Readings: John 21:1-19, True Christianity 364:1,3 (see below)
I know that I say this all the time, but this is one of my favorite bible stories. There is something so simple and beautiful about Jesus inviting his disciples to sit down to a simple meal on the beach. Jesus says a lot of inspiring things in the gospels, but the invitation “Come and eat breakfast” just lets my heart and soul exhale. In the aftermath of something as momentous as the resurrection, Jesus bids us find nourishment in the realities of the everyday.
After the post-resurrection appearances in Jerusalem, we suddenly find the disciples back in Galilee. We don’t actually know what brought them back there, the text doesn’t tell us. Perhaps they were uncertain and afraid, so they returned to what they knew. Perhaps they were confused as to what their mission was to be. Perhaps they were simply preparing themselves for what they imagined was to come. Either way, returning to something familiar is a common response to uncertainty and change. There was so much for them to process; not only had they witnessed Jesus’ death and return, one of their own group had been the one to betray Jesus in the first place, and Peter himself had denied him. There was plenty of cause for both lament and hope, so they were probably experiencing some pretty complicated emotions. In the end, I think they were mostly just waiting to see what was going to happen.
What happens is that Jesus appears to them again, and invites them into the experience of a miraculous catch and then a meal of fish and bread. The simple meal recalls earlier in the gospel of John, when Jesus fed the multitude with the same food, at the same location. John does not have a communion episode as the other gospels do, where Jesus shares a meal with the disciples and says the familiar words, “this is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” What Jesus does say after the miracles of the loaves and fishes is, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (6:35) This final miracle also recalls the first of Jesus’ signs in this gospel: the miracle of the water turning into wine at the wedding at Cana. In John’s gospel, in the beginning, middle and end, in celebration, in a crowd, with an intimate few, the point is clear: God is the source of life-giving nourishment.
God is constantly being that source for us and we don’t always notice. When we do notice, it is often because something has turned out differently or better than we expected. And so we see in this gospel, how the notion of God as source of life-giving nourishment is communicated and recognized through abundance. Wine where there was none, fish and bread for everyone when there was only a little, full to bursting nets when the fish weren’t biting. The epiphany is that God’s presence is revealed to us when we recognize the abundance available to us. All of God, all the time. We read in our Swedenborg reading (True Christianity 364):
The Lord is omnipresent; and everywhere he is present, he is present with his entire essence. It is impossible for him to take out some of his essence and give part of it to one person and another part to another. He gives it all. He also gives us the ability to adopt as much as we wish of it, whether a little or a lot…In a word, all things are full of God. We each take our own portion from that fullness.
The gospel of John writes: “For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” (6:33) Our life comes from God, and we are full of God in every moment. And further, we get to the be ones who decide how much we recognize and engage that gift.
And so God shows up on a beach and invites us to breakfast. Oh, how I love Jesus’ super-casual question: “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” The whole serious and poignant episode is leavened with Peter’s bumbling enthusiasm, as he frantically pulls on his clothes and jumps into the water. Peter has always been all in, even if he couldn’t always follow through. We all need to grapple with how we deny or avoid the fullness of God’s presence with us. We will soon get to Peter and his conversation with Jesus that reads as a redemptive replay of his three-fold denial. But, first, even here on the beach, his failure is already subtly referenced by the fire of burning coals. It had been around such a fire that Peter had repeatedly denied knowing Jesus. Here, the fire reappears, a reminder to Peter, and to us, of how we need to improve, where we need to open up our hearts, how we need to re-evaluate our habits and our ways of thinking.
But it is important to note that this fire is not meant to hurt us. The bible often uses fire language in the sense of purification, but that is not the purpose here. This is a gentle fire, used to cook a meal that will nourish. So, it is with our process. We should face our failures unflinchingly not because we deserve punishment, or that it is good that we should suffer for our wrongs, bur rather, so that we might learn how to act differently. The power from those red-hot coals, the power of self-reflection, is converted into making something useful, a meal, that will nourish our further journey.
And Jesus says: “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” In the Swedenborgian worldview, fish represent facts that we derive through our senses (1). God asks us to bring what we ourselves have caught, to bring the things we have noticed happening in our lives due to our specific circumstances, and what those facts suggest to us. To this meal with God, to our life with God, we are asked to bring the fruits of our own experience, our wonderings, our questions, our realizations. We and God both bring something. We bring what we have gleaned from God’s great abundance and we offer it back up to God. And God brings the gentle fire of love to helps us to transform our offerings into a regenerated life. We eat, we notice, we learn, we are changed.
So, in this story, we see a different kind of eucharist, something grounded in our daily life, something grounded in the ordinary. It recalls for me a moment at one of the first services at my ministry internship site. At that church, at the early service, we would do communion every week. Like in our bible story, it was an intimate scene, conducted in a small chapel as opposed to the larger sanctuary. Our musician would play the piano and people would approach to receive the bread and the wine, one by one. Then towards the end, the minister would offer communion to the musician, right in her seat at the piano. She would pause her music for just a moment, take communion, and hear the words “This is the presence of Jesus, given in love for you…” ….and then return to playing the music. And it would always strike me as so poignant a moment, that suspension of breath, that sacred pause, that pregnant silence, as one person took in the presence of God, and we all were witness to it.
All things are full of God…means that every meal is communion, every breath is sacred space, every pause is pregnant with the fullness of God’s presence. We gather at the Holy Supper together because sometimes we need to remember just how holy the world really is.
Then, after they had eaten, Jesus has a conversation with Peter, and from this we come to understand that our journey is not just individualistic, that our nourishment at the meal calls us into mission, that taking our portion from God’s fullness must open our eyes to what being in God’s fullness means. When Peter denied Jesus around that fire in Jerusalem, it was not that Peter had denied who Jesus was, it was that Peter had denied his relationship with Jesus (2). “Aren’t you one of his disciples? Peter was asked, to which he replied “I am not.” Another asked “Didn’t I see you with him?” and Peter denies it again. He didn’t say Jesus wasn’t Lord, he said he wasn’t one of his followers. In that moment, in talking with Jesus, Peter is getting to reclaim that relationship, to recognize that loving Jesus is not only about recognizing him, but also about transforming that love into useful action, about following him. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?…Take care of my sheep.” The most famous of this gospel’s passages tells us that “God so loved the world…” (3:16) In the words of theologian Karoline Lewis, this is one of the ways that God was going to love the world now, by encouraging Jesus’ followers to be good shepherds, to take care of each other, and to take care of the vulnerable (3).
Ultimately, this story is about what discipleship would look like post-resurrection. Jesus was not always going to be with them. In the absence of clear direction, the disciples returned to fishing. Jesus gently reminded them that they had more to do. He reiterated his call to them: “Follow me.” But before that he said “Come and have breakfast.” Discipleship is sometimes difficult. Peter would lead a whole movement, and his commitment to it would would eventually cost him his life. But discipleship is also in the small things. It looks like sitting down at a meal together. It looks like forgiveness. It looks like being reminded who we are and what we value. It looks like communion in the middle of everything. It looks like being a good shepherd to others. It looks like fish and bread on a fire.
1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”“No,” they answered. 6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
True Christianity 364
 The Lord flows into everyone with all his divine love, all his divine wisdom, and all his divine life….God could not and still cannot divide his own essence - it is an indivisible oneness. Therefore since God alone is life, it follows without a doubt that God uses his life to bring us all to life….Divinity is indivisible.
 The Lord is omnipresent; and everywhere he is present, he is present with his entire essence. It is impossible for him to take out some of his essence and give part of it to one person and another part to another. He gives it all. He also gives us the ability to adopt as much as we wish of it, whether a little or a lot. The Lord says that he has a home with those who do his commandments, and that the faithful are in him and he is in them. In a word, all things are full of God. We each take our own portion from that fullness.