I haven’t ever been on a fishing camping trip. When Donna and I went camping, at the end of the summer, I bought a fishing pole once, and a weighted bob (I think it was a bob), and I would just use it to cast and reel in, cast and reel in. No hook. I got pretty accurate, but it was just about the meditation, not about catching fish.
There’s a story about Albert Einstein that is similar. He loved to sail, but knew nothing about sailing. So he’d put out in his boat, and float around Long Island Sound, and then at dusk, the Coast Guard would go out and bring him back in.
He’d be out there all day, just thinking.
I’ve never been on a fishing trip that featured the pressure of actually catching fish, or the added pressure of having to catch fish to feed your family.
But I do know the meditation of being on the water. And this is maybe what Peter is thinking about when he tells the other disciples “I’m going to go fishing.”
You must remember what these disciples have been through in the past couple of weeks. Jesus has been killed, Peter has failed him, the disciples were less faithful than Peter, then the women go to the tomb and report back the disappearance of Jesus’ body. Then they gather together in a locked room, and Jesus appears anyway. And then he comes back the next week for Thomas.
Put yourself in their shoes. Wouldn’t you be a little scared, a little confused. Jesus is supposed to be dead, and some of us have now seen him, in the flesh, twice.
It would cause you to think. It would cause you to go find somewhere familiar and meditate, doing something mindless. It would cause you to go fishing.
The rest of the disciples with him, some of whom are not even fishermen, decide they are going as well.
And they don’t catch anything all night. In the morning, there’s this guy out on the beach who hollers out to them “hey, catch anything?” They’re only about a football fields’ length out, so they can hear, and respond with a big fat “no”.
The man on the beackh hollers back “try the right side of the boat!”
So Peter tosses the net, and as soon as they start pulling on the rope, they can tell it’s different. The net is very heavy, and hard to pull. They wrestle it to the surface, so they can see that it is full of fish, but they can’t get it any higher into the boat.
And remember, this is the Gospel of John, so I’m willing to bet that these fish aren’t the bottom of the lake skinny ones, either. Just like the wine that got better than the stuff served before it at the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ first miracle, these fish are probably big and fat, and have very few bones.
Peter figures it out: he realizes it is Jesus, and says “it’s the Lord!”, and he throws his clothes on and starts swimming to shore. The rest of the guys in the boat paddle the boat and the trailing huge net of fish back.
They get there, and Jesus invites them to put some of their fish on the charcoal fire he’s built, and they do.
If I’ve had a stressful night of thinking and confusion, I would think that grilled fish on a beach at daybreak would be the cure of a lot of what ails me. That just sounds wonderful!
The lesson from the text, separate with what he says to peter, immediately following this, which is really it’s own sermon, is this; Jesus is starting to be able to be relied on. This is the third time he’s showed up. The disciples are starting to get the clue, that Jesus will be with them anywhere. Which could also mean everywhere. It’s not just the Upper Room anymore.
We say the word at Christmas: Emmanuel. God with us. Christmas is the promise, of what Jesus can be for us. But in Easter, and these stories after Easter, we see the fulfillment. We see the reality of Jesus as Emmanuel, and what that really looks like. Bit by bit, step by step.
This is the story the disciples begin to tell. Peter goes to Rome, and Paul goes all over the eastern Med, and legend has it that James is buried in far western Spain, and Thomas ends up in India.
As the story spreads out, the tale is Jesus Christ, Emmanuel. And they haven’t just heard it, they have experienced it. They have lived it. It is testimony, not hearsay.
Just as I said last week with Thomas, there is nothing wrong with proof. When we first step out in faith, we have to have it proven to us. After a while, we realize that faith has become trust. After the third time, the disciples surely must start expecting Jesus at odd times and in odd places. After a while, we do the same thing. We move from fear that Jesus won’t be with us this time, to expectation that jesus will be with us at some point along the way. Or all the time. This is the difference between a mature faith and a childlike faith.
We need them proven to us at first, just like the disciples did. Peter sees it first, and they get it from him. They tell others of their proof, they testify, and then others tell their stories, and so it goes, all the way to America, through our ancestors, here to church and our families. And then someone told you.
Now the story is ours to tell. God is with you, and now you are called to tell your story of God’s presence. It can be in the dark of the night of chemotherapy; it can be in the loneliness of a relationship in trouble; it can be in the room when a child is born.
After a while, you just begin to know that God is with you. And this is the story you can begin to tell.
Go tell it.