- Published: 28 April 2020
We have never experienced Easter in quite this way before, being physically apart from one another. We are unfolding our service to capture this unique circumstance, allowing the familiar stories of the resurrection narratives to root us in these challenging times.
Our gathering in community highlighted how women came to the tomb, and were instructed to go to Galilee where they would encounter the Rising Jesus. Here is a story of what happened in Galilee.
Simon Peter and Thomas who is called the twin and Nathanael from Cana along with the two sons of Zebedee and two more were all together, maybe the two were some of the women who went to the tomb. As the storyteller in John narrates, the five named disciples already knew some of what the women spoke experienced. Previously we have the story of a Rising Jesus mysteriously appearing behind locked doors, an appearance that began the process of taking away fear and doubt. Jesus breathed the Spirit of Life upon them, such that they risked leaving their locked rooms to return home.
Once home, Simon Peter, who was a fisher tradesperson, said, I’m going fishing”. Again, the storyteller intends us to make a connection, a connection to that time when Simon Peter first met Jesus. That first meeting occurred after a night of not catching any fish. In the morning, while Peter and others were mending nets, Jesus approached and suggested they fish in a different spot. They did and the nets were filled with fish. This attracted them to the teachings of Jesus and Jesus invited them to follow, to follow because of their good spirits and Jesus was calling them into a movement of justice where they would be fishers for the good of the people.
So this first meeting looms large as Peter says “let’s go fishing”. The others agree. They all got into the boat, went out onto the sea, but like before, they fished all night but caught nothing. The storyteller invites us to imagine the feelings of that moment, to imagine the mix of emotion. On the one hand, there was the ease and comfort of the familiar. They were home, home doing what they always had done. Even catching no fish was kind of comforting in its own strange way way.
Yet being home wasn’t quite the same. They were still working through the crisis and trauma of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Their life of supporting the healing and life-giving ministry of Jesus was in transition. There was a mix of emotions, wondering about how it would unfold, uncertainty about the future, and the empty nets mirrored the emptiness of missing Jesus.
They were waiting, waiting in an in-between time, but in their waiting, they were together, they were there for one another. They were not alone. And the experience of the women and their own experience reminded them that the holy, that God was there too.
In this strange Easter of 2020, we too have a mix of emotions, yet in the strangeness of physical distancing, we know that we are here for one another, we know we are not alone in this in-between time. While this season of COVID-19 is hard and filled with uncertainty, there is an okayness because we know it is necessary. We also know that just as with the seven on the boat, the holy is present, as close as our breathing.
The storyteller continues:
As a dawning sun began to peak over the horizon, a stranger appeared on the shore line. The face was shadowed but the voice was clear and friendly. The morning greeting simply asked “friends have you caught anything?” The seven replied no. Then the stranger, looking about the sea, called back and said, “throw you nets out the other side”. The seven dropped their nets and in an instance the nets were filled with fish, so many fish they could not haul the nets back into the boat.
In that instance, Peter, who was practically naked, recognized that this stranger was the One they loved, recognized the stranger as the mystery of the rising Jesus, so he wrapped his cloak around him and jumped in the water, and swam to the shore. The others, came afterward, towing the fish-filled nets.
On the shore was a charcoal fire with bread warming and some fish cooking. The Stranger said, “come and have breakfast and bring some of the fish you’ve just caught.” The storyteller with intrigue indicates that “none of them were bold enough to ask the stranger “who are you”, but the netfull of fish and a breakfast of loaves and fishes told them all they needed to know. It was the rising Jesus, the living Christ, albeit, very different from before.
After, retrieving the fish, the stranger took the bread and fish and fed them.
As they ate this intimate breakfast, this rising Jesus who is familiar and different at the same time, asks Peter, asks the one who had denied three times, now asks three times whether Peter loved him. Peter did not deny, saying yes three times. Peter was bathed in sacred love, a love that reached back to the beginning of time and a love which flooded the now moment.
This is the love that dances in our Christian faith, and so the love which danced at a breakfast on a beach is the same love which enters our homes and hearts on this Easter Sunday, because this ancient love lives and rises within us again and again.
Peter was bathed in an ancient love that is a now love, a now love where Peter and all those gathered and all who read the story are called to nurture and feed love to the world, to live the love that Jesus taught and to make the circles of that love wider and wider and wider. Our Easter Story reminds us that the love of an intimate shoreline breakfast is stronger than the violence of an empire. Love rises again, and love makes the circles wider and wider and wider.
****We gather around the Table for a Feast of Love****
In this feast we are reminded of how the Spirit of Life has breathed the breathe of resurrection before.
The Spirit of Life came to the prophet Ezekiel who was carried by the Spirit and set down in the middle of a valley full of dried bones. In this visionary encounter with the Holy, Ezekiel was compelled to walk among the bones, bones that filled a whole valley.
It was not an easy walk because these bones represented the heartaches of his own people and even the heartache of his own life. Wars against his nation had decimated his homeland, his own wife died, and his life was uprooted. As Ezekiel walked, he walked among displacement and disconnectedness, grief and loneliness.
As Ezekiel walked, the Holy whispered within the heart "O mortal one, can these bones live". Ezekiel's spirit could only groan a response, "O Holy One, only you know". The dialogue did awaken stirrings in the depth of the soul, a daring prospect, and Ezekiel heard the Holy say "speak to the bones, say I am going to make breath enter you and you will live". Ezekiel was willing, he dared to speak, and in an instance, before his visionary senses. Ezekiel heard a great noise, the sound of clattering as bones joined together and flesh returned, but there remained a stillness
Again the Holy spoke in the depth of the being instructing the prophet to command breath from the four winds, from the four corners of the earth, from the four directions, command breath to enter these beings. Ezekiel spoke and a great throng of people rose up.
History has proven that this vision was not about an army coming back to life in order to fight old battles, but rather it was a vision of a an exiled people whose spirits felt like wasted bones, but an exiled people who rose up with renewed hearts, rose up having planted within a renewed spirit that transformed hearts of hardened stone into humane compassionate hearts.
Ezekiel’s vision of renewal dances with the breakfast story on the shoreline as Jesus renewed the wearied bones of seven intimates. There is an empowerment of a people
This vision and this story, remind us of the spirit and soul of Easter. Easter even in 2020 when our Easter is so different as global pandemic keeps us from gathering, where global pandemic dictates that at this juncture we really don't know exactly how long our physical distancing will go on for, just as the people of Ezekiel did not know how much longer was their exile. Like is vision, Easter day is happening in the middle of a “not-yet-over” experience.
Given that, let us embrace two reminders of the spirit and soul of Easter.
First, Easter is more than a day on a calendar, Easter is a life-giving vision of an on-going story. While Easter is annually woven into our church year, it is woven in as a reminder that there are seasons in the cycles of life, seasons of birth, seasons of life, seasons of death, seasons of rebirth. No season is the only season and no season lasts forever. They are part of the circles and cycles of life.
Our ancestors in the faith understood that hard times happen, and testified that hard times pass.
Equally, while no season lasts forever, every day holds a little bit of each season. The cycle of life is woven daily, so even in hard times, there are Easter moments.
As I have conversed with many of you in these past days, I have marveled at the testimonies of Easter moments. While there is a raw honesty about how hard this season of COVID-19 is, honesty about dry wearied bones, both for yourselves but often more so in consideration of the sufferings of many in our world, yet I hear named, moments of new life, little and big resurrections, possibilities happening in the now. Easter moments happen every day.
The second reminder Easter brings in this time of “net yet over” is to invite us to consider what the Spirit of Life is rising within us. Easter rightly asks the question that when this season passes, what kind of world do we wish to rise to, rise to personally and collectively.
Both Jesus and Ezekiel spoke to a peoples living the “not-yet-over” experiences of exile and foreign occupation, a people not free to live as they always had. Both prophets were caught in the crosscurrents of history, painfully aware of the tragedy their people experienced, and both were called to be a breath to renew life, to breathe life into wearied and dried bones.
The holy in Jesus went behind locked doors and breathes renewing life into fearful followers. The Holy in Ezekiel’s vision insists that the prophet speak the breath. As prophets, both Jesus and Ezekiel were truth-tellers. In significant times, we are invited to listen to truth-tellers so that we can rise to the occasion.
In this season of COVID-19, there is a pause, a time for heart-searching not only for our own souls but for souls of nations. It is also a time for truth-telling, for truth-telling brings life and this pandemic is awakening us. Personally and collectively, we are constrained to ask “what must we let go of”. The people of Ezekiel’s time learned much about what they had to let go of, especially those ways of being that were not life giving. Sobering questions, important questions.
Alongside these questions, we discover in experiences like COVID-19 what we truly value and when the days of returning happen, what values will we embrace more dearly. How will these values loom larger? And, in the midst of experiences like COVID-19, there are new discoveries and practices embraced that we would be wise to keep and carry forward.
This Easter, in our “not-yet-over” experience of Covid-19, we are reminded to see the Easter moments even as we hear the Holy speaking in vision and speaking through the story of an intimate breakfast on a shoreline.