“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Peter, ‘Peter son of John, do you love me more than these?” John 21:15
Happy Easter! It may seem a bit late to you, but did you know that Easter is a season and not a day? This season in the life of the church is called Eastertide and it is a season in the church in which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This 50 day celebration begins on Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and ends at Pentecost. It is a beautiful season in the life of the church in which we rejoice and celebrate every single day that Christ is risen indeed! Imagine this: for 50 days, the church celebrates the resurrection with as much joy, enthusiasm, excitement and devotion as we did three days ago on Easter Sunday.
I don’t know about you, but at first, Eastertide seemed weird to me. Why would we celebrate resurrection for 50 days if Jesus was already risen from the dead? Why would we need to keep remembering the resurrection if we have already claimed the victory over death? It seemed really confusing to me.
But the reality, is that when look at Jesus being raised from the dead, we also assume that all of the disciples find out at the same. But this miracle, this victory over death, took days to reach all of Jesus’ followers. The women may have been the first to know Jesus was resurrected, but through this season, the disciples began to encounter the resurrected Christ. It took Thomas a week to realize that Jesus was indeed risen. It takes days for all of Jesus followers to hear this good news. So we journey through this season, because we acknowledge that the good news of the resurrection took a season to get to all of Jesus’ followers.
On Good Friday I preached a sermon about Jesus’ death. I encouraged the congregation to try and picture and imagine what the disciples may have felt that night. We remembered how for three years the disciples got to hear lessons, and stories and parables from Jesus. For three years, the disciples got to travel all over the place with Jesus. For three years they went to the mountain together and to the lakeside together and journeyed through the desert together. For three years they cooked together, they ate together and they invited people to join them. For three years, they did life together.
But on that Good Friday night, Jesus was gone and they had to decide if their hopes and dreams had died with him or if Jesus really was who he said he was.
Let’s go a little deeper though. That Friday, Peter had promised Jesus that he would never deny him, but after Jesus was arrested, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times.
Can you imagine the kind of guilt Peter may have had that night? The one thing he promised he would never do was the one thing he ended up doing. And unlike every other night before this, on that Friday night he did not have the ability to run back to Jesus, to ask for forgiveness, to be told by Jesus himself that he was indeed forgiven. That Friday night, Jesus was lying in a tomb and the last thing Peter did before Jesus died was deny his friend, mentor and teacher. Can you imagine the guilt, the anguish, the regret, and the tears that he felt that night? Your friend has just died and the last thing you ever did while he was alive was deny the fact that you knew him. Can you imagine how he felt as he tried to go to sleep that night?
I love to remember Peter’s story during Eastertide, because he is a perfect example of why resurrection is a season and not a day. You see, Peter’s conflict is not resolved on that Resurrection Sunday.
In John 20, we are told that Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb because Mary Magdalene had told them that Jesus’ body had been taken away. In disbelief, they all ran back to the tomb. When they arrived, they realize that Mary was right and that the tomb was indeed empty. Can you imagine what Peter must have felt? Perhaps he was still holding on to the hope that he would see Jesus again and he would be forgiven for denying Jesus. But the tomb was indeed empty and the gospel tells us that they returned to their homes.
The fact that scripture says they returned to their homes may seem insignificant, but it means a lot to me. At this point in the story, they were all in Jerusalem which is located in the southern end of Israel. But Peter was not from around there, he was from Bethsaida which is in Galilee (the northern part of Israel). These two cities are about 80 miles apart, so it would have been at least a 3-4 day’s journey (assuming Peter walked about 20-25 miles a day).
Can you imagine the types of questions he must have had in his heart as he journeyed those 80 miles home? If Jesus was who he said he was, would Jesus ever forgive him? Would he still have a place in Jesus’ church after his denial? Would Peter just have to go home, go back to what he used to do and count these last three years as time wasted? I think the questions must have been endless as he made this long trek back home. And I believe that perhaps at times, he was beginning to lose hope and thought he would have to live with this guilt the rest of his life.
A week later, Peter is back home at the Sea of Galilee and he is fishing, just like he used to do before Jesus came around. Picture this for a moment: many of the disciples had seen the resurrected Jesus, Thomas had seen the wounds on Jesus’ feet, hands and side, Mary encountered the risen Christ outside the tomb. Word was beginning to spread that Jesus had risen from the dead.
But Peter is not celebrating with everyone else, he is back on his boat, fishing and probably still filled with regret for having denied Jesus.
But then we get to chapter 21 in which Peter and a couple of other disciples are fishing. They have had no luck catching anything and suddenly a person standing on the beach told them to switch their nets to the other side of the boat. When they did, they caught so many fish that they could not pull the net back in. As they were trying to pull the net in, they begin to realize that the guy standing on the beach is not just a random guy, but is actually Jesus.
Peter gets so excited that Jesus is there. Jesus is indeed alive and he is standing right there in front of him. He jumps off of the boat and runs to Jesus .
Can you imagine the joy he must have felt? Jesus is physically standing there in front of him and he can run to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. He can finally hear Jesus tell him that he is indeed forgiven. He can rest assured that Jesus was who he said he was and perhaps he would finally know if he still had a role to play in the life of Jesus’ church.
And sure enough, they take some of the fish they had just caught, they cooked it, they ate breakfast together and then Jesus looked at Peter and he said “do you love me?” Peter responds by saying: Yes Lord, you know that I love you. This happens three times and at the end of it, Jesus tells Peter: follow me.
Those two words, I believe, meant the world to Peter.
Follow me was not just an instruction, but it was an indication that Jesus had triumphed over sin and Peter was indeed forgiven. Follow me was not just an instruction but it was a reminder that Peter still had a role in Jesus’ church. Follow me was not just an instruction, but it was a proclamation that this movement was just getting started and no matter what Peter had done, Jesus was not holding anything against him. These two words meant that Peter did not have journey through life with guilt and worry and pain. He could let those things go because Jesus had already washed those sins away.
So what does this mean for you and I?
Whatever it is that you are going through today, whatever doubts and fears you may have, whatever disbelief you may carry, Jesus is not finished. This Eastertide, we know that Jesus is indeed risen. Jesus has trampled over death. Jesus has defeated sin. You have no burden to carry. You have no sins to repay. Jesus is standing on the beach calling you, waiting for you with arms wide open ready and eager to remind you of this great truth and to invite you to be a part of the story that is continuing to unfold.
Jesus wants to have a relationship with you. And perhaps like Peter, there is a bit of doubt or disbelief in you. Perhaps like Peter, you carry around stuff that makes you think Jesus would want nothing to do with you. But I hope that this Eastertide you may come to see Jesus standing on the beach calling your name. And I pray that when you hear him calling, that you may run to him and hear the good news he has to offer you today.
You are forgiven. You have no need to carry guilt for your past. You are not who you used to be, but rather Jesus is offering you a new identity in him. If you long for that, may you jump of that boat and run to Jesus. Because believe it or not, this good news if you and I as much as it was for Peter.
Together on the journey, Pastor Fernie