“Breakfast on the Beach”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

May 1, 2016

John 21:1-19


There’s a lot going on in this story.  There are a lot of questions we could ask in response to all that today’s reading has to say.

Just a couple weeks after the resurrection, why are the disciples back to fishing in Galilee?

Why don’t they recognize Jesus when he appears, given that they have seen the Risen Christ more than once already?

Why haven’t they already tried casting their nets on the right side of the boat, and how can the fish be only on one side and not the other, anyway?

What is the significance of the precise number, 153 large fish?

Why is Peter naked, and why does he put his clothes on before jumping into the water?

Who is the disciple whom Jesus loved, and why is he not given a name?

Why does Jesus pull Peter aside, and why does he ask him the same question three times in a row?

We could keep going; I’m sure you have other questions on the tips of your tongues, too.  But today, as I hear this story, the most striking thing about it is not any of these questions.  The thing I notice most clearly this time around is this:  this is a story about communion.

It’s not the story we most often tell about communion.  Usually—and we will do this again later in today’s service—usually we talk about remembering the Last Supper.  We tell the story of Jesus’ last night of mortal life.  We remember what was said and done at that meal, and we knit ourselves into the community of disciples who are fed by Jesus and sent out to live accordingly.

But today’s text is a different story.  In today’s reading, there is no reference made to the Last Supper at all.  The Risen Christ does not remind the disciples about betrayal, or desertion, or denial, or doubt.  Jesus does not ask them to confess the ways they have failed him since that final meal.  There is no recrimination, no anger, no resentment.  There is only, “Come and have breakfast.”  There is only mercy, only nourishment, only an open invitation to new and abundant life.

And this is as much the story of communion as the story we usually tell is.  Because communion is not only a look backward at the Last Supper.  It is not only a memorial, not only a commemoration.  Communion is also an anticipation of the heavenly banquet to come, where everyone will be able to eat their fill, where no one will be turned away.

Those who say there’s no such thing as a free lunch have apparently never experienced this welcome table, for a free lunch is exactly what communion is.  It is given to us before we even know our need, just as Jesus already had fish and bread cooking on the fire before the disciples turned their boat toward shore.  It is given to us unearned, without any question of whether we deserve it or not, just as the disciples were welcomed with open arms and no mention of what they had done or left undone.

Communion breaks the laws of physics, which tell us that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction.  It breaks the laws of morality, which tell us that choices have consequences and we must bear the cost of the decisions we make.  It breaks the law of the jungle, which says that only the fittest will survive, and that the best way to protect yourself is to hide your weakness and vulnerability with shows of strength and bravado.  Paradoxically, counterintuitively, communion meets all the sins and errors and insufficiencies and broken places of our lives with nothing but pure, unmitigated grace.

And there’s more.  Communion is not only a memorial of the past, and it is not only an anticipation of God’s realm to come.  It is also, plain and simple, as today’s story indicates, a shared meal.  It is a feast where God comes to us and uses everyday elements to do extraordinary things.  It is a ritual that points beyond itself to the holiness of every meal we share, every loaf we break and cup we pour and fish we cook on a charcoal fire.

For if Jesus could use grilled fish on that lakeshore to restore his friends to the fullness of his community… if he could use five loaves and two fishes to feed the multitudes on that hillside… if he could use bread and cup to make a sign of his presence even after he was gone… then who is to say that he couldn’t use any other food and drink that is shared in the spirit of abundant life for all?

Pancakes and maple syrup prepared with love for your family…  Marshmallows toasted and made into s’mores at summer camp…  Chicken noodle soup brought to a friend who is sick…  American chop suey prepared downstairs on a Monday morning and served to our Community Kitchen guests…  Tuna and mayonnaise added to our Daily Bread collection basket…  All these meals can be forms of communion, extensions of this table, if we share them in the same spirit in which we share the elements on Sunday morning.

For when we share this meal, and when we share every meal, we are bound together again with our family of faith in every time and place—with those who are here and those who are far away, with those whose names we know and with those whose faces we will never see, with those who have died and with those who have yet to be born, with those sitting in the pews and with those who might soon be away on parental leave.

So friends, as we share this meal this morning, let it be for all of us a symbol of the ties that bind us together; a tangible, taste-able sign of God’s grace and mercy; and a reminder of the holiness that is present in every meal we share—for every one is a gift of God for the people of God.


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