Come to the Table

John 21:1-14

Come to the Table

April 8, 2018        Maple Grove UMC

 

          What a wonderful story. Of all the resurrection appearance stories in the Bible, this one is my favorite. There are just so many things we could go into. For example, when Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” he doesn’t mean what most of us might mean by that. For Peter, fishing isn’t a pleasant diversion, not a time to get away and clear his head, not a way to bond with his dad or son. When Peter says, “I’m going fishing,” he means that after the death of Jesus, he’s going back to his old life, the only job he knows. It means he’s giving up on following Jesus as a way of life. But Jesus doesn’t let him give up for long. . .

 

          There are so many things in the story we could go into. At first, John tells us, the disciples don’t know it’s Jesus standing there on the beach. There are other stories where the disciples are mysteriously prevented from recognizing the risen Jesus, but I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. After all it’s just after dawn and the disciples are a hundred yards from shore. I doubt I’d recognize my own children from a hundred yards at dawn. No, to recognize Jesus you’ve got to come up close—get out of your boat, put down what you’re doing, leave behind your fear, and come right up close. That’s what it takes to recognize the Risen Lord.

 

          There are so many things in this story we could go into. Like when they’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing, Jesus says, “Hey guys, why don’t you try the nets on the right side of the boat?” And of course they get this huge catch of fish. Some people think this was a miracle—that Jesus had some kind of supernatural fishing power. Maybe. But maybe he was just saying, “Why don’t you try the other side of the boat for a change.” If you’ve been fishing in the same spot all night and caught nothing, try the other side of the boat for a change. If you’ve been trying the same thing over and over and not getting results you want, try the other side of the boat. If you’ve been singing the same songs and offering the same programs and people aren’t excited any more, then try the other side of the boat for a change. You never know what might happen.

 

          There are so many things in this story we could go into. Do you remember how in verse 11 the net is not torn, though filled with that overwhelming load of fish? As one commentator has put it, “Jesus would like us, in all our diversity [and differences] . . . to be one.   The net,” he says, “does not have to split, though filled with multiple, varied and outsized fish.”1 Surely there’s a message here for the United Methodist church: We can be different and diverse, and yet the net does not need to split.”

 

          There are so many things in this story we could go into. Such as this: the disciples are all together when this took place. Now we’re getting deeper into the story. “It is especially when disciples are all together,” writes Frederick Bruner, “that the Risen Lord . . . reveals himself.”2 Now, the truth is, they weren’t all together. John names Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the two sons of Zebedee, and two other unnamed disciples. That’s seven disciples, not twelve, or by now, I guess, eleven. But given that there were almost 500 people here a week ago and, well, not that many today—seven out of eleven isn’t bad for the Sunday after Easter.

          The point is that Jesus invites all to come and dine. It’s especially when disciples are all together that the Risen Lord appears. The table is the place where Jesus welcomes all, and when all are together at the table is when Jesus shows up. “The church,” writes my teacher, Fred Craddock, “is a group eating together with glad and generous hearts. . . [So w]hen you separate the table you have destroyed the church. It is not a church,” he says, “where some refuse to eat with others.”3

          They were all together after Easter. It’s especially when disciples are all together that the Risen Lord appears. Wesley Allen tells of a church in Kentucky that began to experience growth due to folks from the community joining. But these new folks were different from the long-time members—ethnically diverse, some were LGBT persons, some were pierced and tattooed. Long-time members were uncomfortable but kept quiet as long as the new members put money in the offering plate and didn’t try to change anything. But when they had meetings to talk about how to move forward together, the same thing always happened: distrust arose, prejudices were expressed, conversation gave way to shouting. Then, on one occasion, the pastor started the meeting differently. He placed a loaf of bread and a cup in the middle of the group. “At the end of the meeting,” he said, “we’re going to share the Lord’s Supper. You are going to pass the bread and wine to one another in witness to the fact that Christ died for everyone here, whether you agree with or like each other or not.” And the conversation was different that night.4

          I know that some people can argue even at the table. But my grandma wouldn’t have stood for it. Neither does Jesus. The table is the place where Jesus welcomes all, and when all are together at the table is when Risen Christ appears.

Oh, there are so many things in this story we could go into. Depending on how you count them, not including the Empty Tomb stories, the gospels have eight appearances of the Risen Christ. Three of these, more than a third, involve eating. If it’s when we are all together that the Risen Christ appears, it’s when he eats with us that we know it’s him. Luke tells about two discouraged disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. The Risen Jesus joins them, but they don’t know it’s him. They walk and talk, they invite him to stay with them and he leads them in Bible study, but still they don’t know it’s Jesus. Only, Luke says, when he breaks the bread do they suddenly recognize him. In the next story, the Risen Jesus is trying to convince the disciples he’s real and not a ghost, but he’s not having much success. Finally he asks for something to eat and they give him a piece of fish. In eating, they know Christ is real.

And so in today’s story, at first none of them knows it’s Jesus there on the beach. Peter figures it out first and goes splashing ashore. But when Jesus gives them something to eat, it says, then none of them dared to ask, “Who are you?” because they all knew it was the Lord. The Risen Lord was known then, and the Risen Lord is known today, in the breaking of bread--not just here from the pulpit, but especially there at the table.

 

Oh, there are so many things in this story we could go into. Just one more. “Come,” Jesus said to those seven weary disciples, “Come and have breakfast.” Breakfast is the most intimate of meals. I had a friend who told me that he was about to ask his girlfriend to marry him. A few days later I called and asked, “How did it go?” “Well,” he said, “I invited her over to my place. She stayed for dinner . . . and she stayed for breakfast, and we’re getting married in August.” Breakfast is the most intimate of meals.

When our daughters were little, our family had a little story Bible. More pictures than words, kind of a “greatest hits” of the scriptures. Every night at bedtime we’d read them two or three of those stories. Every night, the girls would try to get us to read two or three more stories—I thought they just loved Bible stories; turns out they were just trying to extend bedtime! Either way, they heard a lot of Bible stories. One of Rachel’s favorite stories in the book was today’s gospel reading about Jesus sharing breakfast on the beach with his disciples. One summer when she was about four, we were on vacation in the Outer Banks, and Rachel told us that the next morning she wanted us all to have breakfast on the beach. We set an alarm and all four of us gathered on the sand at sunrise. And four year-old Rachel took bread and handed some to each of us, and she took fish—well, goldfish crackers--and gave us all a handful. Taking the lead role, she said to the rest of us, “Come, and have breakfast.” And suddenly there were not four of us there, but five on the beach. And none of us dared to ask, “Who is it?” because we all knew it was the Lord. Breakfast is the most intimate of meals.

 

O Come to the table, my friends, come and have breakfast. Come to the table, and eat with the Risen Lord. For the table is the place where Jesus welcomes all people and all kinds of people. O come to the table, my friends. For none of us here will need to ask, “Who is it?” because we will all know it is the Lord.

 

1 Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012), 1213.

2 Bruner, 1207.

3 Fred B. Craddock, “Table Talk,” The Collected Sermons of Fred. B. Craddock (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 219.

4 Freely adapted from O. Wesley Allen, Jr., Preaching in the Era of Trump (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2017), 35.

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