Sunday, April 10, 2016

three reminders from our Lord

May my words be in the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Our Gospel reading today is most of the final chapter of St John's Gospel. It is sometimes called the second ending, because the evangelists seems to have concluded his account in the passage that proceeds it … and then he keeps going! We might also call this part of his Gospel the ending of reminders; for in it Jesus gives several reminders to his Apostles as to what it is that they should be doing.

The passage opens in Galilee. St Peter has said to the disciples 'I am going fishing.' So they get into the boat and they fish all night but they catch nothing. Then Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast their net to the right side of the boat. And suddenly it is so full they can not haul it it. And even though it is filled with large fish, the net does not break.

The scene reminds us, does it not, of when Christ first called the disciples? There they are in the boat, fishing without success; and there is Christ on the shore telling them to cast their net to the side once more; and then, miraculously, the net is full. They are in the boat, fishing again, seemingly thinking of going back to their old lives; and Jesus reminds them of that day long ago when he first called them. Unspoken is the implicit message of this reminder, the words he spoke to them when he first called them - 'I am calling you to be fishers of men.'

It is good for us also to be reminded that we, like they, are fishers of men. The disciples were discouraged because they did not, as yet, understand what the Resurrection really meant; and we too can easily become discouraged because the world hates the message of Christ – as it has done through the ages. But how can we abandon the task? It is the most important duty in the world – because it involves the salvation of souls. It does not matter that many of those we are called to save hate us. Did not Christ not tell us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us? Therefore, we must heed Christ's reminder to remain persistent in being fishers of men.

The next segment in our reading reminds us that he does not leave us alone in this task. On the beach Christ is waiting for the men as they leave the boat. He has a fire burning; and has prepared for them a meal of bread and fish. And in these few words we are brought back to an earlier scene in the Gospel story, the miraculous feeding of the five thousand, where Christ fed a great multitude with only a few loaves and some fish. And in St John's Gospel these are our Lord's great discourses on how he is the Bread of Life, and how those who would have life in them must eat this bread. They are in other words Eucharistic; and Jesus, by way of this simple meal reminds them of Sacrament of the Eucharist, how at the Last Supper he told them that the bread was now his body, and the wine now his blood, and commanded them to do this in memory of him; he is reminding them how he will be with them always in the breaking of the bread, giving them life and grace and strength – not merely for the salvation of their own souls, but so that they can carry on with the mission he entrusted to them, of bringing all people to him.

Again, their reminder is ours. We too must partake frequently and worthily of the Eucharist if we are to have the grace and strength we need to live out God's commandments in our own lives – particularly the last one that Christ gave to his Apostles before his glorious Ascension, that of making disciples of all peoples, and baptising them in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The final reminder comes in what is sometimes called Jesus' reinstatement of Peter. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him; three times Peter replies that he does; and three times our Lord exhorts Peter to feed or tend his lambs and sheep. The three-fold questioning reminds us of Peter's three-fold denial of Christ during his Passion. But I do not think that we should think because of this that our Lord's words are directed solely to Peter. For Peter's leadership role among the Apostles can not be underestimated. They are there this day fishing because they followed Peter. And then there are the words of Christ to Peter even as he predicted his three-fold denial as recorded by St Luke: Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ Peter here is being reinstated; our Lord's prediction that he would turn back to the way of the Gospel is coming true; and Peter now must strengthen his brother Apostles to feed and tend the flock of the Church. It is a pastoral charge; and therefore for those who follow Christ today it has particular relevance to those with pastoral duties, especially those among the clergy. But all of us have some pastoral role to play. We all of us, for example, are part of a family; and families are the basic unit of the Church. So parents have a pastoral role in the bringing up of the children in the faith – their children are the sheep they must feed and tend for the sake of their souls. And we all have friends and neighbours we are called to evangelise by the example of our own Holy Living and also, when necessary, by preaching the word of God to them directly.

So, we have three reminders from Christ himself of our duties as Christians this morning: that we are to be fishers of men; that we are to come together to share in the Eucharist and be strengthened by him in it; and to be faithful in our pastoral care of others according to the role we play within the Church. They are duties we should engage in with great joy; for by doing so we help not only to achieve our own salvation, but that of others. And so by doing so we go some small way towards imitating our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who so desired to save others that he became man and died for our sins. How happy we should be to have the privilege of following in his footsteps in our own poor and humble way. We know that the disciples he met on the beach that morning were soon to be filled with that joy – I pray that all here already are and always be. Amen. 

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