“On the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread….
We share these words every Sunday in this place, and I feel pretty confident stating that most, if not all of us, think first of Judas with his betraying kiss, when we say and hear them. But if Simon Peter were here among us, I think he would passionately disagree.
Peter, with his own horrendous form of betrayal that night— three times denying he had anything to do with the one with whom he had shared everything—hundreds, if not thousands, of meals, of experiences, of conversations; of plans; of dreams— The one to whom Peter had just hours before proclaimed: “I will lay down my life for you!” That one, who as Peter uttered each syllable of denial, who was all alone being interrogated and tortured by the powers that be. That lonely one who was finally sentenced to death by those powers—not only by the edict of a mighty official, but by the crushing betrayal of his friends—of his close friends—by the kiss of one, and by the words of another. Three times, those friendship-denying words, until with a rooster’s crow, there it was: the killing of that friendship— And then, dear God, dear God, he, Peter, witnessed the death blows on a cross: one time through one hand, the second, through the other, and the third, hammered through both feet.
Dead, dead, dead.
So I can’t help but wonder at Peter’s emotions when three days later Mary Magdalene came racing from the tomb, hair flying, sandals tripping, to announce to the disciples the good news: “I have seen the Lord!” I can’t help but think that any joy Peter might have found in that announcement was overwhelmingly burdened by sorrow— Alleluia, Christ is risen, indeed! but their friendship? Still buried deeper than any resurrection could reach.
In John’s gospel, the risen Lord appears twice to the disciples before this morning’s appearance. In the first two, there is no mention of Peter, and really, how appropriate— the last person anyone would want to hear from or about after his last shameful performance; And, most likely, that was perfectly OK for Peter— the last thing he would want, any personal encounter with Jesus with those words of his betrayal still moaning like a funeral dirge through his head.
I mean, what would you say, what could you possibly say that could even begin to revive the corpse that once was your friendship? What do you say when you have failed someone so completely—so Bang! Bang! Bang!—that there is literally nothing left to say? This has got to be a reason behind why Peter is where he is, front and center when the story opens this morning. He’s failed at friendship and discipleship, so he’s gone back to his old life, the one he had before that fateful day when Jesus came up to him and his fellow fishermen and said: From now on you will be fishers of people. Well, guess what—he’s back to fishing for fish, but it looks like now he’s even an utter failure at that: a night of nets coming up as empty as his heart; as nothing as his soul. As nothing as him.
Now, it is here where our confirmation class of Riley and Regan, Brennan and Philomena, Emmanuel and Meshak and Flora—it is here where their ears might prick up a little in this story: Here, in this place of nothing, which we have been learning together is precisely and always the place where God comes and speaks—And then, where something happens. And sure enough, here God does and something does. Unrecognizable to Peter and his fellow fishermen, the hidden God (who we can all of us be so familiar with, right?)—strolls the shoreline and calls out: “How’s the fishing, boys?—Nothing, right?”
They answer him, and here’s another confirmation lesson—one Peter stands to learn right now: Sometimes we need in some way to say it or to acknowledge it: humbly to answer our God as Martin Luther prayed—Without you God, I am and I have nothing—To confess this for God to be able to come and to speak, and in and with God’s word, to fill that void.
And fill it God does.
You know how the story goes: God speaks,
And then there was light;And then there was day and night;And then there was life— and then there were….fish!—
More fish than they could haul in, overflowing the nets like a cup running over—flopping silvery witnesses to God’s living promise— to transform our old, dead nothing into God’s glorious new something. And even if Peter didn’t recognize it, here this was, too—that living promise standing there on the shoreline to let Peter know: going back to Peter’s old life? Not possible—Something had happened back then in his first encounter with the living God—nets full to bursting and a call to discipleship—and now, just look, it was happening again. Something happens when God encounters us, and that encountering and that happening doesn’t ever stop.
Once Peter hears that it is the Lord there on the beach, shading his eyes and looking out at them—hears it from a fellow disciple (because sometimes in our blind despair we need to hear from each other when it is that God is with us)— Once he connects the dots—empty nets to full nets to God—he does a typical Peter thing: He throws all his clothes on and then he throws himself into the sea. The story doesn’t say specifically that he swam directly to shore, straight to his Lord, source of the filling, but really, where else would he go? And the story doesn’t say exactly that there was a huge grin on his face as he swam that mirrored the huge grin on his Lord’s face as he waited, but really, in all that glorious fullness, what else would there be? What else would there be, but sheer and shared joy in that overflowing moment: that incredible moment of creation—of: Here God is and here I am and together, we are alive.And the story doesn’t record what the first words might have been exchanged between them when Peter rose dripping from the water, but maybe, right then, no words were needed. With so much life absolutely drenching that scene maybe there was nothing in that moment but that moment, and maybe that was enough. Maybe, in fact, it was everything. And so, you know how the rest of the story goes; they all share breakfast—this gathering around their Lord and the food he provides fast becoming for them a ritual they will never want to give up—Even all the way ‘til today—it is still our shared meal with our Lord.And then there are words exchanged between Peter and Jesus, and now the air seems to crackle a bit with tension. Simon, son of John, Jesus asks (and there is no nickname, Peter, now—only his full name, so Peter will know this is serious):
Do you love me?Do you love me?Do you love me?
And if we can’t help but connect these dots— three times before a betrayal and three times now this question— If we can’t help but do this, think about Peter: Think about that old friendship that once existed between them, maybe still, in Peter’s sad heart, buried like an un-revivable corpse. New life is one thing, but even in that new life can he still call himself God’s dearest friend after he’s acted nothing like the kind? Knowing that the survival of a friendship is a two-way street; that the love of friends is truly alive only when it is shared; that, bottom-line, friends do not betray each other, and that on that definition alone he has failed the test with God, and no doubt will again—As we will fail; as we do fail—knowing that, can they, can we truly still be friends with our God?
Well, Peter answers it himself, doesn’t he? Yes, Lord, I love you he says, using the Greek word for love between friends, philos; Yes, Lord, I philos you. Yes, I philos you.
Three times Jesus asks, and three times Peter is given the chance to say yes, and so as the hammering of that friendship to death with each pound of the nail, now the resurrecting of that friendship with each confession of love; Even if it hurts a bit, as it does Peter, to be asked again and again, still, out of the hurt, the betrayals, the wounds of the past, the nothingness of the soul, still there is life stirring and rising with each answer—Each answer which is Peter’s response to what Jesus first came into the world to speak to him and the disciples and even now comes and speaks to us: Coming and speaking to us the gospel truth: “You are my friends….I have called you friends…you did not choose me but I chose you….You are my friends.”
God spoke, and then there was…friendship;
Yes, Lord, yes, yes.No matter what, no matter what, it is the gospel truth—Out of the nothing, God speaks, and something happens. And that something is always—alleluia, it is for everything and it is always—life.