Awakening; a new way of seeing by Helen Randall
Learning the names of the children in my class, when I was a primary school teacher, was an important way of helping the children settle in at the start of the year. I had a plan of where they were sitting on my desk and I very quickly knew their names, and personalities.
Since moving here last August, I have met so many new people and gradually learnt their names, although I find faces are easier to remember than names!
It’s always harder when we meet people out of context, or in unexpected places. Some we know instantly and others we only recall when something reminds us and we make a connection; then we recognise them and recall their names, hopefully!
The disciples, in the story from John’s Gospel, were initially unable to recognise Jesus on the shore. Was it an unexpected place? Had they given up expecting to see him?
Imagine the early morning scene by the lakeside: the disciples, desolate and bewildered, back at work, fishing in Simon Peter’s boat. Maybe John gave him his full name to show that Peter had returned to his job as a fisherman.
Someone was standing on the distant shore and there was the smell of fish cooking on a charcoal fire by the lake. They’d had an unsuccessful night of fishing, caught nothing, and were afraid that their families would go hungry.
The person on the shore called out to them in a gentle way, called them ‘children’, and told the disciples to cast their nets to the right side of the boat and then they had a huge catch of large fish!
It was only then ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’ realised it was Jesus on the shore. He could feel the weight of the catch of fish in the nets, recalled similar events of abundance and recognised the person on the shore as Jesus! “It is the Lord!”, he said to Peter.
The story also appears early in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 5, where we read of Jesus’ initial call to Simon Peter to go and ‘catch people’. John’s story, however, speaks of a reminder to Peter of his initial call and then to go and ‘feed my lambs’. But that’s for another sermon!
I think we are being invited to see the miraculous catch of fish, and breakfast on the shore, with bread, as signs of plenty, of resurrection plenty. There was more than enough. There is more than enough. It reminds us of earlier stories of abundance, typical of Jesus’ gifts: wine, bread, life. Here we have fire, fish and bread provided by Jesus the host – an early morning eucharistic meal.
The smell of the charcoal fire would have brought back painful memories for Peter of betraying Jesus the last time he was by a charcoal fire. The scene comes with a loving invitation to new beginnings, and the healing of painful memories.
I have been re-reading Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan’s ‘The Last Week.’ The book challenges readers to think: are the Easter stories intended as historical reports or do they use the language of parable and metaphor to express truths that are much more than factual, or some combination of the two?
The authors remind us that there is agreement amongst Christians that the meaning of Jesus’ parables are not dependent upon whether they are historically accurate. They go on to say that:
“Seeing the Easter stories as parable does not involve a denial of their factuality …..but the importance of the Easter stories lies in their meanings.”
The importance of the Easter stories lies in their meanings.
The what, not the why and how?
My new way of seeing has become clearer as I continue on my spiritual journey, with some moments of intense clarity. One of these was being introduced to a song in the early days of our last church community, called ‘I am beautiful’. I had an overwhelming sense of God’s love and acceptance.
Another was hearing a phrase, which has stayed with me, in an Easter sermon:
“Whatever we think of the rising, Jesus continues to be.”
And, more recently, was reading words by Cynthia Bourgeaut on Richard Rohr’s daily reflection:
“Yes, Jesus’ physical form no longer walks the planet. But if we take him at his word, that poses no disruption to intimacy if we merely learn to recognise him at that other level, just as he has modelled for his disciples during those first forty days of Eastertide.”
Our recent Parish Day helped us see that the Divine image is in each one of us and we were encouraged to recognise the different ways the Spirit speaks to us; on our own, with others, through Creation, through Scripture and in Community.
A new way of seeing?
May we, as a church community, be open to new ways of seeing and encourage each other along the way.