A Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious

Third Sunday of Easter – April 10, 2016

John 21:1-19


The air was cool that day as I parked my car and made my way toward the path.  Tall Leyland cypresses muffled the noise of the steady traffic on the nearby road.  Tucked behind the church in a back corner, this labyrinth offered a place for peace and quiet reflection, for prayer, for being still and knowing God.

I walked slowly, my footsteps measured and my breathing slow and deep.  One foot in front of the other, I followed the curves and turns of the labyrinth path.  There was a magic in the progression – several steps moving toward the center, only to reach a turn that seemed to carry me away from that inmost place.

No one bothered me as I walked.  No one else entered the labyrinth during my time there that day.  As the quiet settled around me, I felt my spirit grow quiet within me.  My prayers floated upward like sighs.

Sometimes called body prayer or walking meditation, labyrinths have been used throughout the centuries as places of reflection, prayer, and meditation.  Walking the path allows us to let go of all that troubles or overwhelms us, of all that damages our spirits.  Arriving at the center of the labyrinth, we are invited to open ourselves to God’s guidance; to listen for the still, small voice of God.  The walk outward “takes us back into our lives, empowered by [God’s Spirit] to transform our lives and actions.”[1]

Listening for the word of God is, for most people, no small task.  Take Saul and Peter, for example.  Both had heard the voice of God.  Both felt the intrusion of God into their everyday existence.  Both sensed they were being called to something different, something more.  Both felt turmoil and upset and confusion about what they should do next.

Saul went into Damascus as Jesus instructed him to do.  For three days he could not see.  For three days, he neither ate nor drank.  For three days, this man Saul sat in the house of Judas, praying, asking God for direction, for some hint as to what he should do next.  Faced with the dramatic loss of his sight and having heard the voice of Jesus speak directly to him, Saul prayed.

Peter had spent three years with Jesus.  From the day Jesus called him away from his fishing nets, he had followed along through every step of Jesus’ ministry.  He had seen the healings, heard the teachings, witnessed the exorcisms.  He had watched as the crowds grew in number, until they could scarcely take a moment apart without having the people descend upon them, pleading for Jesus’ touch.

He had eaten at the same table as Jesus.  He had tasted the bread, had drunk the wine.  He had heard all that Jesus had told them about going to prepare a place for them, he had seen him hung from a cross, and he had gone to the empty tomb.  He sat there that night in that locked room as Jesus entered and ate bread with them.  He felt the brush of air go past him as Jesus breathed the Spirit on them.  But as the days went by, nothing happened.  Nothing changed.  With all that Jesus had told them, the disciples – and Peter – did not know what to do.  They did not know how to be sent people.

So Peter … went fishing.  He went fishing.  He returned to what was safe and comfortable and familiar.  As he set his nets and lifted the sails into that night, the smell of the sea and squeaking of the boat must have felt like putting on a pair of old shoes – soft and easy, no pinching, no sore spots.

But suddenly, there was Jesus, on the shore, cooking fish for their breakfast.  And as Peter joined him there, around that charcoal fire, he surely remembered another charcoal fire, one in the courtyard of the high priest.  He surely remembered that in that place, warming himself in the dark while Jesus faced his accusers inside, he faced questions from a woman, from the police, from the slaves.  “Are you not also one of this Man’s disciples?”  And he surely remembered his answer – “No, I am not.”  Three times.  “No, I am not.”  And he surely remembered the crowing of the cock.

After they had finished breakfast, the risen Jesus finally turned to Peter.  This disciple whom Jesus had declared his rock, the one who had denied him three times, must have cringed inside when Jesus turned to him.  And his question!  “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Three times.  “Simon son of John, do you love me? … Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Three times, Peter answered.  Three times.  “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. … Yes, Lord; you know that I love you. … Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  And Jesus looked at him and, loving him, asked him to become a shepherd.  “Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.”

Jesus did not ask Peter if he was qualified or committed or even willing.  And he did not ask if Peter was sorry – if he regreted denying his Lord.  No, Jesus simply asked, “Do you love me?”

Jesus invited Peter to become a servant-leader, a shepherd “who, night and day, nourishes, gathers, rescues, restores, and needs the community as much as it needs him.”[2]  Jesus invited Peter to go where he leads, to be vulnerable, to be unsuccessful by the world’s standards – “to go where power is abandoned in favor of love.”[3]

A persecutor and killer of Christians.  A denier of the reality of the son of God.  Saul and Peter do not have much to recommend them as apostles.  Their stories remind us that no one is beyond redemption – that Christ can work in anyone.  That’s what he does with Saul and Peter.  Jesus stops them in their tracks.  His love calls them – and it is personal.  Jesus meets them right where they need to meet him.

Just as he meets us.  In the midst of our everyday, in our ordinary circumstances, Christ accompanies us, opens our eyes to his presence.  Saul cannot go back to persecuting Christians.  Peter cannot go back to fishing.  And we cannot go back, either.  Going home to hide from Jesus is not an option.

***

When I walk the labyrinth, sometimes I don’t say anything.  Sometimes I just listen.  And when I listen, I hear the most amazing things.

[1] Georgiana Lotfy, sacredwalk.com/guidelines, accessed April 6, 2016

[2] Dan Clendenin, “A Fire of Burning Coals,” journeywithjesus.net, accessed April 3, 2016

[3] Ibid.

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