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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, May 5, 2019              

Today’s Scripture Reading | John 21:1–19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 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. 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. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 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. 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 sea. 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. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 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. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

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.” 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.” 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. 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.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (NRSV)

In 2017 two Presbyterian congregations from Greensboro, North Carolina, came together to acknowledge a painful history that bound them. First Presbyterian Church had charter members who were enslaved Africans in the years leading up to the civil war. Eventually African American members of the congregation left to form their own congregation, St. James Presbyterian, which remains one of the oldest African American Presbyterian congregations in the United States. In a joint 2017 worship service, members repented of the racism that had divided these communities and harmed the church’s witness.

Events like these make us wonder, Is history a closed book? Can we truly overcome the past when it is impossible to return to it and act differently? This passage from the disciples’ encounter with the risen Christ responds to such questions.

What unfolds in Jesus’ actions is a kind of unexpected grace. It is a grace that comes from the present moment and breaks into the broken past. The fishing trip encouraging the disciples to cast their nets for a bountiful harvest of fish reprises a time when the disciples received their first calling and were told by Jesus to boldly strike out into deep water for a successful harvest of fish. History rhymes this second time around. To cap it off, whereas Peter denied Jesus in the midst of Jesus’ trial and execution, the Risen Christ now gives Peter the opportunity to recommit and affirm his love through the call to “Feed my sheep.”

This is the great gift of the gospel; the ability to redeem the past is an overflow of God’s grace. Facing history is often difficult and can feel overwhelmingly painful, but as this passage evocatively reminds us, even as “the nets were full,” they were not torn. May it be so with us as we seek God’s redemption of time.

God of all times and seasons, we give you thanks for your faithfulness. Give us the capacity to courageously face our past, so that we might follow you fully into the future you are creating. We ask this in the name of our brother and friend, Jesus Christ, in whom the past, present, and future are redeemed. Amen.

Written by Joseph L. Morrow, Minister for Evangelism

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