Years ago now, when I was serving St. Paul’s in Waco I befriended a UCC pastor from the neighboring town. At the time the UCC’s slogan was “God is still speaking.”
One of the consequences of having a “closed canon” (Neither Jews nor Christians solidified what they considered scripture until centuries after Jesus’ death) is it can seem like God was super busy thousands of years ago with people far away, but not with us. But this little epilogue to the Gospel of John is a reminder that God is still speaking.
Here are Jesus’ nearest and dearest, they have been through the wringer and in the aftermath they have gone back to ordinary lives. Peter says to the others “I’m going fishing.” I’m getting back to work. And they all get in the boat and they spend the whole night doing what they know best.
And it doesn’t do them any good. Maybe you’ve been there, in that place of frustration. You’ve worked your tail off for something that’s a good cause, you’ve given it your all and the whole thing falls apart.
When Jesus appears and speaks to them, no one recognizes him. Like Mary, they suppose he is someone else, maybe an expert fisherman. It isn’t until a miraculous catch of fish that one of the men in that boat was able to see, and name, that they had encountered Christ.
There is a lot we could talk about in any John text. We could talk about how this piece of the text is most likely added by a later redactor, and debate what that means, we could unpack Peter’s lack of clothing (whole books have been written on this single sentence alone).
But what I want to explore is this notion that after everything was over and everyone has “gone back to normal” Jesus is still showing up, though in ways that might be hard to see.
Peter for example doesn’t figure out who the guy on the beach is, it is someone else who can see God at work and who names Jesus for the rest of the crew. When I tell people they can’t be Christian in isolation this is part of what I mean. Peter needed someone else to be able to see God. He didn’t recognize Jesus on his own, he might have missed out on breakfast on the beach with his friend entirely if it weren’t for someone else saying: Hey! That’s Jesus!
Peter is in the lonely place we all encounter eventually. That uncomfortable spot after failure, or loss when we have gone back to the everyday drudgery of life and feel cut off and alone, maybe even abandoned by God.
It is in their ordinary lives, at work, that Jesus appears to them again, just like he did in the beginning. And it is because of each other that they recognize him.
I had a mentor early in my discernment to the priesthood who (when I asked her how she knew God was trying to tell her something) said if she heard the same thing from three different people she could be pretty sure that God was trying to get her attention.
The key is of course, community. That we, who have chosen to pitch our tents together, are constantly on the lookout for where God is active in each other’s lives. That’s a big deal. We have to be brave enough to risk not being believed and shout “it is the Lord!” when we see God in our midst.
John’s story isn’t just about how we respond to Jesus’ presence in our lives, it is also about how we even recognize God in the first place. In ordinary places, in extraordinary moments. In work, in meals, in community. Seeing and recognizing are disciplines to be practiced. We need to practice looking for Jesus, listening for the Spirit, being open to God. And we have to listen to each other as well, we have to listen when someone else gives us that nudge.
It was because of the Beloved Disciple that Peter saw Jesus. It was because he believed his friend, responded, and risked that Peter was given the chance to redeem his failure and betrayal with his three affirmations of love. It was because of someone else’s faith, that Peter was able to become an Apostle and bring that gift to others.
God is still speaking, in the midst of our everyday lives, through those closest to us, and those we’ve never seen before.
Practice seeing, and listening, and being open.
And never be afraid to point out when love has invited us all to a breakfast BBQ on the beach, because everything will change there, for us all.