Sunday, 14 April 2013

The resurrection: life now!

“This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

When I was reading this passage It struck me as odd that John felt it necessary to say that Jesus appearance on the beach was the third time that Jesus had appeared since his resurrection.

If anyone was listening to the story or reading it, it is pretty clear that there are three appearances to the disciples recorded by John: once in the upper room without Thomas, once when Thomas was present and then this one on the beach.

It feels as if John is labouring his point – Jesus really rose from the dead. I am reminded of the saying “If I have told you once, I have told you a thousand times.”

More than sixty years on from the event of Jesus death, which is around 3 generations, when John was writing down his version of events, he clearly held on to a belief that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But more importantly that Jesus’ resurrection was a vital aspect of the good news.

One of the primary pieces of evidence that we can look to for confirmation of Jesus resurrection is the transformation of the disciples . We can see here in John and in each of the other gospel writers some evidence of this transformation in their retelling of Jesus resurrection appearances.

Jesus resurrection is an important part of the puzzle of the Christian faith and this morning I want to consider what it might mean through the context of John’s story.

Firstly, by considering the place the appearance of Jesus occurs and secondly by considering the activity of the disciples and the actions of Jesus as signifying something about the resurrection and its hope.

The appearance of Jesus on the beach I believe has significance purely attached to the location of the meeting.

The beach for most Aussies is somewhere we go for a holiday. It is a place of rest and relaxation. But in many other cultures the beach has a different significance.

I recall a Tongan colleague once sharing with me the importance of the beach in their culture – it is the point of meeting between the two sources of life the land and the sea.

In the story of the resurrection the bread and fish may be taken to represent this kind of reality which was quite possibly present for the disciples in their era as well, especially as fishermen by trade.

Jesus appears on the beach: the place where the two sources for the sustenance of life come together. For me this is a sign that Jesus resurrection is about life and the sustaining of life in this world. After in all in John 10:10 he had already taught the disciples that he had come to give them life and life in all its fullness.

The resurrection is not only about a hope beyond the experience of death, which remains a mystery; it is as much an affirmation of life lived in the creation.

So this is the first of the three points that we might draw from the context of Jesus’ third resurrection appearance. Life in this world is important even after the resurrection.

The two other aspects of the context are associated with firstly, the disciples activity, and secondly, the activity of Jesus himself.

It has often puzzled me as to why Peter decided to go fishing. Jesus has already appeared to the disciples twice and Peter’s decision to go fishing has a sense that Peter was returning to his old life, to what he knew. Fishing was, after all, his job.

Nonetheless, whatever his reasons, we find Peter and 6 of the other disciples at work on the fishing boat when Jesus appears.

There is a clear echo of Simon Peter’s very first encounter with Jesus mending his nets and this one. Just as 3 years earlier Jesus had come to Peter so now Jesus comes to him again at his place of work.

Just as Jesus appearance on the beach affirms life itself so too by appearing at Peter’s place of work Jesus affirms the labour through which life is sustained.

By Jesus involvement in the miraculous catch we might further extrapolate that Jesus is concerned for the success of the labour of men on the boat.

Resurrection is about life now, it is about life being lived in the midst of work and thirdly it is about the bond of community.

Jesus action in the story is to cook breakfast for his disciples: bread and fish, the fruit of the land and the sea.

Meal sharing is a sign of life and Jesus concern, even beyond the resurrection, is for the physical sustenance required for living, but more than that it is for the nurturing of community.

The power of meal sharing in Jesus culture should not be underestimated. Here hospitality builds and nurtures companionship. The overtones of this meal with Jesus miraculous feeding of the 5000 and the intimate sharing of Jesus with the disciples in the upper room all point to the significant place meal sharing takes.

Jesus resurrection in this moment points to the continued building of relationships in this life with God and with each other – sharing bread and fish.

As Australians I do not believe we have the same depth of hospitality and sense community which is present in this scene, something maybe we can learn again from other cultures.

By sharing the meal Jesus re-affirmed human community and God’s place and participation within it.

I believe john was at pains to make sure people understood that Jesus did rise from among the dead and yes there is no doubt in my mind that there are implications for us in his resurrection in regard to our own deaths. But Jesus resurrection appearance on the beach takes place in the context of life, living and working, sustaining and sharing.

In Jesus we see God at work in the world after the resurrection affirming life, affirming the creation, affirming community. This is as much good news as is the promise of what might lie beyond death. God cares for our earthly, created existence, just as it was important to Jesus in the weeks after his resurrection, so I believe remains important to God now.

This means that the resurrection of Jesus is not an either/or but a both/and of the good news – Jesus resurrection is about good news for life now and good news in the life to come. This is why I think that we hear Jesus echo his call to Peter as John closes his story. The “follow me” at the beginning of Peter’s journey with Jesus is reaffirmed in the new context post-resurrection. The risen Jesus is as much to be followed as he was in his life before – there was work to be done in the world and God, in Jesus, gives people a part to play. “Follow me”!

John drives home his point: “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to the disciples which gives to us hope both now and in the life to come!

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