They have left Jerusalem. They have come home to the Sea of Tiberias, the place where it all began. The upper room, the cross, the empty tomb, the house with its locked doors are some 80 miles to the South. Peter decides to go fishing. He knows how to do that. It is easy and comfortable for him. Perhaps it takes him back to life before Jesus. The others are quick to join him.
Can we just imagine what’s going on in his head that morning? “What have I done? What will I do now? Where will I go?” Peter is searching for meaning, a way forward, a place in life without Jesus.
We have all asked similar questions, when our world seems turned on its side, seeking some modicum of peace and a sense of meaning for our existence. And that deep soul searching often comes when we are confronted with the things we have done and left undone. We have all been there.
The early church certainly remembered the night of Peter’s enormous betrayal. Warming himself beside a charcoal fire near the place where Jesus was on trial for his life, Peter denied knowing him on three distinct occasions. The story of Peter could have ended in that courtyard were it not for Jesus’ determination to bring about reconciliation and forgiveness for Peter.
If we ever question whether forgiveness is possible, we need only think about Jesus welcoming his friend Peter on the beach that morning. We have no idea what they said to one another, but it is not hard to imagine them all gathering around the fire Jesus had prepared, smelling like the sea, letting the warmth of the flames dry them off, hungrily eating the food Jesus offered them.
Sharing food is what makes us human. It is what brings us together and unites as a family or a community. The comfort of a good meal and conversation with friends or even strangers can be times of grace. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus follows each of the three times he asks Peter if he loves him –which mirror the three times Peter had denied him – by instructions about feeding and tending?
There is this fascinating detail that the evangelist John includes about the exact number of fish the disciples hauled in: 153. The back story? Greek zoologists of the day believed that there were 153 different kinds of fish. So, they made the perfect catch of the day, one of every kind. Here is testimony to God’s desire for great diversity in the church. God did not intend the church to keep anyone on the margins for any reason at all. Jesus was always bringing people together—all kinds of people from all walks of life—most often to sit down together at a table and share a meal. He gave us this meal—the Eucharist— a holy repast for household of God.
Author Fred Craddock writes: “Wherever and whenever, and for whatever the reason, anyone is not welcome to sit at table with you, to eat with you, then you do not have church.” We can never forget the power of radical welcome and invitation, nor the importance of creating the experience of community for the next person who come through our doors.
Today the risen Christ is inviting us on to the beach, asking us to join the great movement of the kingdom of God, where we will be found putting our lives to work for the sake of all God’s people. Like Peter we’ve all felt naked—vulnerable and fragile—maybe even in great need of reconciliation; like Jesus we’ve all been strangers in some place at some time hoping to be taken in and treated as honored guests and like the disciples on the shore we’ve all been hungry and needing to be nourished.
There was a lot going on that morning on the beach by the sea of Tiberias: recognition of the power of the risen Jesus, forgiveness and mercy, welcome of the stranger, a holy meal, sending folks out into the world to gather others into community.
The words of Episcopal priest and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor say it best for me: “It is probably a good idea to pay attention to strangers. Whether they are giving you unsolicited advice about where to cast your nets or just standing there looking at you with eyes like daybreak, it is probably a good idea to pay attention to them since Jesus has a whole closet full of disguises.”