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And Our Despair He Turns to Blazing Joy

April 30, 2022 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – John 21:1-14 (NRSV)

Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Read all of John 21 here.

Focus

Think of those disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. Confused, caught between the old and the new, puzzled by their post-Resurrection meetings with Jesus, fishing in the dark and catching nothing. And then, all of a sudden—daylight, fish, and the one they loved most welcoming them to breakfast.

Devotion

Yesterday I talked about how the lectionary prescribes readings from Acts during the Easter season so that we can hear the story of the early church spreading the gospel. Meanwhile, during the first few weeks of Easter, the readings from the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances. We hear about Peter, John, Mary Magdalene, and others at the tomb; we are told of those who met Jesus on the way to Emmaus; we read of the disciples gathering in an upper room, first without Thomas and then with him; and finally we hear this story of how the disciples, having gone back to their old occupation of fishing,  encountered the Risen Lord on the beach.

The Gospel of John can often sound very mystical and metaphorical. There are long theological passages about Jesus and other long theological passages spoken by him. There are many acts performed by Jesus as “signs.” There are dramatic prophecies. But when the author of John decides to tell a story, he tells it with many vivid details—from Peter being so excited that he jumps into the water naked, to the precise count of fish in the un-torn net, to the charcoal fire and the fish breakfast Jesus prepared. (Luke 24:42 tells of how, when Jesus appeared in the upper room, he ate broiled fish to prove to them he was not a ghost.)

I don’t know about your church experiences during these past two years of COVIDtide, but at my local parish we ceased to meet together for in-person worship in early Lent 2020 and went for one year, one month, and four days worshipping on Zoom. We first gathered again together in person on Easter Sunday 2021. Our service was outside under tents, with masks on and folding chairs distanced from each other, singing along to a keyboard, but we were together and we sang and we read the Bible and I preached and we received the Eucharist.

When we gathered together this year for Easter Sunday 2022, indoors, our Zoom Easter Sunday 2020 and our outdoor Easter Sunday 2021 strongly echoed in our minds. It was the first indoor Easter Eucharist I had celebrated as the pastor of my congregation since 2019. There were tears (some of them were mine.) Bible readings struck home. Pieces of the liturgy took on new meaning. The presence of the Risen Christ was palpable.

Our closing hymn was a modern one, “We Know that Christ is Raised” (you’ll listen to it below). I’ve sung this hymn for years, but it struck me in a new way, especially this verse:

We know that Christ is raised and dies no more.
Embraced by death, he broke its fearful hold,
and our despair he turned to blazing joy—
Alleluia!

I thought, and think now, of those disciples on the shore of the Sea of Tiberius. Confused, caught between the old and the new, puzzled by their post-Resurrection meetings with Jesus, fishing in the dark and catching nothing. And then, all of a sudden—daylight, fish, and the one they loved most welcoming them to breakfast.

Embraced by death, he broke its fearful hold; and their despair—and ours—he turns to blazing joy. Alleluia.

Reflect

What brings you to despair?

Where do you see Jesus?

Act

Listen to “We Know That Christ is Raised.” Worship the God who rose from the dead and destroyed death.

Pray

Lord, turn my despair to joy. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved (John 21:20)


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