Almighty Father, who in your great mercy gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord: give us such knowledge of his presence with us, that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life and serve you continually in righteousness and truth; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Post Communion Prayer
Living God, your Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: open the eyes of our faith, that we may see him in all his redeeming work; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.“
The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!" “Yes, Lord,” he answered. The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here— has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptised, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.
1 I will exalt you, O Lord,
because you have raised me up
and have not let my foes triumph over me.
2 O Lord my God, I cried out to you
and you have healed me.
3 You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored me to life from among those that go down to the Pit.
4 Sing to the Lord, you servants of his;
give thanks to his holy name.
5 For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye,
his favour for a lifetime.
Heaviness may endure for a night,
but joy comes in the morning.
6 In my prosperity I said,
‘I shall never be moved.
You, Lord, of your goodness,
have made my hill so strong.’
7 Then you hid your face from me
and I was utterly dismayed.
8 To you, O Lord, I cried;
to the Lord I made my supplication:
9 ‘What profit is there in my blood,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?
10 ‘Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me;
O Lord, be my helper.’
11 You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness;
12 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!” The four living creatures said, “Amen”, and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!"
Sermon on Second Sunday after Easter
Our sheet containing our readings and psalm includes this introduction to the gospel reading.
Jesus continues to love us even when we think we have lost him. He is always there, waiting for us “on the beach” to reassure us with his presence and to feed us the food of life.
The words, “On the Beach”, brought to mind the novel by Neville Shute. It is a novel which prefigures our present concern about the planet, as it deals with the catastrophic destruction of the world through a nuclear war. At the present, we are concerned with obliteration through our lack of care for the environment – the ecological disaster about which David Attenborough has spoken so eloquently for the last twenty years. The Shute novel shows the destruction of the world through lack of care for each other, an horrific nuclear war which will destroy all life. – However this apocalypse happens, care is at its heart. Love (often characterised as a divine care) is at the heart of all things.
I apologise that I had to resort to Wikipedia as a shortcut to the precis of Shute’s novel because although I had read the novel, it was so long ago, all I remembered was the title and a general impression of apocalyptic doom. So Wikipedia reminded me of what I should have remembered.
The phrase “on the beach” is a Royal Navy term that means “retired from the Service.” The title also refers to the T S Eliot poem The Hollow Men, which includes the lines:
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river.
Here we have two very different uses of the phrase, “on the beach”. Let’s try to reconcile them as we reflect on the gospel reading.
Jesus is “on the beach” in a very proactive way, isn’t he? This is one of the post Easter-day appearances of Jesus. There he stands by his fire on which he is grilling fish for a meal which he is preparing for his disciples, those fisherman who went back to the old way for a time. The beach on which he invites them to feast is not the place of “the retired” – it is a place whence Jesus will send his disciples back into the world in order to share the love of God, Jesus’ love, for all.
Elliott’s poem suggests something entirely different. More like the beach on which Jesus stood, gathering his disciples to himself yet again. This time with the communion of a shared meal. With that fish which became the symbol of the faith, that “acronym or acrostic in Koine Greek, which translates into English as ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, [Our] Savior’ (ixthus).”
Shute’s novel was pessimistic, with all the characters taking their own communion of the suicide pill because they felt no hope for themselves or for humanity. The planet was poisoned with atomic fallout – such a quick end, almost as quick an end as some see through the destruction of the atmosphere by human activity. I am making no judgements, I only see a similarity between the current news and Shute’s novel. Wikipedia also provided another insight into the Shute’s novel
Printings of the novel … contain extracts from the poem on the title page, under Shute’s name, including the above quotation and the concluding lines:
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
This, according to what I read of the novel, is precisely how lives end in Shute’s vision of that short and bleak future. I wonder whether Shute and Elliott are at one in questioning the vision of the end of the world depicted in Revelations and the other apocalyptic literature of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. In that literature, the destruction of the world at the hands of the four horsemen, or the avenging angels, is violent and bloody. The faithful look forward to the eschatological reversal in full techicolor, when the poor will inherit the earth, and all the rest of the beatitudes will come to fruition.
So let’s go back to Elliott’s words, which make sense of our reading.
In this last of meeting places
We grope together
And avoid speech
Gathered on this beach of the tumid river.
The beach is where we meet Jesus for the last time in his sharing of sustenance for the life ahead. On that beach we “grope together” unwilling to speak. Much like the disciples when they hid away in the darkened room for fear of others. Gathered together by the water, in Elliott’s poem a “tumid river”, a swollen river. That water flows in contrast to us hollow men as we grope together, for it is bursting, suggesting it is abounding in life.
So here we are, gathered together on the banks of the symbolic water of our reading where there is sustenance to satisfy all hunger. Jesus offers that fish he has prepared for us, a sign that the water will renew us, that water where the disciples hauled in their bountiful catch after a night of failure.
We are like those disciples, returning to the beach empty, yet instructed by Jesus to “try over there” and so, despondently, we cast our nets. Lo, and behold, our nets are so full we can barely handle them. There Jesus greets us with a meal to feed a now happy people, people who had once been about to give up on their enterprise.
I suppose this is Shute’s problem, that he never cast his net the final time. None of his characters were willing to cast out once again. Our contemporary ecological warriors have yet to reach that point, for they are still working with their nets to save the planet.
Jesus invites us to his banquet, it is not a place where “the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper”. On the contrary, Jesus encourages us to bang away on the drum of hope, that beat which calls all to march to the Kingdom. Whimpering does not have a place on this beach, a beach where there is hope, a beach where there is generosity.
Come to the beach, Jesus says, sit down with me and share this marvellous banquet. On the beach we will want to talk of many things with whoever is there, perhaps even to speak with the walrus, that beach to which we will all find our way eventually. – The poetry of song and hymns reveal images of the beach, the banks of Jordan, looking across the glassy sea and so many more. That tumid water is at the beach, and so is the fish, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.