An Easter People: Part 1
Sometimes we need to go back to the beginning. Our lesson from John this morning comes at the very end of the gospel. Because of this, we tend to see it in the light of “the end” rather than “the beginning”. Thomas is there, the one who doubted and then lost that doubt when he touched Christ’s wounds. Peter is there, not only taking part in the grilled fish meal, but also getting grilled himself. After all, this follows his three-fold denial; it’s not surprising in the least that Jesus would ask him three times, “Do you love me?”
Seen this way, the story appears to be one of redemption. Thomas is given yet another chance to see and experience Jesus in the flesh. Peter, though momentarily humiliated by Jesus’ questions, ends up being elevated once again as shepherd of the flock and tender of the sheep. He is forced to face his embarrassing failings; but soon experiences the outrageous grace and mercy of the one he abandoned. We can only imagine what would happen had Judas decided to hang around…
In the end, though, I think there’s something much more going on here, a reminder that sometimes we need to go back to the beginning.
Nathanael is there. He doesn’t get to make many appearances in John’s gospel; primarily here, and at the beginning. In chapter one, Nathanael appears as Philip’s friend. And once told about Jesus, his reply is the dismissive, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” He is convinced, though, once he goes and sees.
The other gospels recount the call of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who are told to leave their nets, bring their fishing prowess with them, and follow Jesus. And here they are again, back to the beginning, returning to the sea to ply their trade.
And then there’s Simon Peter. He was born Simon; but Jesus called him Peter, a new name to remind him of the solid foundation of faith that Jesus saw within him. And in John’s gospel, the renaming happens where? In the very beginning. But notice what happens in our lesson from today. The narrator calls him Simon Peter throughout. But when Jesus addresses him, he is “Simon, son of John.” Part of this, I’m sure, is to underscore how Simon’s faith faltered in the face of Jesus’ suffering and his own fears. Once again, Peter is reminded of his failings…before Jesus again embraces him and sends him off to lead in his absence. I think this name play is also a hint from Jesus that, in order to move forward, sometimes we need to go back to the beginning.
Our lives in faith should reflect this, too, going back to the beginning. We schedule our lives so that, one day a week, we worship and re-center our lives around the lessons of Scripture and their meaning in our lives. We come to this table again and again to be fed and sated, and to be reminded of what that feeding costs. And we also return to this font, as we do again today. And as we do, we will baptize two children, yes, but we also mark, remember, and even anticipate the moment each of us entered the family of faith, passing through the waters and into promise.
Sometimes we need to go back to the beginning.
I think that’s part of what we see in the gospel lesson today. The disciples are terrified. When Jesus is crucified, they head back to that Upper Room, and lock the doors. And they keep them locked. For Jesus to visit them after the resurrection, he has to appear – twice – with the locked doors trying to keep him out. And now, even having experienced the resurrected Christ, they have gone back home, to the Galilee. It could be that they’re doing it because Jesus modeled it; after all, Jesus got away from the crowds every now and then to retreat and pray. That could be what they are doing. On the other hand, it could be that, yet again, they have retreated in fear, going back to what they know how to do best. It seems that they have gone back to the beginning.
What does that mean for us? What does it mean for us to go back to the beginning? I may be wrong, but I can’t help but see that this is what we are in the midst of doing with our capital campaign. In some ways, we have hit reset on our building: new roof, new HVAC up and running, new doors on the way, and more projects to come.
I also think there is wisdom in the fact that our campaign intentionally included elements beyond bricks and mortar. The Church Assessment Tool is just the first step – and here, I’m going to make a shameless plug: if you haven’t filled out the survey yet, please do it today. It’s an important moment for us, as we move out of the momentum of our campaign and look toward what comes next: what is it? What is it that God is calling us to do, as part of this family of faith? As we sift through the results of your input, I trust that the Spirit will speak clearly of what is to come.
In other words, in order to move forward, we need to take this moment to go back to the beginning, to the basics – to touch base, to assess, to pray, and to trust.
What about you? Where is your beginning? What is your touchstone, your place, your experience, your prayer that grounds you so that you can move forward? Here’s the amazing thing about it: even if we, like the disciples head back to that place out of fear, the risen Christ meets us there. We can’t even lock him out, or set sail to escape his presence. He is there, in the midst of us. He is there, patiently waiting on the shore. He is there, ready to confront us, rename us, and call us forward into newness of life! Will we be ready? Even if we’re not, will we go anyway?