted doctrines. Jesus greets them, calls them friends, makes them some lunch when they’re hungry. That’s the whole account. The point is purely the comfort and strengthening of the disciples. They get to spend a little more time with their risen Lord. They share another meal with their risen Lord, the Lord over all creation, over sin, death, hell, and Satan. That same Lord is the one who made them breakfast after a hard night’s work. He granted them success in their jobs and a return for their hard work. Jesus was still with them. He was alive again. He was never going to leave them anymore. They’d never be separated ever again. Alive and risen from the dead and making them lunch. Christ comforts them and draws them to himself simply by his glorious presence and his bountiful providence.
We too go where we can find Jesus. We gather around his Word that feeds our souls. We gather to praise and thank him for providing all that we need for body and life. We gather to humbly reflect on God’s goodness in forgiving sinners like us and graciously giving us the gift of eternal life. We gather simply to be in the presence of our risen God, for he has promised to be among us. Jesus still feeds us. He feeds us all week long with ordinary food, and he feeds us today with the most exalted food imaginable – his very body and blood. He gives us himself by his almighty power to strengthen our faith and to comfort us as we live and work for him. We still get to eat with Jesus today. Now he gives us food that will never spoil – he gives us the food that grants us eternal life. He is the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is his flesh, which he gives for the life of the world.
None of the disciples dares to ask Jesus, “Who are you?” When they want to ask, “Who are you?”, it would be for more than just his name. They want to know who he is, everything he’s experienced, what he’s seen and done. They want his fullest possible explanations of his true nature and the reality of what he’s accomplished. But they don’t ask. Why not? Maybe it’s modesty. Maybe they’re very conscious of their past sinful lives and all their mistakes. Maybe it’s remembering how they all ran away and deserted him that ties their tongues. Maybe they are fully conscious of who it is they’re eating with on that beach – the Christ, the eternal and all-knowing Son of God. They don’t need to ask anyway. They know it’s their Lord. Who else could it be but their Lord, the one sent by God from all eternity? Fully God, divine through and through, yet still a man standing on a beach in the early morning light inviting them to come have breakfast with him. Their God, their Lord, their Friend. Their teacher, the man they had known intimately for three years, yet more than a man. They finally saw, in this last miracle, who it was they’d been following and who it was that had called them. “They knew it was the Lord.”
We too have been given a new relationship with God through the risen Christ. We no longer serve him in the old ways of fear and anger. He has set us free and brought us into the glorious freedom of the children of God. This freedom is so great that it even extends to our work days, the stuff we have to do – all the time we spend working in order to provide for our families and to feed ourselves. It doesn’t always feel like Jesus is there, but he is. He is the one who makes your work effective. He puts the food in your fridge and the roof over your head. He’s the one who gives you another day to get up and a job to go to. Some businesses have a “Take Your Child to Work Day” periodically. At the risk of sounding trite, can we do the same thing with God? Can we have a “Take Jesus to Work Day”? After all, he’s already there. He died and rose from the dead to be your everyday God, not just a Sunday morning God. Jesus is Lord of your entire week and your entire life, and he has made you his own in eternity. Let’s live that truth in everything we do, every day. May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; may he establish the work of our hands for us – yes, establish the work of our hands. Amen.