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APRIL 14, 2013: THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER

Readings: 

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Johannine scholars are convinced John's gospel once ended in chapter 20. Today's pericope is from chapter 21: an addition to his original gospel. Without getting into the reasons someone tacked one more chapter onto the first 20, many of these same scholars contend that today's story of Jesus' appearing to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias comes from one of the oldest early Christian traditions, narrating a post-resurrection appearance predating those found in Matthew and Luke, and even those in the preceding chapter 20.

When one removes the "connecting links" - words like "again" and "third time" - from the narrative, it appears Jesus' disciples, knowing nothing about his resurrection, returned to Galilee after their disastrous Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem. They sat around for some time, reminiscing about their leader, constantly bringing up their disappointment that things hadn't turned out the way they'd planned.

Eventually Peter, probably under pressure from his wife, makes the difficult decision to go back to work. (Remember, he and most of Jesus' disciples fished for a living.) Joined by six other followers of Jesus, "they went off and got into the boat."

Only after they're completely absorbed in their work - and frustrated by their lack of success - do they notice Jesus "standing on the shore." Their inability to be certain it's really Jesus is probably the evangelist's way of telling us they're experiencing the "new creation" of the risen Jesus, not the old historical Jesus. Then, making certain his readers don't miss the point, John has Jesus invite the startled fisherman to share a meal with him -the place and action in which those same readers most frequently experienced the risen Jesus.

In her workshops and classes, the doctor who did the earliest research on death and dying in the late 60s and early 70, Elizabeth Kubler Ross, always mentioned how difficult it is for us to "go back to work" after a loved one dies. We often feel that by returning to what we did while that special person was alive, we're implicitly saying, "See, even without you I can still do what I used to do when we were together. You weren't as important to me as you thought. You're dead."

Though Ross acknowledged that such a return is painful, she insisted that we still have to do it. "It's only when we finally go back to work," she observed, "that we'll experience our deceased loved one present in our everyday life in a new and meaningful way."

John, of course, knew nothing of Dr. Ross' research, but he was convinced that it's in the most common parts of our working lives that we most notice the presence of Jesus.

It would be great, like the author of Revelation, to be granted visions of angels surrounding Jesus' heavenly throne; to hear all creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea sing his praises. Yet, for most of us, that's never going to happen. Neither will we ever have an opportunity, like the apostles in today's Acts passage, to dramatically proclaim his message and person in the face of great opposition.

Most of us will simply spend our lives of faith doing those ordinary things all people are expected to do. Yet, because we, like Peter, deeply love Jesus, we'll constantly be surfacing those little and big "calls" which he always extends to all his followers.

As Ross always taught, only those who eventually admit their loved one is really dead by returning to their daily work will actually experience that person alive in a new way in everything they do - even if that person happens to be Jesus of Nazareth.