RCL Year C, Easter 3
Acts 9:1-6, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, Saint John 21:1-19

Saint John’s Gospel has a hold on Good Friday and the early Sundays in Easter. Good Friday sees the proclamation of Saint John’s Passion every year. Easter Day’s Gospel every year is the scene of the empty tomb and Mary meeting Jesus in the garden from Saint John. And the Second Sunday of Easter always has the two meetings of Jesus with his disciples, first to commission them and then to satisfy Saint Thomas’ conditions for belief, again from Saint John’s Gospel.

And this year, today, we have the appearance of Jesus to his disciples, particularly Simon Peter, at the Sea of Tiberias, which is the Sea of Galilee, from the last chapter of Saint John’s Gospel.

You recall, from the Gospels of the past two Sundays, that Saint John, also named the Beloved Disciple, Saint Mary Magdalene, and Saint Thomas, all three of them, declare their belief in the resurrection of Jesus. They all believe that the one who appears to them in these Gospels is the Lord. Significantly missing from this list is Simon Peter, and his encounter with Jesus is of a different order. Peter has some recovering to do following his denials of Jesus once Jesus is arrested.

And so Jesus questions him three times, each time asking whether Peter loves him and each time commanding him to feed or to tend Jesus’ lambs or sheep.

In other words, Peter’s denials of Jesus have not ended his relationship with Jesus. They have deepened it. The denials have brought Peter greater and greater responsibility. Judas, you recall, kept the money and was a thief. Peter denies Jesus, but Jesus gives him all the more to do.

I think Jesus’ relationship with Peter is like that with you and with me. We can try to dissolve it, and Jesus will not let us go. We can think we have broken the relationship, and Jesus comes back to us, giving and asking more. At every point, Peter is free to refuse, but unless he refuses with the full force of his unyielding will, his relationship with Jesus only deepens.

You probably noticed that much the same is true with Saint Paul. “Breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord”—“Nothing to it,” Jesus seems to say. “I’ll talk to him.” And so he does, and he tells him: “Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”[1] You can run, I suppose, but you cannot hide.

This is all good news, so long as we want to live. For the resurrected Lord takes our living very seriously. He surrounds us at all times with his love and his forgiveness, and he paid the price to do just that, and he conquered death to do just that. And through all of his love we have a choice, a beautiful choice, that keeps our integrity ours. It abides with us. As the Psalmist noted, “For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, * his favor for a lifetime.”[2]

[1] Acts 9:1-6.

[2] Psalm 30:5.