The Very Rev. Tom Callard – May 3, 2019
Two weeks ago if you remember- it was Easter. And Jesus made his first appearance, to Mary Magdalene, as she stood outside the tomb weeping with grief at the loss of the Lord. And even though Jesus came to her, and even though he appeared before her, Mary Magdalene did not know it was Jesus. She thought he was the gardener. It took her a while before she recognized him.
Last week it was the Disciples to whom Jesus appeared as they stood locked in that little room for fear of the Jews. But Thomas wasn’t there and so Jesus had to return to them again because the whole group didn’t fully recognize Jesus, at least not until Thomas put his finger into the side of the Lord and touched his wounds. And so just like with Mary Magdalene, it took them a while to recognize that he was Jesus.
This week in the Gospel, which takes place just after what happened last week, Jesus appears again, for the third time. It’s early in the morning and he stands at the beach and the Disciples come back from a night of fishing. And once again they don’t recognize that it is Jesus. At least not right away. Not until he tells them where to cast their nets and helps them haul in a record catch of fish. Then they begin to recognize who he is.
It’s interesting that in these weeks after Easter as the Lord begins to do just what he said he would do – to come back from dead, and reappear from the tomb, and rise again on the third day, it’s interesting just how hard it is for the faithful to recognize him. These key players from the Gospel don’t know Jesus as he stands before them at the tomb, or in the small room, or at the beach.
You almost wonder – would they ever not recognize Jesus in their midst? Or what is it that makes them realize that this is the Lord?
And it’s a good question – how do we recognize Jesus in our lives? How do we recognize him in the midst of all the things in the world, and know without a doubt, just as Mary knew or Thomas knew or Peter knew, that this is the Lord? Because throughout my life, I’ve had people point to things and say: this is Jesus. This is what he looks like. But I don’t recognize him in what they’re saying.
A lot of Christians preach a Jesus of hate. A Jesus of homophobia. A Jesus that detests other religions and those who do not believe in him. A Jesus without mercy. And a Jesus without compassion. And as a many times as you tell me: this is Jesus, I’m standing on the beach looking at what you’re pointing to, but I just don’t see Jesus there.
Seeing Jesus has something to do with recognizing love. With recognizing the presence of mercy and goodness. And connecting with that which our heart always and everywhere longs to see, that which fulfills us, which completes us and which connects us to life.
Seeing Jesus is about that blessed connection. I think that’s what it takes to see Jesus, this connection. Think of all the stories in the Gospel of Jesus connecting with people through miracles, and healing, and feeding, and teaching, as he is passing through the crowd and people reach out just to try and touch him even a little and make some small contact with this love. We long for that connection.
Peter longed for that connection. And here he is today on the beach after a long night of catching no fish, seeing this figure out there, who may or may not be Jesus. And when he tells them to cast their nets to the other side, and when they haul in all these fish, I think Peter and the other disciples know it is Jesus. But the connection between Peter and Jesus needs to touch Peter’s heart.
I have friends who know I’m a priest and sometimes they tell me how they’ve read the Gospels and how they find the story of Jesus remarkable and his teachings and social outlook to be fantastic. And they tell me all they like about Jesus. So they have this connection to him on some level. In the same way I may have a connection with Plato and his philosophy or some fictional figure like Huck Finn whose story I find interesting.
But it’s in the head. It’s in the concepts. It has little to do with changing me or empowering me to go out and change the world. It’s the connection with heart which changes us, which is where we recognize Jesus.
So for years during the time of the reformation, just after Martin Luther and John Calvin and the other reformers broke from the Catholic Church, there was a very heated theological debate about the Holy Communion. What exactly are these things of bread and wine and what happens to them up at the altar?
On the one hand you had the reformers or Protestants, who protested against the Catholic Church, saying that these things were just symbols of Jesus, that the wafer was just a symbol, but not his body. And on the other you had the Catholics and the belief in Transubstantiation which said that these things are the actual body of Jesus. That the wafer is actually Christ.
The debate went back and forth between Protestants and Catholics, was it bread or body? Does it change or not? And here in the midst of the debate come the Anglicans, you know – our people, who are somewhere between these two groups because we’re not really Protestants because we did not really protest anything, but we are not Roman Catholics either, because we broke from Rome.
And the Anglicans, and in particular the theologian Richard Hooker, had something interesting to say. For in this debate about the change in the bread Hooker asked: what are we here to change? Are we here to change bread? Or are we hear to change hearts?
What happens to the bread is important, but what happens to the heart of the worshippers is our chief work. For it is the heart that connects us with God, not some theological notion of transubstantiation or transfiguration or change. It is the heart that brings us into contact with Jesus, and leads us to find him at the beach, or touch him in that little room, or see him in our grief at the tomb. And without the heart’s involvement, Easter may happen but it won’t really happen to us.
So in the Gospel today, Peter sees Jesus and knows him on the beach, but he doesn’t really experience Easter until he and Jesus share this expression of love, this touching of hearts, after the nets have been filled and Jesus pulls Peter aside and asks him: do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me? In other words, do I have your heart? Do I have your heart? Do I have your heart? And Peter tells him: yes you do. Yes you do. Yes you do.
And then Jesus gives him work. He gives him something to do: Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep. It’s the connection not just with Jesus but with the rest of humanity, these sheep, this connection is Easter. It’s like Jesus is saying to Peter: I’m not just going to give you a bunch of fish, a huge fish harvest, so you can go away in success and say: I’ve seen the Lord, and I know it’s him because he gave me a bunch of fish. That’s not Easer. But, Jesus says: I’m going to tell you – if you really love me and want to see me – you’ve got to give those fish away. Use your heart.
It is in our connection with the sheep, with others around us, where Easter is made real and Jesus made known. In our ability from our hearts to feed the world with time and energy and good deeds. That’s when see the Lord, doing the work of the heart.
You might think there’s no magic bullet or secret formula that allows us automatically to see Jesus, but I think today we see the secret formula: feed the sheep. I know in the times when I can not clearly picture the face of the Lord or when I feel far from him, and all the world out there is pointing me away from him, the best thing I can do is to visit someone who is sick.
Recently I saw a woman from the church who is a little older and she has a hard time coming here. And you know in these days after Easter, I’m tired, and especially when you’ve got these rainy days, and I spend just a little time reading the news and thinking about life and it just makes me more tired. So I go to see this woman who is going to have surgery. And I get to her house and she lets me in and we sit down to talk. And after a while of talking and a nice visit, I offer her prayer and I get up to leave and go to the door, and my heart has this feeling of joy.
And as I open the door I look out and right across the street I see this amazing tree in full bloom with pink flowers – you’d have to ask someone else what kind of tree it was. I’m sure I don’t know. But it was brilliant. One of these things you only see during these two weeks at the end of April and the beginning of May. Do you know what I mean?
And I ask the woman: was that tree here before? Was it like that when I came in? And she said, yes, of course, it’s been like that for a couple of days. And I had just walked by it. I hadn’t seen it. Once again, I hadn’t recognized the presence of Jesus, right before me. At least not until I came from visiting this woman, from feeding his sheep, with my heart full of love.
It does something to you and connects you a in profound way to give your time, offer your energy, extend your hand, and just generally share your heart with someone else. It does something to your heart, in a way that so rarely happens when we’re acting alone. It’s a very good way to see Jesus and recognize Easter. And the amazing thing is, it’s something we can do anytime we want, or anytime we feel lost, anytime we feel in need of just a little bit more. We can even do it today. Go see Jesus.