The Upside Down World
Easter is only the beginning but it may have seemed like the end to the disciples of Jesus in those last hours of the Holy Week – especially to Peter. His world is upended by the death of His Master and his own abandonment in the moment. And upended again by the open door and empty clothes there at the tomb in the early morning hours on Sunday. The pathos of Scripture in the post-resurrection accounts seems to be a mixture of joy and fear, awe and uncertainty.
As is so often the case when human failing and frailty meet divine glory, there is the paradoxical emotion of shame and wonder. We are not given much detail in the Scriptures about Peter here in these days; we’re not given great detail about any of the disciples individually, for that matter. Just snapshots of Jesus’ appearances to them over the next weeks. But Peter, especially, we hear little about. We should find it remarkable, I think, that this loud, rough, take-charge leader of the pack who often dominates the story before the crucifixion of Christ appears to be almost absent in the post-resurrection account. Why isn’t he mentioned more frequently? Luke affirms that Christ had appeared to Simon Peter; Paul later confirms this in his first letter to Corinth. Both Luke and John mention Peter’s presence at the tomb: he sees the burial clothes of His Lord and then, in Luke’s words, “went away, wondering to himself what had happened.”
But this is the extent of the matter until John 21. In reality, though, what could be said about him? Perhaps very little because something has happened to Peter. He is no longer the brash, out-front vocal figurehead of the merry band of disciples. He’s in the shadows, sitting on the back row, slipping in late and out early, embarrassed to show his face, he doesn’t want to talk about it. After all, what would you say? How do you reconcile yourself to the ones you have denied? To the family you have cut apart?
This is a significant question: How does God’s grace and redemption encounter human fear and failure? How is such turmoil and upheaval to be redeemed and remade?
On The Beach
Such is the story that now unfolds before us in John 21 – the answer to this question. The scene opens on seven of the disciples on the Sea of Galilee fishing – they are back in familiar territory. What is to be done when the trajectory of life has suddenly, seemingly come to a crashing, jarring halt? Where do you go? What do you do with yourself?
Perhaps it appeared that in all likelihood the momentum of their lives as the disciples of this Messiah had shifted, reversed its course, and now has left them alone, in need of provision, in need of identity and in need of something to do that was predictable. What do you do in these times? Return to the familiar places and the familiar habits of the life you had known. Haven’t you been there before? Haven’t you watched those in your flock respond to life this way? To fall back on the common, predictable, comfortable struggles in the trenches of life…
They go back to fishing.
Several years ago, I watched a dear friend of mine, who had been walking a long road of recovery from drug, alcohol and sexual addiction, struggle with the easy habits of the familiar past. One morning, I called to invite him share his testimony at an upcoming speaking engagement I had. For two days, my call went unanswered, then I received the phone call that was a shattering blow to my certainty of what I thought God had been doing. He had fled the state headed back to an old life, but found himself now sitting in a jail cell hundreds miles away having been arrested on an outstanding warrant. He had come so far, but suddenly it seemed he had fallen so far back. I wonder if Peter could identify with that feeling. I can. Can you?
They go back to fishing.