We continue celebrating the forty days of Easter when we remember how Jesus appeared to his disciples in many and various ways after he had risen from the dead.
Acts 9:1 – 20
1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do
we reflect upon:
- Saul’s capacity to recognise that this was a revelatory moment in his life
- how Saul’s religious upbringing had helped him to be able to do this and how our own faith journey prepares us to recognise revelatory moments
- the corroborative process that followed with Ananias
Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15, gives a list of the resurrection appearances of Jesus, although not necessarily complete. He lists this is the last resurrection appearance even though it occurred after the ascension.
It is very significant that when ‘suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him (Saul)’, he immediately recognised this as a revelatory experience and asked ‘Who are you, Lord?’ There are many people today who have spiritual experiences but dismiss them because they don’t necessarily fit into their world view. Many spiritual experiences and certainly revelations from God, are not necessarily repeatable. Consequently, they are not subject to verification in the normal way. It needs to be noted that these types of experience happen to many people. As witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, we are called to witness to the things that we experience from God.
Even though in this case, Paul’s experience was corroborated through Ananias, as servants of God, we face the challenge of the lack of congruity between different faith traditions, both within Christianity and with other religions. This is an even greater challenge in our time than it has been in the past. People are more aware than ever before, largely through the development of global communications, particularly, the Internet over the past few decades and the development of the scientific culture over some centuries, but now flourishing in so many diverse ways within our global culture.
Revelation 5:11 – 14
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
We reflect upon
- what John might have experienced in hearing the singing in heaven and the acknowledgement of Jesus, as the lamb that was slain.
- how all the creatures in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, can sing?
The Epistle readings over Easter help us to reflect upon the glorified Christ, just as John’s revelatory experiences encourage us to listen to how Jesus might communicate with us.
If we take the prologue to John’s gospel seriously, where John says of the Word (logos)
“All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people”,
this might help us understand how every living creature can be heard singing in heaven. Similarly, one of the fundamental claims of the biblical revelation, is that the whole creation is to be liberated and that Jesus rising to new life, is the beginning of this process of liberation.
John 21:1 – 19
1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin,1 Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards2 off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love (agape) me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love (phileo) you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
We reflect on
- how the disciples felt to see the risen Lord and especially for Peter when he recognised him.
- the significance of the disciples following Jesus direction and catching so many fish, when before that they had been unsuccessful.
- The possible significance of the number of fish, 153
- the significance of Jesus instructions to Peter to care for the sheep and the fact that Jesus asked him three times
- the uniqueness of Peter’s role amongst the disciples.
- a part from being prophetic in Jesus speaking about Peter’s death, does the way he describes Peter’s death, also describe human life in terms of the apparent freedom of youth and the limitations of old age?
this passage bears some detailed analysis, as in John’s account of the resurrection, it is the third appearance that Jesus made after he rose from the dead and, like the others, is very significant in many ways.
John and Peter saw the empty tomb, but Mary Magdalen was the first to see Jesus. Mary then went and told the disciples ‘I have seen the Lord’ (John 20:17b)
The second appearance, which was the gospel for last week, was on the first Easter night, when the disciples were gathered behind closed doors and Jesus came amongst them. It is interesting to note that although he appeared a week later in the same room, as Thomas had not been there the first time, that this appearance was not counted as another but rather a part of the second appearance.
In this appearance, the disciples decide to go fishing. Some commentators describe this as illustrative of how they had lost their purpose as disciples and were returning to their former occupation. There could be some truth in this, as it is a human characteristic, when we become disorientated, to go back to what we know; where we feel safe.
When Jesus appears, they don’t, at first recognise him. He helps establish his identity by giving them instructions as to where to fish. This is similar to Luke’s account of Peter, James and John’s calling to discipleship. (Luke 5:1 – 11) After following his instructions and they successfully catch so many fish, John recognises him and Peter rushes to the shore.
There is much speculation about the significance of the 153 fish. If there is any symbolic significance, my recent research suggests that the journey will be long and complex
The conversation following breakfast, is pivotal for the life of the church. Jesus asked Peter three times whether Peter loves him.
The first time, Jesus says ‘do you love me more than these?’ There is an ambiguity to the question: Is Jesus asking Peter if he loves him more than the other disciples do OR Is he asking Peter if he loves him more than the other disciples?
The second and third time, Jesus asks a simpler question ‘do you love me’?
The significance of Jesus asking three times is the subject of much scholarly debate. The subtlety and the nuances come from the fact, that many might know, that there are several words in Greek for ‘love’. The differences are highly important in this context.
The first two times that Jesus asks Peter ‘do you love me……’?, the word for love that Jesus uses is ‘agape’, which is generally understood to mean universal spiritual love and is the Greek word used for love in the summary of the commandments: Love God, love neighbour as self. (Matthew 22:37 – 40)
Each time Peter responds, he uses the word ‘phileo’ which means “affectionate regard, friendship”, loyalty to friends (specifically, “brotherly love”), family, and community. It is much more personal, human and to some extent exclusive, than ‘agape’.
Significantly, the third time Jesus asks Peter, he uses the word ‘phileo’. Is this because Jesus is exasperated and realises that Peter has not understand the nuance of ‘agape’, or is Jesus being quite intentional, despite Peter’s responses?
Developing an answer to this question comes, to some extent, from looking at Jesus directions to Peter after his responses:
The first time, Jesus says ‘feed my lambs’. The second time, Jesus says ‘tend my sheep’. The third time, Jesus says ‘feed my sheep’.
Again there are nuances in the Greek. ‘Feed my lambs’ is obvious. Look after the baby sheep, ‘young Christians’, people young in the faith whatever their age.
‘Tend my sheep’, whilst emphasising looking after the sheep, also includes leading and organising them. We might say pastoral oversight and administration.
The third time, when Jesus says ‘feed my sheep’, the Greek has a meaning that combines both tending and feeding. It speaks of, initially, Peter’s responsibility for the flock, the community of faith to come, the church.
The three directions, whilst possibly also being a process of forgiveness for Peter denying Jesus three times before Jesus crucifixion; establish Peter as the ultimate leader in the early church. A ministry that is to be based on ‘forgiveness and reconciliation’ (see John 20:19 – 29), feeding and tending.
These directions, as well as those from Easter night:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21 – 23)
In many ways, are the foundations of Christian ministry.
Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, describes how at Pentecost, often described as the birthday of the church, Peter proclaimed to the crowd what his disciples had experienced in Jesus of Nazareth.
22 “You that are Israelites,1 listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth,2 a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— 23 this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. 24 But God raised him up, having freed him from death,3 because it was impossible for him to be held in its power. (Acts 2:22 – 24)
During historical time of the Apostles, their ministry and the testimony of the original disciples, saw the church grow and spread in the predominantly Greek speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire, and then throughout the Hellenistic world and even beyond the Roman Empire. Apostles and preachers travelled to Jewish communities around the Mediterranean Sea and attracted Jewish converts. Within 10 years of the death of Jesus, apostles had spread Christianity from Jerusalem to Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, Cyprus, Crete, Alexandria and Rome. Paul was responsible for bringing Christianity to Ephesus, Corinth, Philippi, and Thessalonica. Over 40 churches were established by 100, most in Asia Miner, such as the 7 churches of Asia and some in Greece and Italy.
During this time the books of the New Testament were written, but there were many more as well that did not become part of the Canon of Scripture.
Also during this time, emerged the threefold ministry of Bishop, Presbyter (Priest) and Deacon. The apostolic lineages developed with lines of ministry established by at least some of the apostles.
Although the new Testament, as we have it, was being committed to writing, much of the life of each church was based on the handing on of oral traditions of faith and practice.
Two of the most important Apostolic Lineages were those that stemmed from Peter, in Rome and John, in Asia Minor.
During the 1st millennium, most controversies were over doctrine and not the structure of ministry. In 1054, the schism between the Eastern and Western churches occurred. The main protagonists with the patriarch of Constantinople and the Pope, the Bishop of Rome. Although mainly over authority, some doctrine was also involved in the schism.
As most of us well know, the next great schism was in the Western church at the Reformation. We have seen some 20,000 different denominations develop since that time.
These divisions focus on: faith, doctrine, worship, and the nature of ministry or how do we live, worship and minister guided by or in the power of the Holy Spirit. These are intermingled with other, more very human issues, such as race, culture, wealth, power, ambition etc. etc.
It is somewhat ironical, that the conversion of St Paul, has had a huge influence on the development of ministries not based on the apostolic succession.
In our time, it could be said that we stand at another great watershed moment in the life of the church. Our challenge is to find the unity that Jesus prayed for the night before he died
“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.
20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us,6 so that the world may believe that you have sent me”