Rector Isaac Poobalan, 18/04
Text: John 21
Collect:Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.
Reading the Collect for this week, I could not resist the question, “Does the sight of the risen Lord, gladden my heart?” The sight of a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon after the Lenten abstinence may have gladdened by heart. For some, it may have been the Divine Fairtrade chocolate that gladdened their hearts at Easter. But the sight of the risen Lord? I am not entirely sure. I guess, from the way we observe Eastertide, at least based on the Prayer Book which calls the Sunday after Easter, the Low Sunday, the sight of the risen Lord, or for us the ‘thought’ of the risen Lord, may not necessarily gladden our hearts. In fact, neither did it gladden the hearts of the disciples of our Lord.
According to the Easter narratives from the gospels and especially the one that we heard a few moments ago, the impact of the risen Lord on the disciples was neither momentous nor memorable. The leader of the pack, Simeon Peter who heard the news of the risen Lord from Mary Magdalene and who ran to the tomb and stooped down to see the evidence had decided, few days later, that he was going to return to his familiar trade – fishing. The privileged call by Jesus to discipleship, the honour of being part of a great life of adventure with the Master for three years and now this amazing possibility of the resurrection had already been forgotten. No, wonder he could not wait to get back to his familiar surroundings with job security. Peter could have done this quietly, in private. But he chose to make a public announcement of his decision to return to his life.
While it is easy to judge Peter for his backsliding, we must acknowledge with humility that he represents each of us who make the church. For we are vulnerable to the temptation and more likely to turn to familiar events and experiences that wait for the new possibilities that is open to new life, even risen life in Christ. John gives us hint of this new life in Christ in the encounter between the risen Lord and Mary Magdalene. It is worth recalling the words of commission to Mary Magdalene when she tried to reach out and touch him. Jesus asked Mary to go and tell the disciples, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.” The essence of this message is that the risen Lord who completed the work of redemption on the cross has established a new life and new status to all. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is now the Father of Mary. Mary has a status that is equal to that of Jesus through what he has accomplished. This is the message that Mary was asked to carry to Peter and the other disciples, which she did without fail. However, we know from Peter’s behaviour that it fell on deaf ears.
It seems that neither the evidence of resurrection nor the message of resurrection gladdened the heart of the disciples. So, the risen Christ had to take the power of the risen life to Peter in the way that will touch him at the core of his being and transform him forever. Jesus asked Peter three times, “Peter do you love me?” There is obvious progression in the question in relation to Peter’s task as the rock of faith on which the church was to be built. But there is a hidden coded progression in the question which was brought to my attention recently.
On the first two instances the Greek term used by Jesus for ‘love me’ was ἀγαπᾷς με. The kind of loving response Jesus sought from Peter on the first two occasions was compassionate and charitable love. But on the third time the Greek word for ‘love me’ used by Jesus was φιλεῖς με. The kind of love that Jesus sought from Peter was far stronger and deeper than compassionate or charitable love.
What Jesus sought from Peter was more than compassion and charity. It is the kind of love that Jesus offered to Mary Magdalene, Peter and every other person who experienced that special encounter with him. The risen Lord, in questioning Peter three times did not seek to remind him of his triple denial or show desperation for love. Jesus simply sought to help Peter recognise the deep love he has for the Master. Peter may have been impulsive, over the top and denying but despite all that there was that love hidden deep in his heart for the Master. Jesus simply made him realise it. That realisation awakened the risen life of Christ hidden in the soul of Peter. No doubt, his heart was gladdened by the sight of the risen Lord. It is the desire of the risen Christ to fill your heart with gladness. May we invite the risen Lord to awaken the life of God in us that we may love and serve him as he deserves. Amen.