Sunday, 5 May 2019

Christ’s three questions
challenge our idea of fame,
of heaven, and of success

‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat and you will find some [fish]’ (John 21: 6) … a fishing boat with its nets to the right at the harbour in Rethymnon last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 5 May 2019,

The Third Sunday of Easter (Easter III).


11.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry.

Readings: Acts 9: 1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5: 11-14; John 21: 1-19.

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Reading our three readings this morning, I found myself asking three questions before even considering the three questions Christ asks in the Gospel reading:

Question 1, What is your idea of fame?

The Apostle Paul, who at first found it difficult to recognise Christ (Act 9: 5), later describes Christ as the image of the invisible God (II Corinthians 4: 4; Colossians 1: 15; c.f. John 1: 18, 12: 45, 14: 9; Hebrews 1: 3), he is an icon or an image of God.

When I was a child, just as I was about to become a teenager, I became a keen autograph collector.

My uncle, who was my godfather, bought me an autograph book, and I set about earnestly seeking the autographs of great footballers, pop singers, movie stars – and my first girlfriend and my school friends – in the early 1960s.

The pop stars stopped being No 1 hits just as my taste in music matured. The footballers aged as I became more interested in rugby and cricket. The movie stars’ fame faded as my interests shifted to literature and poetry. My first girlfriend lost interest in me. I moved town, changed schools, lost touch with many childhood friends, and I lost that autograph book about the same time.

But I remember basking in the light of Bobbie Charlton and Brendan Bowyer for a few weeks in the schoolyard. I suppose it was a sort of vicarious fame.

I suppose we never really stop behaving like that as adults with our own adult versions of autograph-hunting: asking authors to sign books … standing in for ‘selfies’ with the good and the great …

Who do you want to be photographed with, and who will want to be photographed with you?

Who do you recognise, and who recognises you?

If I encountered the Risen Christ in this post-Easter season, would I, like Saint Paul in our first reading, fall to the ground blinded, and ask, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ (see Acts 9: 5)

Would you recognise Jesus on that seashore that Easter morning?

Where do you see Jesus this morning?

I was in Crete for the week after Easter, enjoying walks each day along the beach at Platanias near Rethymnon. But even there, I wondered: Where do the refugees see Jesus when they land on the shores of more distant Greek islands such as Lesbos and Samos?

I certainly hope they see the love of Jesus in the work of mission agencies such as USPG and other church groups and humanitarian organisations, on the shore, in their plight.

When these refugees look at those workers on those islands, I hope they see the image of Christ, the likeness of the Lamb, an image of the Good Shepherd.

Would you recognise Jesus on the beach that Easter morning? (see John 21: 4) … the beach at Platanias near Rethymnon last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Question 2, What is your idea of heaven?

In our reading from the Book of Revelation, Saint John in exile on Patmos catches a glimpse of the heavenly future when he looks up and hears the angels gathered around the Lamb on the Throne and singing:

‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might
for ever and ever!’

During my reflections on Good Friday in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, I shared how there are places where I think I am given a little glimpse of what heaven must be like. They include the road from Iraklion to Rethymnon in Crete, facing the sun as it sets in the Mediterranean, and where I spent that week after Easter.

But what is your idea of heaven? … Fishing, Golf, Horses, a day’s sailing?

The refugees who arrive on our shores are fleeing their own hell on earth. Are they going to catch a glimpse of heaven on earth when they arrive?

Or do they find we have priorities other than the Kingdom of God?

The Lamb of God in a Trinitarian depiction in a stained-glass window in a church in Charleville, Co Cork … see Revelation 5: 11-14 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Question 3, What do you mean by success?

The disciples that Sunday morning are not very successful, are they (John 21: 3)? So unsuccessful, indeed, that they are willing to take advice from someone they do not even recognise (verse 4 ff).

The disciples are at the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberias, back at their old jobs as fishermen. Peter, who denied Christ three times during his Passion, Thomas, who had initially doubted the stories of the Resurrection (see John 20: 24-29), Nathanael, who once wondered whether anything good could come from Nazareth (see John 1: 46), James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who once wanted to be so close to him that they wanted to be seated at his right hand and his left in the kingdom, and two other disciples who remain unnamed … how about that for fame, lasting recognition and success?

They are back on the same shore where there once were so many fish, so much bread left over after feeding the multitude, that they filled 12 baskets (John 6: 1-13). There are not so many fish around this time, at first. But then John tells us that after Christ arrives 153 fish were caught that morning (verse 11).

This number is probably a symbol meaning a complete number. The number 153 is divisible by the sum of its own digits, and it is the smallest number that can be expressed as the sum of cubes of its digits, since 153 = 13 + 53 + 33. Aristotle is said to have taught that there were 153 different species of fish in the Mediterranean.

Whatever they say, the disciples must have thought they had managed the perfect catch that morning.

But the perfect catch was Christ – and, of course, they were the perfect catch for him too. When they came ashore once again he invites them to share bread and fish, to dine with the Risen Lord (21: 12-13).

To eat with the Risen Lord and to invite others to the Heavenly Banquet, so that every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea can say ‘Amen’ before the Throne of God … now that is what I call success (Revelation 5: 11-14).

And when others ask us, Do we love Christ?, when others ask us, Do we love them?, when others ask us, Do we love one another?, will we hesitate, like Peter, not knowing how to answer?

Or when they ask, will the answers be obvious in the ways we worship, in the way we live our lives, in the way we respond to others?

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Beached … an old fishing boat on the sands at Platanias, near Rethymnon in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 21: 1-19 (NRSVA):

1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 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. 3 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.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ 6 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. 7 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 lake. 8 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.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ 16 A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ 17 He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

The Lamb of God on the throne (see Revelation 5: 11-13) … a stained glass window in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: White

The Greeting (from Easter Day until Pentecost):

Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God,
you raised your Son from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
through you we are more than conquerors.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
you help us in our weakness.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples
with the sight of the risen Lord:
Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
and serve you continually in righteousness and truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

The risen Christ came and stood among his disciples and said, Peace be with you. Then were they glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20: 19, 20).

The Blessing:

The God of peace,
who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus
that great shepherd of the sheep,
through the blood of the eternal covenant,
make you perfect in every good work to do his will,
working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight:

or:

God the Father,
by whose glory Christ was raised from the dead,
raise you up to walk with him in the newness of his risen life:

Dismissal: (from Easter Day to Pentecost):

Go in the peace of the Risen Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
Thanks be to God. Alleluia! Alleluia!

The Lamb of God in a depiction in a stained-glass window in a church in Roscrea, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Hymns:

196, O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (CD 12)
263, Crown him with many crowns (CD 16)
592, O Love that wilt not let me go (CD 34)

A fishing boat at the harbour in Panormos, east of Rethymnon, last Sunday (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Scripture quotations are taken from the New Revised Standard Version Bible Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and are used by permission. All rights reserved.

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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