“This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to his disciples after he was raised from the dead”. John 21:14
Wishing to move back in time is a frequent experience. Turning turn back the clock, maybe back a year, or five years, or whatever time it takes to get back to a time when life seemed different. The Gospel reading this morning, the story of Jesus at the lakeside, is about looking back, about Peter looking back at his own life.
Peter has gone back to the old life, gone back to try to recapture secure and happy days. Jesus asks them if they have any fish, “no” they reply. “Well”, says Jesus, “throw your nets out on the other side of the boat”. This is Jesus risen from the dead, but it is as though a circle has been completed. The disciples are back where they began and Jesus meets them where he first met them.
Jesus first met them at the lakeside. The crowd was so great that he got into Simon Peter’s boat and Peter put out a little from the shore. When he had finished his teaching he said to Simon, “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”.
Jesus is back with them again, meeting with them on safe and familiar ground. They have gone back to their boats because it is here that they felt secure.
Peter needed to feel secure, he needed to be back in Galilee, because things had gone wrong in Jerusalem. He had been a failure and like many people when things go wrong or when they have been through painful times, he had gone back to the things he knew. But no-one can ever really go back. Experiences can’t be wiped from the memory, no matter how much a person tries.
Peter has gone back to his old way of life, but he has not gone back to his old self. Peter knows he has been a failure and it has made him a different person. He is older and wiser: the Peter who was so willing to be the first to speak is now quiet.
Peter’s faith has grown in steps. There was the first step when Jesus went through the land teaching and healing – a time of great excitement and optimism. Then there is the difficult step. The realisation that following Jesus is about the way of the cross, the days in Jerusalem. And now there is a new step, exciting but also frightening.
How how far have most Christians gone in Peter’s steps?
It is easy to be like the disciples back in their boats in Galilee. It is easy to be a member of a church for security and reassurance. It is easy to go over the familiar stories, to sing hymns and and to break bread.
The challenge to the church is to move on from where it might be; it is to become like the disciples. They gave up their security to go out with the good news of Jesus Christ. The church has to become the evangelists, the carriers of the Good News in its own time and in its own community. That’s not easy. The easy times are over and no matter how much Christians may wish it, it is impossible to return to former times.
The disciples could have stayed on their boats in Galilee, believing in Jesus, but doing nothing about it. The church can carry on a while longer as it has in the past, reciting its faith each Sunday, but doing nothing to embody the Good News. It is easy for Christians to be part of a church that slowly disappears.
Peter takes the third step – the step out into the world to care for Jesus’ flock. Jesus wants disciples who are prepared to take that same step.