Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on the Third Sunday of Easter 2022
Love bade me welcome.
The Venerable Tricia Hillas Canon Steward and Archdeacon of Westminster
Sunday, 1st May 2022 at 11.15 AM
Someone I knew was recovering from an operation. They were not an easy patient, being not much used to incapacity. To help pass the time, a few of us took an afternoon tea round. One brought sandwiches, another, scones and so on. Tea and conversation flowed.
At one point the ‘patient’ picked up the jar of homemade jam and read the label which said ‘Made with Vicarage Damsons and love’. This patient, a bishop certainly not known for his sentimentality, paused and said ‘you can taste the love’.
If you’ve been around churches for any time at all you may have heard or preached countless sermons on our passage from John’s gospel. I hope it is still heart-stopping, this restoration of Peter and the charge given to him to build the church and to care for Christ’s own flock.
Jesus could have chosen any context or means by which to restore Peter and reaffirm his calling.
Jesus chose the context of a meal, a breakfast of fish cooking over a lakeside charcoal fire. The sound of the water. The shimmer of heat and the crackling flames. A few days earlier it had been at a meal, in an upper room, that Peter confidently declared that even if everyone else fell away he would remain steadfastly at Jesus’ side.
How little Peter had understood the storm which was about to break; how much he had misunderstood the unstable ground of his own self. But now, in the dawn light, another meal, at which Peter’s lack, would be fully met by God’s abundance.
As a light hearted aside, I think there is good reason why Jesus worked as a carpenter, or more likely a constructor or builder, but not a caterer. For Jesus always seemed to wildly over-cater; all that wine at the wedding, and of the best quality when most people wouldn’t have noticed, then those baskets, yes baskets of left-over bread and fish, now these 153 large fish, when there were already fish cooking over the fire. Generous extravagance seems not uncommon where Jesus was concerned. Which makes sense to me of why having kept the important 40- day season of fasting over Lent we mark 50 days of feasting in celebration of Easter! Returning to our passage, imagine, God who says ‘Come and have breakfast’. This may have to be my memory verse for the year!
For the disciples after their night of scarcity, not a meagre catch but no fish at all, with daybreak comes God’s sufficiency which is enough – more than enough. Then, despite having fish already on the fire, and bread too, Jesus says to them ‘Come. Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’. Bring what you have, it is welcome, it is needed.
It may feel that what we have is insufficient, even that whom we are is not enough, but God’s sufficiency, in and of itself more than enough, invites us, not only to share in but to contribute to the feast. The disciples bring what he himself has provided and join a meal at which, just as he had a few days earlier, Jesus took bread and gave it to them. ‘You can taste the love’.
All this beside a fire on the lake shore. The night of that earlier meal Peter had found himself beside another fire. That was in a courtyard as people huddled against the cold air. In the light of that fire, first a serving girl and then others, had looked Peter over and said ‘surely you are one of those who are with this jumped up teacher from Nazareth?’. Three times Peter had vehemently denied it, three times and then the crowing of the cock.
Now in this lakeside dawn, beside this fire, three times Jesus calls Peter back to his true identity. ‘Simon, Son of John, do you love me? Three times he is addressed by way of name, ‘Simon, Son of John’, and identity by way of relationship to Jesus, ‘do you love me?’ What will determine Peter’s future? Not his past successes, nor even past failures. Rather his name and his identity in relation to Jesus. ‘Do you love me?’ Can you allow yourself to be loved?’ Will you love?
With daybreak came God’s sufficiency, God’s restoration and with both, renewed calling. The earliest meeting between Peter and Jesus is described in this way in the gospel of Matthew:
‘As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a next into the sea – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’
Now, after all Peter had shared with Jesus, over three years, after the tumultuous events of recent days, they are meeting once again by the Sea of Galilee. Once more Peter is invited to leave his nets as Jesus says once again ‘Follow me’. This time, Peter might have a deepened understanding of the cost and what it means, this following of Jesus. Indeed, Jesus alludes to the time that is coming when Peter himself will be led where he doesn’t not wish to go. Until then, as Peter answers the call to follow, he is not only to fish for people but to feed them, just as he has been fed.
Jesus could have chosen any context and any means.
He chose a meal,
beside a fire,
on a lake shore once again.
Let me close with some perhaps very familiar words from George Herbert. Suitable for Peter in the dawn light beside the fire. Suitable perhaps for you and I, here and now:
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back, Guilty of dust and sin. But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack From my first entrance in, Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’ Love said, ‘You shall be he.’ ‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear, I cannot look on Thee.’ Love took my hand and smiling did reply, ‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame Go where it doth deserve.’ ‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’ ‘My dear, then I will serve.’ ‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’ So I did sit and eat.