When someone dies there are two things that strike you, the more time goes on. You struggle to see the person that you once knew – yes you can recall them, pictures help, images that are in your possession are important for bringing them to mind. But it as if the memory gets further and further away, swept out to sea. It becomes a distant memory. You try to hold onto it, bit it slips through our fingers. Likewise the memory of a person’s voice, what it sounded like, was it high or low, loud or soft, distinct or common seems also to fade.
It seems as if the Apostles struggled with this same thing at the first Easter. Its clear that somehow they don’t recognise him at first, it makes you wonder why this should have been so: Mary thinks he is the gardener, the apostles hesitate before they bow down, in the story in the Gospel today they know it is Jesus and yet don’t know him. This no doubt is mysteriously due to the body of Jesus being the same and yet different, being recognisable and yet not recognisable. Being him and yet more of him. But is there not also a human thing present here too when someone dies it’s as if we don’t see them, that contact is removed, they disappear from our sight fade from our memory. Likewise is it not true with the human voice, what the person sounded like, the tone of their voice, something that made it distinctly them is no more.
Must this not have been for the apostles and disciples. That face that they knew so well was locked in the tomb and was quickly melting away. Those eyes that looked into the human heart and knew a person were now no more. That face which looked with love on the sick, the broken and the fallen seemed to slip away from them was fading away. That voice which stilled the sea, that voice that commanded the sick to be well, demons to depart, Lazarus to be alive. That voice that taught divine truth……all of this falls silent with his death and is no more.
What joy must there have been then, unbounded joy, to see his face once again, to hear his voice. To be in his presence when this seemed impossible, when all seemed to be in the locked away in that cold dark tomb and was no more.
What would their experience have been? Was his face not more radiant? Was that look not even more penetrating? Was this face not even more extraordinary was his voice not more sweet, more powerful, more wonderful?
If you want to know then listen closely to the passages of the resurrection, the Easter story. The story has much to say to us.
The story opens in Tiberias where it all began - was this not John’s intention? To take us back to where it all began, where men were called to follow him,.
Its no coincidence that in the end the same thing is repeated that was said at the beginning, follow me. Like that first occasion a stranger calls to them from the seashore, likewise a stranger also calls to them from the seashore now.
On the first occasion 4 are named and present and now on this occasion 4 are also named but there are another 3 remain who remain unnamed.
They put in a shift these men, fishing all the night long and in the morning too – strange also to us they fish naked, that is an eye opener – the text tell us that Peter had nothing on. You couldn’t do that in the North Sea or risk it in the river Clyde!
At the start of the Gospel the stranger on the sea shore commands them to cast their nets out for a catch of fish which they bring in, likewise now at his command they also catch a great catch of fish and tell us the exact amount 153, not sure if the number has significance in OT terms or whether it is just meant to indicate a lot to knowing fishermen.
Again, there is something in his voice that commands, is irresistible - what would make fisherman who have fished all night take the word of a stranger? What would make fishermen, not known for their cool tempers, do what someone who was not one of their own tell them to do? What would make fisherman, not known for allowing people to pull the wool over their eyes, follow he whim of an inexperienced bystander? There’s something in that voice that is irresistible, that must be obeyed. It’s the same voice which prompts them to leave their nets and it’s the same voice that commands them to fish in a certain part and they follow his command.
They are told to cast their nets and the same word is used for what Peter does, he casts himself into the sea, that gives us some idea of the haste, he flounders and flaps into the sea.
Then what follows is that aspect of seeing him and not seeing him, of knowing him and not knowing him, of wondering who he and knowing that it is the same Lord.
The eating together maybe symbolises a lot: it represent proof that he is not a ghost which many of them clearly thought he was. Was it also a throw back to another meal where he fed a hungry crowd? Is it reference to the Last Supper where they might not be hungry again? Remember it is the same thing he does with the friends on the road to Emmaus – table fellowship is much more than eating a meal, it is friendship, it is bonds, it is being together….it was used deliberately for a purpose to create communion between peoples .
All of this takes place with Peter before a charcoal fire, the last time that Peter is beside a charcoal fire is when Jesus is being condemned and Peter is denying he ever knew him. He denies him 3 times, this time he says the opposite he doesn’t deny him but says he loves him 3 times.
The Greek in the text is somewhat lost in the English translation. The word Jesus says in actual fact do you love me is much more in Greek – do you love me with a steadfast, firm, rock-like love and Peter’s answer is to say I have a friendship love with you. Jesus asks him 3 times the same question do you love me with this strong, caste iron, rock-like love and Peter answers the same with his flip flop response. His only defence is in the end to say you now everything Lord, you know the way that I love you.
Perhaps here again we are returning to the very first time when he was called. On that occasions he was simply asked to follow him: didn’t know where he was going, didn’t know what he had to do, never knew what was expected to do. Now he knows exactly what is expected of him, he is to love him and again the Lord says at the end what he said at the beginning…Follow me. Where once he didn’t know what that meant now he does, the road of discipleship is to love the Lord.
We can imagine that finally Jesus is looking at Peter half dressed or better half naked with the robe that he jumped into the water. As so often from a simple fact Jesus gets a bigger truth. He seems to say see that robe you were able to put on today and the clothes and things you were able to do on your own in the past, there will come a time when you can’t do any of those things and that others will do it for you. But there seems to be something more sinister in what he says…. he is saying to Peter instead of the clothes that you are able to put on and the things you do freely now, there is coming a day when instead of being wrapped in a robe you will be bound in shackles on you will be lead where you would rather not go . In that hour just as at the beginning when you were commanded to follow me. you must do it again follow me.
The road of discipleship leads to the strangest of paths. It will ask you for things that you thought you wouldn’t be able to give. Bring from you things you thought you didn’t have. Lead you into the mystery if the cross where you never thought you would go.
When a person dies the memory of his or her face fades, the sound of their voice is lost. But in the resurrection this is not he case. Jesus face and his voice are not diminished, do not fade from our memory, it remains. His voice becomes more powerful and his presence and assurance are given to us till the very end of time. This story and the other stories of the resurrection can’t be washed away by the tide of history, they show us from the tomb it is the same Jesus, the same friend to his apostles, the same divine teacher, the same mender of hearts and minds and souls, the same Lord with the same mission to heal that which is broken. The same face and voice that they once knew but maybe even more so.
Here he is where it all began. Here he is with fisherman who started a journey with him. Here he is with ones he called to follow him. Here he is by a charcoal fire, not of betrayal but by flames that light up those who sit round it with love. Here he is by a sea on which he will launch his followers on, in weak little boats that seems hardly able to carry the occupants let alone anyone else, that will travel to the far ends of the world and will carry all who wish to board even although they seem far from sea worthy.
His face is before us. His voice is ringing in our ears. His words can’t be washed away. His presence is an abiding presence till the very end, till the very end.