A Sermon for Easter III, May 5, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector

Several years ago while I was serving at St. Anne’s, Fremont, we took a field trip to the local multiplex to see “Risen”, a movie about the Easter story from the perspective of a jaundiced Roman tribune played by Ralph Fiennes. 

The Tribune supervised the crucifixion of Jesus—just another day on the job for him.  When the tomb is later found to be empty, Pilate charges the Tribune to find the body of Jesus.  The Tribune finally hunts down the disciples in hiding and walks into the room where the Risen Christ is meeting with Doubting Thomas. 

Movie snob that I am, I was not expecting much from “Risen.” But I gasped when the Tribune recognizes the Risen Christ as the man he’d seen dead on the Cross.  It is life-changing for him.

“Risen” was just good enough that it made me really consider what it would have been like to be one of the people who saw the Risen Christ. 

The 21st Chapter of John we heard this morning is an addendum to John’s Gospel, and it’s almost like a stand alone parable. We find the disciples back in Galilee fishing.  What are they doing there after the Resurrection?

Lately I’ve been dipping into the work of best-selling author Brene Brown, who researches vulnerability and shame. Her book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” really spoke to me in the last few years, and I’m currently reading her book, “Dare to Lead.”  I highly recommend her work.

Brene Brown says that Shame is not the same thing as guilt, but they do overlap.  Guilt is about something we did, shame is about who we are.  Both immobilize us because they leave us feeling vulnerable in our deep human imperfection. These feelings are painful.  And so we avoid feeling shame and vulnerability at all costs, and continue on our usual path.  We keep on fishing.

Brene Brown says it’s human nature to avoid these difficult states of mind.  It takes courage as she says, to “dare greatly,” even if we know we will experience failure. She calls embracing the hard stuff and doing it anyway, “whole-hearted living.”

It seems to me that Peter and the disciples go back to Galilee to the comfort of what they know—fishing on the Sea of Galilee— and as usual, they aren’t too good at that, either.  They’re flawed individuals, like us, and I have a feeling they are overwhelmed by what has happened to Jesus, and their role in it.  Did they measure up?  Did they love their friend Jesus enough to save him from a gruesome death?  I’m sure they were feeling guilt, and shame, especially Peter.

Here, in the 21st chapter of John, the disciples experience the same amazing catch that they experienced at the beginning of the Gospel of John. I noticed that John says they caught 153 LARGE fish.  That’s important because the large fish were sold to the Romans; they would have only kept the small fish for themselves.  Out of despair the disciples experience abundance again.  It’s through that miracle of the amazing catch that they recognizes the man on the beach as the Risen Christ.

They share the abundant meal on the beach.  And then it all comes back to Peter. Maybe it happened when he smelled the charcoal fire; remember he was warming himself around a charcoal fire when he denied Jesus three times. He remembered his betrayal. He feels ashamed, and vulnerable.

What does Jesus do? Jesus guides Peter to counter his three denials with three “I love you’s,” absolving Peter of his guilt and shame. It’s simultaneously consoling and challenging.

The Risen Christ turns Peter’s attention from ruminating on the mistakes of the past to a new call to lead the church in the future. He ends with a new call for Peter, “Follow me.” 

The Good News of the Resurrection is challenging. It turns the world inside out. Jesus took one of the worst things in the world (the Roman Cross) and turned it into one of the best (the Tree of Life). He recruits Peter, who denied him three times, to be the cornerstone of the church.  We see it also in our amazing reading from Acts, the conversion of Paul.  Jesus chose Saul, who persecuted the early Christian movement to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles.

I also find some resonance with our Interim period. Even positive change can be a lot to take in. Like the disciples, we would prefer sometimes to keep fishing and have the safety of familiarity.

The Good News turns the world inside out.  The Risen Christ calls us to leave our tombs as well, and step out into the unknown.  To live “whole-heartedly” as Brene Brown says, and to risk failure for the sake of the Gospel.

At the end of the movie “Risen,” the Tribune has a one on one conversation with the Risen Christ as they look up at the night sky.  Jesus asks the Roman, “what can I do for you?” and the Tribune says, “I want to leave behind so much death.”

So for me, this Easter Season, I realize that the Resurrection has a real effect on my life, and on the life of our church.  There’s so much to “feel bad” about in the world; and I tend to build up defenses against it all.  It’s a kind of negative loop that can repeat over and over.  I yearn to let go of that.

I believe the Risen Christ meets us where we are, in those times when, like Peter and the disciples, we keep fishing over and over in the same way and expecting a different result. And we continue to have empty nets because we do not have Jesus with us. 

The Risen Christ understands this predicament and absolves us of our sin and calls us to freedom, and like the Tribune, to “leave behind so much death.”  He points to the other side of the boat and says, “put down your nets over THERE for a catch.”  There are new ways of freedom when we follow Jesus.

In the Season of Easter we leave off the Confession of Sin as a sign of our salvation by the mighty power of the Resurrection. Christ is Risen, the work is done. The Resurrection frees us from sin and death, and offers us a way to follow him in freedom and newness of life.