By Paul Koch –
The large crowds of Easter morning have died back down in churches all around the world. The occasional pilgrims looking for something new, something to fill that spiritual void in their lives, have returned to whatever they focused on before the church’s great festival of the resurrection. Those who came only out of a sense of obligation or duty have successfully checked it off their list. Like a small pond in the morning after a stone has been cast into it, things that were once exciting and new are slowly but surely settling back into the predictable calm. Our Lord is risen from the dead, sure, but now life goes on and old habits die hard. Everyone settles back into what they were doing before as we await the next big festival that might draw them back again.
In our text, we find the disciples of our Lord experiencing their own sort of lull after the great excitement of the resurrection of our Lord. They have seen him, of course. They were there in the upper room when he appeared even though the doors were locked and breathed on them, giving them the Spirit, and sent them out to forgive the sins of others. They were there when he invited Thomas to reach out his hand to examine the marks of the nails and the spot where the spear had pierced his side. They were there when he said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” But now what? Now that things are dying back down, now that the initial excitement and wonder is starting to fade, what are they to do? Well, Peter says, “Hey guys, I’m going fishing.” Fishing, it makes sense. It’s what they did before our Lord called them to follow him. It’s what they know, and here, for at least a moment, it’s what they return to.
The rest of the guys say, “Why not? Let’s go,” and they hop into their boats and get to fishing. I like this little detail. It reminds me of the shepherds who first hear the angel proclaim the good news of great joy. Remember how they went to Bethlehem to see the Christ child? After telling Mary everything they had heard, they went back to work, back to their flocks. They didn’t stay there huddled in the manger. There was work to be done, so they got back to it. Or perhaps we might think the Mount of Transfiguration, where Peter wanted to build tents of Jesus and Moses and Elijah. The desire was to stay there, to stay in the majesty and glory of God, but they had to go back down the mountain, back down into the hard realities of daily life, back down into the confusion and struggles that mark our existence. And so now, even though Jesus is risen from the dead, even though they would have willingly stayed with him forever, things roll on. And at least for this day, they pick up their fishing nets once again.
Now the issue before us isn’t that we go back to work or even that we fall back into our usual patterns of things. The issue, I think, is that we get back to life as if nothing much has changed, as if it is all the same. We gathered in a church a few weeks ago and celebrated that a man was raised from the dead. A man who was brutally beaten and horribly crucified for crimes that he did not commit didn’t stay dead. And that man was no ordinary man. That man was the very Son of God. He was the one who healed the sick and drove out demons from the possessed. He was driven by compassion and love for you, for a world trapped in sin with no way to free itself. He emptied himself of all that was rightly his, took on the form of a servant, and was obedient even to death on a cross so that you might have eternal life, so that you might know that you are redeemed. How can you then go on as if nothing has changed, as if it is just business as usual?
The disciples went back to fishing, to doing what they had always done in the manner they had always done it. But what about you? Perhaps you went back to your job, back to your usual routine of things without much extra thought about the things we celebrated here. After all, the usual struggles were still waiting for you. Nothing magically disappeared just because you went to church. If you have tension in your family, those tough moments and hard conversations which you have continued to leave unsaid will still be waiting for you. Your fears, doubts, and worries about tomorrow haven’t gone anywhere. When you look in the mirror and are really honest with yourself, you find that you haven’t made much progress on your faults. Your personal sinful proclivities are still there. But you’ll get back to work on it. Back silently shouldering the burden of trying to change your behavior and better your outlook and overcome your deficiencies.
“Children, do you have any fish?” That is what our Lord says to his disciples as they return to the same old way of doing things. “Children, do you have any fish?” They’ve been fishing all night and haven’t caught a thing. “No,” they say. And Jesus responds, “Cast your net in on the other side of the boat and you will find some,” he says. Now think of this for a moment. The other side of the boat is what, possibly 5 or 6 feet from the side they’re currently fishing on? It’s not actually anything different, but they do it as he says. And when they fish as he would have them fish, what is the result? A miraculous catch of fish, so many fish in fact that they couldn’t haul in the nets. The Word of Jesus changes everything for them. John then says to Peter, “It is the Lord.” And Peter being Peter doesn’t waste any time. He dives into the water to rush up to the beach only to find Jesus cooking breakfast for his disciples. In fact, he says to Peter, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve caught. Bring some of those fish that you hauled in because you heeded my command and I will feed you all.”
When you go back to your usual routines, you will find that the old trials and doubts and sins are still there. And you’ll get to work and find that you still cannot overcome the sin and brokenness in your lives. You still fail to fix what is wrong. But you are the ones that have celebrated Easter morning. You’ve rejoiced in the empty tomb and the victory given in Christ alone. You don’t get to go back to doing things the same old way, with the same old result. No, Jesus is there. Jesus is risen, and he cries out into your lives, “Children, do you have any fish?” And you confess that you don’t. That you can’t produce the faithfulness and righteousness that you ought to in your life. You can’t overcome. So, he continues to speak his word into your life.
Now, sure, his Word to you may not be to simply cast your net into the sea on the other side. But it isn’t overly complicated either. And it is a Word that abides with you each and every day, which is why things are different. It is a Word that perhaps sounds like this, “Take, eat; this is my body given for you.” Or this, “Take, drink; this is my blood shed for you.” Then again, it might be a Word boldly saying, “I forgive you all of your sins,” or a Word on the lips of a friend reminding you that you are not alone, that you are loved. Or it could be a Word that comes in the flesh of a father who continues to provide and protect his children or a mother who battles through exhaustion one more day to care and love. It is a Word of God’s compassion and blessing that fills our lives not only on Easter day but every day afterward.
As you get back to your fishing, as you get back to your lives, you go as those armed with his Word—a Word that speaks into all the brokenness and sin you see, a Word that speaks to your guilt and shame. Do you have any fish? No, not on your own you don’t. But by his Word, there is forgiveness, hope, and salvation. There is the gift of life eternal and victory over the grave itself. All this is given in miraculous abundance by your Lord. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are precious in his sight.
Perhaps, then, when he calls out, “Children, do you have any fish?” we can say, “With you, Lord, we have more than enough, more than we can even hold in our nets.”