Visions of Glory and Breakfast
Post-Easter, we find the disciples up in Galilee, up in the north, back in the familiar routines of their lives. Jesus is risen, but now what? Here we are, sitting around in quarantine looking at each other. Peter says, I’m outta here, I’m going fishing. He doesn’t know what life is going to be like from here on out, but he knows how to catch fish.
They say a bad day fishing is better than a good day working, but I’m not so sure that applies when it’s a bad night fishing, not having anything to show for your lack of sleep. The sun’s coming up, and Peter and the other six have been skunked.
Then they hear a voice calling to them from the shore. You know how clear that can sound, coming out over the water. It’s telling them to thrown their nets on the other side. (Bells should be going off here.) So they do it, and they catch so many fish they can’t bring them all aboard without swamping the boat! John 21:1-14 includes a very curious detail in reporting that there were 153 fish. You can be sure that people throughout the centuries have done some serious mental gymnastics trying to account for that number.
Cyril of Alexandria said it was a symbolic number – 100, meaning the fullness of the Gentiles, plus 50, representing the remnant of Israel, and 3, representing the trinity.
Augustine of Hippo discovered 153 is the sum of +2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9+10+11+12+13+14+15+16+17. Then he proposed that seventeen was a symbolic number representing the Ten Commandments and the seven gifts of the spirit.
Jerome of Milan suggested there were 153 fish because there were 153 different kinds of fish in the Sea of Tiberius.
It was a haul of fish. More than enough. The point isn’t what the number was, but the person who’s calling from the shore. One of them realizes, “It’s the Lord!” and Peter is so excited he puts his clothes on before jumping in the water! When he slogs up onto the beach, he’s met with a vision he’ll never forget: Jesus, his hands and feet scarred from the nails, cooking fish and biscuits over a charcoal fire.
Of all the places you might expect Jesus to show up after his resurrection, this might not be at the top of your list. You might imagine him coming to call at the homes of people who doubted him, or appearing before the Emperor in Rome, or teaching hordes in the Temple…but here? Doing this?
But here is Jesus, once again kneeled down, serving his disciples. They remember the Last Supper. What is this, the First Breakfast?
Remember how at that Last Supper, the disciples, and especially Peter, couldn’t imagine how their Lord could get down on the floor and wash their feet? That was then, but now they know, they’ve seen that this is the Risen Lord, the Son of God, and still he’s ministering to them! It must have blown their minds, to find him—no, to be found by him—in so ordinary a circumstance doing such a common thing!
Jesus is risen! We believe it, we confess it, we sing it. But where do we truly expect him to be?
G.K. Chesterton, the prolific English author and journalist devoted much of his earlier life to lampooning Christianity until his conversion in middle age. He was approached by a reporter while standing on a London sidewalk. “Sir, I understand that you recently became a Christian. May I ask you one question?” “Certainly,” he replied. “If the risen Christ suddenly appeared at this very moment and stood behind you, what would you do?” Chesterton leaned forward and said with a conspiratorial confidence, “He is.”
Where do we expect him to be?
I would venture to say, though it’s just a guess, that for most of us here it’s not so much a question of whether we believe in Christ’s resurrection, as it is whether we are attentive to the present risenness of Jesus, whether we expect it.
What Peter learned is that the risen Savior is not only where you are, he’s there even before you’re there, waiting for you to acknowledge him and be fed by him. For Peter it was pretty powerful. You wouldn’t catch it in English, but in Greek the charcoal stove Jesus was cooking fish and biscuits on was the same kind of stove around which Peter stood when he denied knowing Jesus. But now Peter was fully attentive to the presence of the risen Jesus, and open to its implications for him.
The glory of the Easter event isn’t just what happened that Easter morning. It’s the lingering, persistent, unfailing presence of the risen Jesus, and the ways he wants to feed us and to be acknowledged and honored.
We’re asked to be attentive to him. There’s a passage in John’s Revelation (5:11-14), another vision of the same risen Jesus; though not flipping tilapia on a charcoal fire, but receiving the full attentiveness and adoration of heaven.
Two visions: in one, we see the risen Jesus kneeling down and making breakfast for his hungry friends, loving and serving them, meeting their needs and giving his friendship. In the other we see the throne room of heaven and the magnificent glory of the praise of all of heaven. It’s immanence and transcendence. Two visions, same Lord. It’s this Lord, in all his humility and friendship and ability to provide for the catch, and in all his celestial glory, that meets you and me wherever we may go this week and always.
He is there even before we are there, and the fish are already on the fire.
Bob Jacobs is Pastor of Westminster Church, Rapid City. If you're interested in more of Bob's writings, check out his personal blog at www.brittlecrazyglass.wordpress.com.