A New Fire!
Third Sunday of Easter. Fr. Alan O’Sullivan preaches on the encounter between the disciples and the risen Lord at the Sea of Galilee.
‘Love was his meaning.’ So wrote Dame Julian of Norwich, the English mystic. No doubt she was reflecting upon the love pronounced upon the Cross. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks in today’s Gospel. It is by the Sea of Tiberias: there is a charcoal fire lighting, reminding us of another in Jerusalem, where Peter denied Christ, not once, but three times.
Galilee is where Jesus would have met his disciples for the first time. He was the stranger who appeared from nowhere, calling to them, “Follow me!” They left their nets and their fishing to do just that. Now they had returned to Galilee, their own country, to their wooden boats. Peter announces, “I am going fishing.” The others say, “We’ll come with you.” They fish all night but have caught nothing before Jesus appears to them on the shore.
Again he appears as a stranger. It is dawn: the sun is rising, beginning to break through on the little company of fishermen, who have caught nothing. “Have you caught anything, children?” he shouts cheerily. He is more awake than they are! “Throw out the net on starboard and you’ll find something!” He is also a better fisherman! The eyes of the beloved disciple are opened by the sudden revelation of the fish: “It is the Lord!” he shouts, like a prophet.
Peter springs into action, always doing the daft thing, diving into the sea like a madman! After all, love is daft, and dafter still – the stranger standing on the shore is Jesus! He was crucified in Jerusalem, but rose from the dead on the third day! Only a fool would believe it! Or perhaps a few fisherman – a carpenter from Nazareth had risen from the dead! He was with them now, like a stranger on the shore, as it had been in the beginning.
Now it was all beginning again, but in a new way. The Lord invites them to “Come and have breakfast.” A charcoal fire is lighting with bread and fish on it. After breakfast the Lord turns to Peter: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” He need not have asked – he knew Peter loved him – but he does, a second, and a third time!
The friendship with Peter had begun in Galilee. He had called him from his nets and fishing to be with him. The love had begun there too – the love of friendship, the gift given from above. “You did not choose me, no I chose you, to go out and bear fruit!” Only love bears fruit. It does so in Jerusalem, where the Lord is crucified and Peter denied him three times. The love of Christ for Peter was shown upon the Cross, in a bloody agony. Peter’s heart had flushed with sorrow. It was too late! The Lord whom he loved was bludgeoned to death, lying innocent on the floor of the tomb, his body limp.
Now he was alive! suddenly among them on the shores of Galilee! There is a new fire lighting in Peter’s heart! It is the fire of the resurrection! The Lord lights the fire by forgiving him … three times … for each and every failure! He does so in Jerusalem … on the Cross. Love covers a multitude of sins.
This is a morning of the resurrection! The friendship begins again. It is the fire of Easter! It lights in Peter’s heart. It lights in every heart where the Paschal candle is lit! It is the flame of love! The fishermen carry it in the boat: it is an eternal flame! It can never be extinguished!
Peter will carry it to Rome eventually. As an old man, he will be girded by the soldiers of Nero, and made to climb. He will be crucified with his feet upward – his own request, being so unlike his Master! His face will be low to the ground: the dust of men! In his heart … the shore of Galilee, the voice of Christ speaking to him, yesterday, today, and forever. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Feed my sheep!