The following sermon was preached on May 2, 2022 at St George’s Transcona. You can learn more about St George’s and find links to their YouTube channel by clicking here.  Photo by Benjamin DeYoung on Unsplash


May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Today’s gospel reading is from the last chapter of John’s gospel. In this chapter, John expects you to remember a lot of details about things that have happened earlier in the story.

For example, this story takes place in Cana. The same place as Jesus’ first miracle. We are ending where we began.

There are a lot of other recurring themes, like fishing, not catching any fish and then catching more fish than anyone could possibly need.  The abundance of fish also reminds us of the abundance of wine in Jesus’ first miracle in Cana.

So in some ways this story feels familiar but not necessarily predictable. We see common places and common themes we’ve encountered before in the gospels but it’s also common for Jesus to subvert our expectations.

At the start of the story, the disciples have returned to the things of their ordinary pre-Jesus lives, like fishing.

The fear that left them hiding in locked rooms seems to have dissipated, and they are trying to figure out how to exist in this new normal.

The scene feels humorous to me.  After all of the extraordinary events of Holy Week, after hiding in a locked room, after seeing Jesus resurrected, Peter looks around and says, “Might as well go fishing.” (paraphrase, 3)

So they go fishing, and Jesus appears on the shore and begins to talk to them but they don’t recognize him right away. Jesus asks if they have caught any fish, they say no, and then Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  They obey and their nets become so full of fish they can’t even pull them into the boat.

Then John, who is still referring to himself as “the disciple who Jesus loved” turns to Peter and says, “It is the Lord!” (7)

In her commentary on the gospel of John, Karoline Lewis notes that John uses imagery of nighttime to symbolize unbelief, and daytime to symbolize belief. So it is interesting that this story begins in the dark of night, and ends in the early morning light.  (254).

As the scene moves from darkness to light, from unbelief, to belief, Peter realizes that Jesus is on the shore and then he behaves in ways that we have come to expect from Peter – he is impulsive, exuberant.

First of all, he has been fishing naked and then he decides to put clothes on to jump in the water. (8) Both feel like unusual choices to me.

I would want to meet Jesus fully clothed and I would be excited to see him but I would also want to be dry so I might take a more practical approach and stay in the boat until we could get to shore.

But if you have been following the gospel story this far then you know that Peter is an impulsive person. He sees Jesus and he’s going to rush to see him as quickly as possible – even if that means jumping into the water and swimming the hundred yards or so to shore.

We aren’t told but I suspect that at least one of the other men in the boat was annoyed that Peter wasn’t helping them as they made the responsible choice to bring the boat and the net full of fish to shore. (8)

A little later we will learn that they caught 153 fish. (11).  This large number of fish is a symbol of abundance and a reminder that abundance is always a sign of Christ’s presence.  Where Christ is, there is always more than enough.

When they arrive on shore Jesus has bread and a fire started where he is grilling fish. Where he got these particular fish is unclear. (9) It seems he has already started cooking them before the disciples arrive on shore with their catch.

Jesus invites them to join him for breakfast and we are told that, “none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Then Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (12-14)

Now I don’t know about you, but I think it’s interesting which things from Jesus’ life that the church has chosen to remember and incorporate into modern worship practices. On Maundy Thursday we wash each other’s feet because Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.   We share bread and wine because Jesus shared bread and wine.

But I have never been to a church service where I was served bread and grilled fish.

Have you?

What do you think? Should we try wine and fish sticks next Sunday?

After breakfast, Jesus turns to Peter and begins a conversation. In order to understand this conversation it’s important to be familiar with some events that occurred earlier in the story.

Earlier in John’s gospel there is a story where, shortly after Jesus is arrested,  Peter and another disciple go with Jesus to the courtyard of the high priest. (18:15)   We are told that there is a charcoal fire in the courtyard and as Peter is standing near it warming himself he will be asked the same question three times:  Are you one of Jesus’ disciples?

And three times Peter will give the same answer: “No I am not.”

I wonder how many times this scene has rolled around in Peter’s mind since it happened? I wonder how much shame he has been feeling for his choice to deny Jesus not just once, but three times.

I imagine that every time Peter has seen Jesus since he was resurrected, this shame has bubbled up. I imagine he is afraid of what Jesus must think of him. I imagine he feels confused about what he should say and what he should do.

The shame puts a barrier between Peter and Jesus.

But now here they are eating breakfast together, and Jesus wants to talk.

And John wants us to know that they are sitting around a charcoal fire.

The only two events in this entire gospel that occur around a charcoal fire are Peter’s denial of Jesus and this conversation.  John links these two stories and we are supposed to look for connections.

In the first story, Peter is repeatedly asked if he is a follower of Jesus, and he repeatedly denies it.  In today’s story, Peter’s loyalty to Jesus will once again be questioned, but this time by Jesus himself.

Jesus turns to Simon Peter and asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (15)

And Peter responds, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

And then Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs.”

We’re not told how much time passes after Jesus says this. Is there a long stretch of silence or does Jesus launch in immediately to ask a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (16)

Jesus will ask Peter this same question three times, “Do you love me?” and each time Peter will reply, “you know I love you.”

Jesus asks three times, which mirrors the three times that Peter denied Jesus.

Last time Peter denied Jesus, but this time he says again and again and again, “I love you.”

And three times after Peter’s response Jesus will ask Peter to do something – the request varies slightly – feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep – but the meaning is the same.  Jesus – the great shepherd – is asking Peter to be an active participant in the care of the flock.

Prior to Jesus’ death, Peter thought he understood what it meant to follow Jesus. Prior to Jesus’ death following Jesus was something Peter wanted to do and something he felt he was capable of doing.

But when Jesus was arrested, fear overtook him, and a drive towards self protection took over and Peter denied that he even knew who Jesus was.

In this conversation, Jesus is making sure that Peter knows that he is forgiven, that the denial does not disqualify Peter from service.  Jesus still wants Peter to be one of his disciples.

This would be a beautiful place to end the reading, it would be a story of redemption, of restored relationships, of Jesus’ deep and powerful love, but it’s not the end of today’s reading or this story.

Jesus is asking Peter if he still wants to be one of his disciples, while also making it clear what that really means – are you willing to do whatever it takes to follow me, even if it means you will lose your own life?

Prior to his death and resurrection this may have felt like an abstract question, something that probably wouldn’t really happen, something it was relatively easy for Peter to agree to.

But things have changed, recent events have made it clear to Peter that the choice to follow Jesus could mean he too will be crucified.

And now Jesus will tell Peter that this is not just a possibility, it is exactly what Peter can expect will happen if he chooses to continue to follow Jesus.

Jesus says, “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.” (18)

John tells us that Jesus said this so that Peter would know, “the kind of death by which he would glorify God.” (19)

The last line of the reading is, “After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Which is exactly what Peter does. Peter will continue to follow Jesus until his death.  Christian tradition says that Peter was crucified upside-down because he didn’t want to be killed in the exact manner that Jesus was.

This story raises a lot of great questions that are worth spending time thinking about. Questions like, “In the light of this story, how do I understand what it means to follow Jesus today?” or “Would I be willing to die for what I believe?”

Good questions, but the part of the story I have spent a lot of time thinking about this week is connected to the fact that Jesus didn’t think that Peter’s choice to deny him disqualified him from service.

Jesus looked at Peter, knew everything he has ever done, and still said, “feed my lambs.”

That gives me a lot of hope.  Because if only perfect people can serve God then there is no hope for me.

None of us are as bad as the worst thing we have ever done, and in God’s economy there is always room for hope, forgiveness and new life.

And that’s good news.

In the strong name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. Amen.