With One Heart

 Pentecost red ribbons  They weren’t drunk. Although to most it sounded as if they were. They seemed to have been under the influence of some kind of spirits. And they were.

Jesus has appeared to the women, to Peter and the other disciples who came on shore to have breakfast with Peter and Jesus. Along with all the others he has been a presence to all those he loved in the world. Even Thomas who was not with the others, was given a chance to touch him in his wounded place. For like us, it is often in our wounded places that we touch and are touched by the presence of Christ.

It’s this presence that comes breaking through the walled barriers of the upper room on Pentecost. It is one of Jesus’ final manifestations after he came back from death. But it is not his physical presence but his Spirit that comes as fire upon the disciples. No closed doors, no walls, and not even their fears and doubts could keep the promised Spirit of Christ away from them. And it is Peter who realizes what is going on. Peter, who has gone through so much, been tested in his own fire, and the call to care for those he has been given, that is able to see that what has come upon them is the intoxication of the Spirit. The Spirit of Christ. In that same Spirit, the disciple who once ran away, now stands up. Peter has finally got it. He will keep the Lord in his sights for the remainder of his days. He knows now the way of life. Their fear and sorrow has turned to joy in the presence of the living Christ.

Jesus has stood on the hill just outside Bethany, blessing them and then appears to have arisen into the heavens, departing them this one last time.

Everyone in Jerusalem is overtaken by the sending of the Spirit, and they began to hear what the disciples were saying in their native tongues. It is the first convening of the United Nations. No translation or translator was needed. The disciples of Jesus would leave the upper room and the day of Pentecost and go out to live together with one heart. The heart of Christ.

With the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the language of the soul was given voice. St. Paul talks about being in Christ. Being in Christ for him is about living in his Spirit. And when we live in the Spirit of Christ, who can come like fire, or like a gentle wind, or tug at your heart, as Paul says in Romans, the Spirit of Christ, has made a home in us. And abides with us in the absolute freedom of the Spirit which knows no barriers, no obstacles, no walls or door, not even death. Paul tells us we no longer live under the shadow of death. We now live in the unending time of Easter and of Pentecost. In the fire of the Spirit, in the heart of Christ.

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Do You Love Me?

last rose of summer   When I think about the scene between Jesus and Peter when Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, I am reminded of this story:

There was a first grade teacher who was trying to get the attention of a few the little boys in her class who were not paying attention in class. Most had settled down when she asked them to so. They quieted down and watched as she wrote the next few letters of the alphabet they were learning that day. But there was one child in particular who just couldn’t settle down to the lessons. In a final attempt to get him to pay attention, she went to him, gently took his face in her hands and repeated what she had said to the others in a very pointed and personal way. It was a gentle scolding meant to get his sights solely on her and what she was saying to him. It worked.

Then she turned back to writing on the blackboard. Suddenly she felt a tug on her skirt. As she turned around and looked down, there stood another little boy gazing up at her. What is it? she asked him. e He replied, talk to me like that.

The second little boy had seen the teacher show what we might call ‘touch love’ to his classmate and he wanted someone to talk to him like that as well.

Peter is like those little boys who act first and think later. And Jesus is trying to get his attention. Trying to get him to look at him and know what he is saying to him. Understand what he is asking of him. Peter is all ‘sure’, ‘of course’, ‘you know I do’. But it takes him being asked three times by Jesus if he loves him for Peter to get the full weight of what Jesus is asking. It is as if Jesus has Peter’s face in his hands and very badly wants him to bring his entire self and his complete attention to Jesus.

And I think that one of the lessons here is that what Jesus asks above all else is for us to love him. It is a more important question than who do you say that I am? Knowing (fully) who Jesus is isn’t fully comprehended by the disciples before Easter (nor us after Easter). And after Easter it would seem that this questions falls away as he shows himself to his disciples, friends and family as a living presence.  It seems important for Jesus to be with them and show them that he is indeed real. That his return to life is about his abiding love for those he had been given (and we are those he has been given as well) and what he asks in the final analysis, in one of his final moments on earth, is that we, like Peter, understand the significance of the question. So her repeats it. Perhaps we do not have to know him fully or even understand everything he said and did. For if we can answer ‘Yes, Lord, I love you.’ He has heard all that he needs to hear from us.

Perhaps he asks the question of us many times in our lives, like he did Peter. When we have become distracted, fearful, worried, confused. He calls our attention back to the only lesson we need to learn, the only thing we need to know, when he asks do you love me?

Feed My Lambs

 

  shepherd   Now we have seen Peter twice after the Resurrection. Once where he runs ahead of the others to the empty tomb. The next is when he literally casts himself from the fishing boat into the water when he sees Jesus on the shore of Tiberias. In both instances Peter hurries ahead of the others, unafraid to get to get to Jesus and see him up close. Perhaps his joy and eagerness to see Jesus is because there is something he sorely needs to say to Jesus.

The last thing Jesus did with his disciples was share a meal with them. The first thing he does after the Resurrection is also to share a meal with them. A meal of fish and bread. Echoes of the loaves and fishes. A sacred symmetry meant to evoke their memories. A chance to talk, to catch up, or simply to be in his startling presence. To remember what he had said to them and suddenly realize the significance of all he did and all he said. The significance of his life. And now the significance of their lives, especially Peter’s.

After the meal Jesus takes Peter aside. He wants to ask him a question. He has a job for Peter to do. Commentaries and sermons on this scene often focus on the three questions ‘do you love me?’ as the way in which Peter redeems himself from the thrice denial of knowing Jesus during the trial. What I find wonderfully consistent with who Jesus was before and now, is that he doesn’t chide Peter, he doesn’t even bring the denials up. He doesn’t condemn Peter as a sinner. He doesn’t go right for the sin. He goes right for the very heart of Peter. He goes to the man he knows Peter to be, in all his exuberance; impetuous, skeptical, self-protective and, yes, a man scared of death. He knows what that feeling felt like.

Why does Jesus ask Peter if he loves him, if, as Peter insists, Jesus already knows Peter loves him? And Jesus knows he does. Perhaps because Peter needs to hear himself say the words. Perhaps because Jesus also knows the doubt that may still be lingering with him, especially his own self-doubt and self-condemnation.  For no one is more aware of Peter’s sorrow and shame than Peter. In repeating that he loves Jesus, Jesus gives Peter a chance to not only forgive himself, but also to focus on what is really important to Him.

With each affirmation of his love for Jesus, Jesus tells Peter to feed my lambs. Look after my sheep. Feed my sheep. Jesus is asking this fisherman to become a shepherd. The catch is in. A shepherd to those lambs-innocent followers of his who are going to be in need of protection from the wolves still prowling about waiting to snatch them away from the greener pastures of Jesus’ fellowship. His sheep-the inner circle of those more seasoned in following Jesus, his disciples. Look after them. Clearly Jesus is concerned for them. Wants them to be taken care of. Wants them to safe. And yet….

Jesus is evoking the image of past shepherds of Israel, like Joseph, who saved his family and all of Egypt from starving to death when the famine came. Who led them to safer pastures. (At least for a few hundred years.) Of the lowly shepherd boy who slay the Goliath waiting to devour his people and led them to a kingdom where he would be their first king. The old kingdom was gone. The new kingdom would need another kind of shepherding. Surely Jesus knew it would take all the shepherding qualities, to feed, to ensure well-being, to be ever watchful, to make sure that none get lost, that all have safe pasturing. Peter is making his pledge and promise, a pledge and promise because he loves Jesus.

After Jesus tells Peter the cost, he simply repeats the first words he ever said to him. Follow me.

 

Jesus Waits

footprints

One of the last images of Jesus before his arrest is of him bending down to wash the feet of his disciples. One of the first images of Jesus after his resurrection is of him standing on the shore while his disciples are out in a boat fishing. He stands on the shore, waiting. He throws out a question to them across the water.  Have you caught anything, friends.  No, they hadn’t. So he tells them where to throw out their nets and they catch more fish than they could haul. He calls them friends. Some of them are the same friends whose feet he washed just a few days ago. But somehow he is different. They do not recognize him yet.

But then John, the disciple Jesus loved, does recognize him. He tells Peter it is their Lord. With this the ever passionate and exuberant Peter wraps his cloak around him, jumps out of the boat, slogging through the water, rushing to the shore where Jesus waits. There is something about this action of Peter that is so touching. It is so human. Peter who had been afraid to even admit he knew Jesus during his arrest and trial, now is so overcome with joy that he jumps out of the boat, into the water, in order to get to the shore where Jesus waits. Jesus will soon give Peter a chance to redeem himself. The others remain in the boat, perhaps taking it all in, incredulous, making sure the boat and their catch gets to the shore. They all in their own way bring themselves to Jesus. To meet him as he is, transformed and yet capable of building a fire and cooking fish, once again breaking bread with those who were his own in the world. Those who now understood and are given this very ordinary extraordinary moment of a simple breakfast with the risen Lords. Another meal where Jesus once again serves them. Another meal that is very different from the last they had together.

Jesus cooks them breakfast! Come, he says and invites them to eat.  He serves them bread and fish. Such a simple, ordinary thing to do after such extraordinary events of the past three days. Much is made of Jesus coming back in glory. But this is not the story John tells. It is the story of a man restored to life by the one he called Father who goes to those he loved and lived with in the world and meets them where they are. Working at their trade, fishing, walking on a road, searching for him in a garden and even those hiding in an upper room.

Jesus stands on the shore of our lives, calling us to himself, to be with him in the most ordinary of ways, meeting us where we are, pointing the way to a life of abundance. The abundance of our lives transformed by the Lord into that which will nourish and sustain us as we go about the business of our lives.