SERMON—Easter 3 (2016)—(Extra)ordinary Faith
In the name of the holy and undivided Trinity: Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Amen.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
We sometimes forget just how ordinary a faith experience can be. I don’t mean ordinary is the sense of bland or colourless, or even boring, but ordinary in the sense of the everyday: what you and I do in our daily lives, the real “stuff” of our existence. And then, suddenly, unexpectedly, something or someone breaks through—call it the unforeseen or the transcendent —and the ordinary is quickly transformed into the extraordinary. Nothing is any longer the way it appears to be, even though we may, in fact, be going through the very same motions we always do. Everything is altered abruptly. I’m sure we’ve all felt something like that at certain points in our lives. I’m sure that’s how the apostles felt in today’s gospel.
One of the more remarkable things about all those post-Resurrection stories that we read about in the gospels is how the extraordinary emerges out of the ordinary, how things aren’t what they really seem to be, how the transcendent ends up breaking through. There’s Mary near the empty tomb with the supposed gardener, the stranger encountered on the road to Emmaus, the doubting apostle who needs to see and touch, and now…breakfast on the beach with Jesus. Could anything more ordinary be more extraordinary? People don’t recognize Jesus, they engage with him as with any ordinary person, and then—bam!—everything changes. Their vision is radically altered. Their faith experience is stretched.
Consider the apostles in today’s reading from John. The followers of Jesus are doing what they have always done best: fishing. Perhaps they were bored, perhaps they were disillusioned, perhaps they needed the money. The scene is so routine that we are told Peter was naked. We’re not sure why; perhaps it was hot and sunny; perhaps clothes were just too bothersome when fishing. (He must have been a rather modest man, because he suddenly dresses himself before jumping in the water to meet Jesus.) Even more strangely still, the apostles don’t recognize Jesus when he tells them to drop their nets on the other side of the boat. Peter then gets all excited when he is told that Jesus is waiting on the beach. But even then, they don’t dare ask Jesus if he is who they think he is. Perhaps they are afraid of being disappointed. Or were they truly unsure? Jesus does some very simple human things on the beach: he lights a fire, he cooks fish and bread, and he feeds his friends. We’ve all done something similar many times. Could anything be more ordinary? Yet there, in the midst of an ordinary fishing day, sharing an ordinary meal with ordinary friends, stands the truly extraordinary risen Christ. Nobody seems willing to talk about it, as though it is all too much. Which, of course, it is. It is all very much too much, but that is where the faith experience begins and takes root: in the humdrum and routine of the everyday. And then, it suddenly and unexpectedly fast-forwards what normally runs at a steady and even pace. We know something has happened, we may not be able to name or even see it, but our vision of reality is abruptly transformed. We have a real sense of living in a different register. Faith can and should do that to us.
This tension between the ordinary and the extraordinary is something I am always struggling with, as I would bet we all do. I was raised in a religious culture that told us that we had to do some extraordinary things—we had to be saints—to become truly good followers of Jesus. I prayed hard, yet I did not get visions. Why not? I made the occasional big sacrifice, but I didn’t feel closer to God. What was that all about? I tried hard to have pure and holy thoughts, but I often failed. Was there something wrong with me? After all, shouldn’t my faith ideally be filled with grandiose manifestations of the continuing presence of God? These examples are a bit of a caricature, and my questions somewhat rhetorical, but they point to what I suspect many Christians believe deep down. If faith isn’t earth-shattering, they don’t want it. If God doesn’t speak to them on a regular basis, they just aren’t interested. If their faith experience is not emotionally draining, or intensely deep, or life-changing enough, they would rather look elsewhere. After all, shouldn’t faith always be an exceptionally extraordinary experience? Well, no, it should not. It simply cannot be. In fact, true faith is most often as boring or as ordinary as…dressing up for Jesus, like Peter did, or having breakfast on the beach with the Lord. Faith is always grounded in the familiar, but it reaches for the astonishing.
But, really, what kind of an invitation is that coming from someone who has recently risen from the dead: “Come and have breakfast?” Its simplicity is actually quite beautifully disarming, when you think about it. Jesus could have said, “Hey, look at me. I’ve been raised and I’m here waiting for you,” or “Hurry up, guys, I really need to move on and show myself to some others.” But no, what are Jesus’ immediate concerns, what is, in fact, the first question that he asks? It is: “Children, you have no fish, do you?” And then he invites them to a meal that he himself has prepared. An invitation to breakfast. Could anything be more routine? It’s sort of like us saying, “Let’s have coffee,” yet we know that is often so much more than just about having coffee. The immediate concerns of Jesus are for the physical needs of his friends: fishing, which was presumably a financial need, and food to feed the body. The Lord meets us in our everyday. The Lord waits for us in the acts, and the moments, and the ordinary rituals of our daily lives. The Lord is first and foremost concerned with the compelling simplicity of our human needs. Jesus also does something important for his disciples on the beach. He moves them from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from habit and necessity (the obligation to fish) to freedom, from disappointment and disillusion to renewed hope, and all through those disarmingly simple words: “Come and have breakfast.” Never was an invitation more loaded.
There is yet another aspect to this invitation to breakfast. In being invited by Jesus to share a meal, the apostles are being brought together as a community, as more than simply a gathering of isolated individuals. They are called together by the risen Lord to an act of intense and deep social intercourse: the act of sharing food. It is God who is the host. It is God who invites. It is God who wants to feed. This is not all that different from what we are doing here this morning. The apostles already were a community. Breakfast on the beach with Jesus is both the sign and the further deepening of that community, much as, for us, dinner with close friends deepens and solidifies our bonds with them. We gather here around this table because we too have heard God’s invitational call, just as the apostles did. We may be more a community-in-the-making than one fully formed, but we too know that the sharing of Eucharistic food feeds and sustains our nascent hopes.
And so, beware of dinner invitations, and lunch invitations, and perhaps worst of all, breakfast invitations, especially when they come from God. Unless, of course, you’re willing to risk everything. Beware, because feeding with God is never a surface proposition. God wants to play host for us, but there’s always more than meets the eye, or more than what’s simply on the plate. God likes to meet us where our needs are most palpable: in the here-and-now, in the everyday, in the ordinary crevices of our lives, in our loves and our dreams. Don’t eat with God unless you’re willing to be changed by God. But if you are, then quick, jump in the water—naked or not—run to the beach, and share the food prepared by God’s hands. You may never be exactly the same again. “Come and have breakfast.”