Sunday, May 1, 2022

HOMILY: "Not Forgetfulness, But Imagination"

A Meditation on John 21


Peter's Leap
So the first thing I want to know about this resurrection story is something about the 153 fish in the net they haul ashore.  I mean, who counted them?  They’re hungry as heck, breakfast is served, Jesus is back from the dead—and who’s taking the time to count 153 fish in the net that morning?  “Hey there, Jesus!  Glad you’re back.  But give me a moment, will you?  Gotta count this mound of fish!”

But the part of this I love the most, the other thing I really want to know—is why Peter gets all dressed up before throwing himself into the lake and paddling wildly to shore.  Isn’t that a sweet and silly detail?  Don’t you want to know?  After fishing all night in his shorts, Peter pulls on his overalls and then leaps happily into the lake and swims to breakfast.  I mean, who does that?!


It's impossible, I think, to fully grasp Peter’s exuberance, his baptismal leap or the gracious, spacious community Jesus gathers for breakfast that day—without grappling with the betrayals of Holy Week, and the call and promise of forgiveness.  All of these disciples betrayed Jesus during Holy Week—in one way or another.   And Peter, clearly, more than most.  Some simply skedaddled, bolted, left town when the heat got hot, when the forces of cruelty got close.  Others turned completely and collaborated with those who killed him.  And, of course, Peter—Peter had three chances to step up, to bear witness, to claim Jesus as his teacher and friend.  And three times, he denied him.

You remember all that.  That was Holy Week, all that betrayal, just a couple weeks ago.

What we have this morning, then, is a stunning reminder that Easter’s core message, Christianity’s dynamic promise, is about forgiveness.  Forgiveness, and grace, and second chances.   Beautiful, wonderful, tasty second chances.  Jesus is resurrected among his friends—and, I would insist, among us too—to forgive and bless and then to invite in us a practice of forgiveness, a community of grace, a spirit of forgiving that transforms our lives, our relationships, our church and our world.  This was his message all along—LOVE ONE ANOTHER, JUDGE NOT, TURN THE OTHER CHEEK, LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS I HAVE LOVED YOU—and now it’s his Easter promise.  We can be that people.  Together.  With him.

So this shines a little light, or maybe even a lot of light, on Peter’s exuberant, joyful, wholehearted, baptismal leap that morning.  Right?  All the fear he experienced in Jerusalem, the fear that paralyzed his spirit, the fear that caused him to deny even knowing (let alone loving) Jesus—all that fear has been washed away!  All the shame that’s suffocated him since Jesus’ arrest, since Jesus’ crucifixion on a Roman cross, all that shame has been washed away!  

I’m calling this Peter’s baptismal leap deliberately, of course—because it’s like a renewal of his deepest faith, a reawakening of his delight in life, a rebirth of his discipleship journey.  Baptism!  Yes, what it means to love Jesus, to follow Jesus, to be the church!  So, of course, he throws himself into the lake, paddles wildly to shore and throws his arms around his teacher and friend.  All the fear’s been washed away!  Imagine that.  That’s what Easter’s all about.


The French theologian Claude DeQuoc says that “forgiveness is an invitation to imagination.  It’s not forgetfulness of the past, but rather the risk of a future other than the one imposed by memory of the past.”  And that, I believe, is what Jesus is doing at breakfast—with Peter and the others—that morning.  Jesus is himself RISKING A FUTURE OTHER THAN THE ONE IMPOSED BY MEMORY OF THE PAST.  Right?  He’s insisting that Calvary, Good Friday, all that violence on the hill is not God’s desire, is not God’s intention, and is certainly not God’s passion for humankind.  He’s reminding himself, and them, that betrayal may sting for a while, may even pierce souls for a season, but betrayal is not enduring or lasting.  Only God’s love, only God’s grace, only God’s passion for justice and peace endures!  So there he is, on the beach, cooking up breakfast for them all.  And, I’d add, for us too.  He's been abandoned and betrayed—the wounds are still embedded in his body—but Jesus somehow dares to forgive.

So then, we too (like Peter and the others that morning) can set about our own vocation, our own calling—which is to RISK (TOGETHER) A FUTURE OTHER THAN THE ONE IMPOSED BY MEMORY OF THE PAST.  Not forgetfulness.  But imagination.

When you walk through the F-Word Exhibition downstairs, and I urge you to do this at least a couple of times, you’ll get to know stories of women and men (around the world) who are doing exactly this.  It’s not magic.  It’s very, very hard.  But these bold practitioners are embracing forgiveness as a way of life, and as a path to a very different and far more hopeful future.  They are Jews and Christians, Muslims and agnostics.  They come out of conflicts in Northern Ireland and Southern California, Palestine and Israel, and many other divided and dangerous places.  

And instead of living in a world of vengeance, resentment and fear—which every one of them would be justified in choosing—they have embraced forgiveness.  Not as a cure, not as a creed.  But as a lifestyle.  As a path.

Last weekend, on a phone call, I had an opportunity to meet three of them, whose stories you’ll encounter downstairs.  Robi Damelin in Tel Aviv is an Israeli mother whose son was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper as he did his military service at a dangerous checkpoint.  Instead of raging against all things Palestinian, she’s built an organization for parents like herself (both Palestinian and Jewish) who’ve lost children to violence in those same hills.  RISKING A FUTURE OTHER THAN THE ONE IMPOSED BY MEMORY OF THE PAST.  Not forgetfulness.  But imagination.

And another I talked to is Father Michael Lapsley, a South African priest who lost both of his hands and one of his eyes in a bombing during the anti-apartheid struggle of the late 80s.  And instead of doubling down on bitterness, instead of turning inward, Michael too has reached out to victims of violence and war, and created an organization to help traumatized friends heal from the awful memories they carry in their bodies.  HE TOO IS RISKING A FUTURE OTHER THAN THE ONE IMPOSED BY MEMORY OF THE PAST.  Not forgetfulness.  But imagination.

Again, I hope you’ll not only explore the exhibit downstairs—but please, please register today for the online panel I’ll facilitate on May 15—with Father Michael and Robi Damelin and others.  It’ll be an extraordinary opportunity for you and me to learn and grow together.  The path of mercy.  The promise of forgiveness.


But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that forgiveness is a quick fix, or a quick moral transaction, or even a non-negotiable divine commandment.  Most of the time, in so many of our lives, it’s so much harder than that.  And it’s a lifestyle we choose, an orientation of the heart, a practice we learn to embrace one day at a time, one moment at a time, sometimes even one breath at a time.  Think about your own lives: the challenge forgiveness poses at difficult moments, in painful relationships, in piercing situations.  You know.  It’s a long, long road—forgiveness.  And once we choose it, we’re on it forever.

The danger in these resurrection stories like the one we’ve read this morning is that they seem magical, quick, an instantaneous turn toward mercy and reconciliation.  Jesus calls from the shoreline.  Peter jumps.  They all have breakfast.  And wham.  Forgiven.  But we just plain know that faith is more complicated than that; we just plain know that forgiveness is a steady, deliberate, daring turn toward mercy.  It takes patience.  It takes courage.  And it takes a lifetime.

And that’s why this is so important: this place, this circle of seekers and believers, this sacrament of bread and wine.  We find that courage in coming together, week by week by week.  We cultivate patience and hope in telling the story, day by day by day, to one another; and then by living into the story together, through our ministries and choices.  It’s hard to choose mercy in a world of angst and division.  It’s hard to choose Jesus in a world of cruelty and despair.  But every time we break this bread, every time we share this bread, we do that.  We choose mercy.  We choose Jesus.  Together.


What happens out there, on the beach, with Jesus resurrected and Peter soaked to the bone, what happens that morning at the lake is something like communion.  Right?  It’s sacramental in every way.  A practical, visible, edible manifestation of the deepest, sweetest, most enduring promise of God!  Jesus says, “Come, have breakfast with me!”  BETRAYAL IS PAST.  FEAR IS WASHED AWAY.  LET’S BE CHURCH TOGETHER.  Jesus says, “Come, have breakfast with me!”  I AM ALIVE AGAIN.  AND LOVE IS ON THE MOVE AGAIN.  AND WE ARE TOGETHER AGAIN.  Forgiven and forgiving.

So this morning, here at our table, I want you—each of you—to entertain that message, that promise, that invitation in your own heart.  Whatever burden it is that you’re carrying, whatever shame’s been weighing you down, whatever fear paralyzes you now—LOVE IS ON THE MOVE AGAIN!  JESUS IS ALIVE AGAIN!  AND YOU ARE CALLED TO THIS FEAST WITH US.  Whatever betrayals have wounded you, whatever violence has pierced your soul—LET FEAR BE WASHED AWAY TODAY, LET SHAME BE WASHED AWAY TODAY!  BECAUSE YOU ARE CALLED TO THIS FEAST WITH US.

And as you take this bread, or this cracker, in your hand this morning, as you take it into your body and your heart and your life this morning, SAY A SIMPLE YES.  Because that’s what Holy Communion is, that’s what it requires of us.  A SIMPLE YES.  Yes, I will risk that future with Jesus.  Yes, I will imagine that future with my church.  Yes, I will dive in, with Peter, dive into the wonders of creation, and the glories of life on earth, and the works of mercy and love.

Amen and Ashe.