Third Sunday of Easter

Introduction and Call to Worship
Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, Alleluia! On this third Sunday of Easter, we rejoice that the risen Lord Jesus is in our midst: present in our hearts, in our neighbours, and in this holy meal we participate – the Eucharist. We pray that Jesus will inspire our hearts with his risen presence.

Today's Readings

First Reading
Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]
In a blinding light from heaven the crucified and risen Jesus reveals himself to Saul the persecutor, whose blindness (physical and spiritual) is later healed; he responds by recognising Jesus as the Son of God and telling others.

Second Reading Revelation 5:11-14
The crucified and risen Jesus is recognised in heaven as the Lamb of God, and joyfully worshipped; unlike Temple offerings, this sacrifice is effective for ever.

Gospel John 21:1-19
When the disciples eventually recognise the crucified and risen Jesus in the stranger on the beach, Peter the denier is restored and forgiven, and commissioned to care for God’s people, whatever the cost.

HOMILY       “that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”” (John 21:7)

I must admit to rather liking musical theatre and I know I am not the only one in this congregation! One of my favourite musicals is Oliver, based on the novel ‘The Parish Boy’s Progress’, the second novel written by Charles Dickens and published in 1838 known to us as Oliver Twist. The full title may allude to Bunyan's ‘The Pilgrim's Progress’, a work no doubt known to Dickens who was an avid writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Today’s Gospel reading evokes for me the wonderful song from the musical version, Oliver: ‘Food, glorious food!’ To set the scene, Oliver is the new waif-boy and the other lads are rejoicing in the thought of wonderful food. Of course, they don’t get the food they are dreaming of, but none the less, they sing with hope and in anticipation of a better feast!

John sets the scene for today’s Gospel: it is breakfast time, the disciples are fishing. They spot a stranger on the shore of the lake. This mysterious presence becomes familiar. As with other accounts of the living Lord following his resurrection, food is important, demonstrating his actual and real presence among them. Here, our Lord’s identity is revealed in something he does, something familiar and reassuring rather than just a first sighting. The different Gospel accounts present the living presence of Jesus in different ways: showing Thomas his hands and his side, or eating some fish in their presence. In some accounts, Jesus is at first a stranger. We may recall the Gospel from Easter Day in which Mary Magdalene thought Jesus was the gardener. She only recognised him when he called her by name. On the road to Emmaus the disciples thought Jesus was just another fellow traveller. They only recognised him at table when he broke the bread. When Jesus appeared among the disciples in the upper room, he said ‘Peace be with you’; then they are glad to see the Lord. Today he is recognised when he does something that reminds them of the Jesus they followed before he was crucified. He had taught them where to find fish, even though they’d been fishing all night and found nothing, and in repeating that challenge as ‘throw your nets over on the other side’ they catch many fish! A miracle, yes, but a familiar one; one they have no difficulty in associating with Jesus. They had thought he was a stranger standing on the beach. But no, the disciple whom Jesus loved, John the Divine, recognises the figure on the shore and shouts: “It is the Lord!” To underline the fact, Jesus again presides over a meal and then three times he speaks Simon Peter’s name. Reassuring, no doubt to be called by name, yet there’s also something challenging here. The risen Jesus gives a commission, a task, as he did to the first witness on Easter morning. To Mary Magdalene he said: “Go and tell.” Of Peter he commands: “Feed my sheep.” (Note: Jesus says ‘feed’ three times, just as Peter had denied Jesus three times.)

Recognising Jesus as Lord, becoming a Christian, is just the beginning of discipleship. Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination for that matter are only the beginning of a journey in which we travel in the footsteps of the risen Lord of life, who longs to feed us spiritually. We journey with Jesus by recognising His presence in our lives; in the miracles he performs today, in the people around us, in the breaking of bread and sharing the cup of salvation at Holy Communion and in his Word, the scriptures. Jesus is with us and calls us by name to his service, each one of us. Our response to that call is to proclaim loudly, along with John and all disciples past and present: “It is the Lord.”   

One of the most famous lines from Oliver Twist is: '"Please, Sir, I want some more."' which is quite understandable given how hungry the boys were in the workhouse, the Poor Law being harsh in many ways. Today, as disciples in the 21st century, we are challenged with proclaiming Jesus’ presence among busy lives of activity and abundance which stands in contrast to Victorian Britain. Our re-telling of the tenants of faith should be so compelling that we leave others wanting more. But do we look for the familiar in the strange and the unusual in the familiar as we seek to proclaim the risen Lord? Do we search for the potential friend in the stranger, and by sharing the Faith leave them wanting more? More importantly, can we look for Jesus in that strangeness, in that stranger, and perceive the very presence of God in the lives of others? Can we recognise him in those whom we meet, even if we are sad, frightened or bereaved, as the first disciples were?

Friends in faith, none of us are perfect. Knowing that, can we recognise Jesus even in those we find hard to understand, accept or even forgive? Today’s Gospel may leave us with many questions, as did the presence of the risen Lord. The Christian journey of discipleship requires us to look for the signs of what God is doing, through Jesus, for us today. To look and perceive the presence of the risen Lord in this world today in the lives of many, and then be ready to proclaim with John, “It is the Lord!” We have a Gospel of salvation that is not ours to cling onto, but ours to share. And we do this in different ways, utilising the gifts we already have as we seek the building up of his Church. Some may have gifts of preaching, teaching or writing, as St Peter, Paul and many others did. Many of us have opportunities to nurture the faith of our own families and among friends, not only by talking about Jesus but by putting his teaching into action in our daily lives of loving service. Most of us could give a little more financially, to help those who hunger physically and to build up ministry in this place. And all of us can, should and must proclaim: “It is the Lord.

SUMMARY
1.    In ‘Oliver’ the boys sing about food, longing to be physically fed.
2.    The stranger on the shore of Lake Galilee was revealed as Jesus in something familiar, as in other encounters with the risen Lord.
3.    Having recognised Jesus, the disciples are given a task – just as we are.
4.    Jesus is present in strangers: and us! We reveal Jesus to others in what we say and do. When we meet the very presence of Jesus we should proclaim with St John: “It is the Lord!”

 

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