Updated: May 2
After someone you love dies, the whole world threatens to become a three dimensional memory.
Cleaning out the garage, you remember the time you laughed yourselves silly after the teetering storage rack collapsed like a house of cards.
Walking into a restaurant, you remember first hearing the news at that booth in the corner.
A shaft of late afternoon sunlight summons a tender moment and a sudden burst of tears.
A book, a coin, a flower, a flourish, a funny sound, a familiar aroma: anything at any time can trigger a memory that detonates in the heart.
Grief is a field full of landmines that cannot all be sidestepped; there is no passing through unscathed.
The loved one who is nowhere to be found is everywhere.
The disciples return to the shore of the Sea of Tiberias.
This was where Jesus fed those thousands of people with five crackers, two sardines, and twelve baskets full of leftovers.
The crowds tried to make him king, but he walked away.
That night we set sail and a storm arose, but that wasn't the scary part.
The scary part was the ghost on the water, the shadowy figure walking on the waves.
The next thing we knew, it was Jesus and we were on land; don't ask us how, we still
have no idea.
It probably took him all night to row us in after we all fainted.
Now the waters quietly lap the shore, and the dead silence tightens its grip.
The stillness is too much for Peter to handle.
I am going fishing.
We will go with you, probably because right now, it's not a good idea to let him go anywhere
We will go with you could be the motto of Stephen Ministers, who will share today a bit about who they are and what they do and do not do.
The upshot is that they are attentive, loyal companions when things are too dark to risk venturing out into the familiar alone.
They are there for you when you are unproductive and too naked for public view.
They won't help you catch any fish, but they might help you drag your heavy weight to a different place and a new day.
And somewhere along the way, the risen Jesus shows up, unnoticed, unannounced, unrecognized.
While we are struggling through the night, hope we cannot see or name is cooking us breakfast on more solid footing.
It's hard enough to believe the news of someone's death; how could anyone absorb and immediately adjust to resurrection?
It has to take awhile for day to dawn and for the heart and the eyes to trust each other enough to believe it's really him.
By the time that happens, Jesus has already made a promise come true.
Another memory pops: When I am lifted up, he said, I will haul all people to myself.
He had curiously used the industry fishing term for dragging in a catch of fish.
Now there's this heavy haul of 153 fish, one for every nation by someone's old count, yet the net holding them all together was not torn.
The Russian fish and the Ukrainian fish.
The Chinese fish and the Tibetan fish.
The standoff-fish and the self-fish.
Now it the job of the disciples, responsible for catching exactly none of them, to drag this net called church toward Jesus (that's still true).
And what will happen to the fish on the shore?
They will die.
Just like Jesus.
They also will be positioned for resurrection: they will go through the trauma of losing
their small identity into the unimaginable joy of being transformed into the glory of God.
Some of them will take longer to get there than others.
Some of them will need a little extra love and care and support along the way.
Peter, for example.
With no sleep and a full belly and the whiplash of grief and frustration and exhaustion and glory and reunion with his ex-dead friend, Peter is blasted by another memory.
He sees, he smells, the charcoal fire.
The last one was in the courtyard of the high priest.
That same smoke was in the air when the cock announced dawn, and his triple denial of the man he loved.
Now he sees Jesus face to murdered, risen face again.
Jesus sees his horror-stricken eyes before can hide them.
Simon son of John, do you love me?
Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.
There's no denying it now, to anyone, even to himself.
This, of course, has to be asked three times.
The entire awful memory will be redeemed.
Every last, terrible stitch of Peter's story will be restored.
Jesus is killing him ... and raising him.
And Jesus is also entrusting him with his own identity and mission.
The good shepherd is putting Peter in charge of the sheep.
The feeder of thousands of people, and seven disciples, is commissioning Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep, the littles as well as the heavies.
The good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep is telling Peter that he will do the same, and that jumping naked into the sea will be replaced with someone else fastening a belt around him and taking him somewhere he will not choose or wish to go.
Gradually, reluctantly, faithfully, Peter will die into the glory of God.
Peter will follow Jesus.
So will we.
So will the entire church that Jesus finds somewhere in the dark and drags home to joy.