Sermon – the Third of Easter, Year C

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Raphael – “Miraculous Draft of Fishes”

 

John 21 verses 1-19

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.

21:2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.

21:3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

21:4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

21:5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”

21:6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

21:7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.

21:8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

21:9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.

21:10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”

21:11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.

21:12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.

21:13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.

21:14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

21:16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

21:17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.

21:18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.”

21:19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

 

THE SIGN OF THE FISH

I’m off on holiday – yes AGAIN! – next Saturday: to Rhodes this time.

Usually, I just throw an assortment of mismatched clothes in a suitcase about an hour before I leave. But the one constant that I take is a pair of Nike sneakers…. you know: the trainers with the “swoosh” symbol.

It’s a logo that is recognised world-wide – a sort of tick shaped emblem.

Actually, it is supposed to represent the wing from the legendary statue of the Greek goddess of victory, who was called Nike (not “Nyk” as many folk pronounce it)

It is supposed to bring to mind victory on today’s so-called “battlefields” like gyms, and running tracks.

The most I’ll be running next week will likely be a bath! So out of condition – but I like my red Nikes.

Nike’s legendary Swoosh logo is probably one of the most recognisable in the sports industry, enabling us to see swift movement in its simple design.

That’s the way with so many signs and symbols these days – simple but effective.

Think of a golden “M” shaped arch – you don’t have to guess for even a couple of seconds to work out that one.

A three pointed star in a circle – Mercedes Benz

An apple with a bite out of it – iPhones, iPads, iPods…. and I (sic) don’t know what else.

However, the most famous and instantly recognisable symbol of all is ……. the Cross.

Although the Cross is displayed in endless varieties – plain, crucifix, Celtic, wooden, metal, palm (as we often have in church on Palm Sunday), as jewelry, tattoos, atop church spires ….. it is immediately recognisable as a symbol of Christianity.

Yet, when the Church began, it would have been more likely that our forebears in the Faith would have been recognised by fellow believers through the sign of the FISH.

Sorry to return to talking about holidays again, but a few years ago, my late wife and I spent an amazing few hours at the wonderful site at Ephesus.

{Incidentally, there is there an ancient piece of graffito scratched into a rock with the Greek name “Nike”

The tour guide asked if anyone knew who Nike was, and an American in our group answered “Say, isn’t “he” (!) the god of sportswear?”}

Anyhow, in many other places, in the ancient walls and pavements, there are etched into the stone tiny simple cross shapes, as well as more elaborate chiselled almost Maltese-style ones.

But …. as common were engravings of the word ICHTHUS – the Greek for “fish”

For the early Church the fish logo was very prominent indeed. It appeared frequently in the early Christian world up until the end of the fourth century.

It would be logical at this point to explain why the fish symbol was important, but I’m going to put it to one side just now, and come back to it later.

I want us to think about this instead just now:

Have you noticed how many times there are references to fish in the Gospels?

Right at the beginning of the story, we find Jesus among fishermen, and from them he selects his first disciples…… to be “fishers of men”

When Christ wants to feed the crowd in the desert – through Andrew, a fisherman, of course – he finds a boy with five loaves and two fishes.

And the fish, along with bread, was associated with communion in the early days of the Faith.

(The symbol can be seen in the Sacraments Chapel of the Catacombs of St. Callistus. Because of the story of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, the fish also symbolized the Eucharist.)

When Christ tells his disciples to have some trust in the Heavenly Father, he asks them, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?”

In addition, in Mediterranean countries, the fish was seen as the symbol of good luck, and it still is in some New Year customs.

Christ, of course, ushered in a New Age – would not the fish be an appropriate sign for what he represented?

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Let’s now look at our Resurrection narrative for this Sunday. It’s about fish and fishing.

Here are the disciples back to the old business – fishing. They’ve been out all night and have caught nothing. On the shore is someone whom they don’t recognise. He instructs them to cast out the net again starboard-side. And there follows an incredible catch.

Jesus, then, takes bread and fish, and – sacramentally? – feeds them.

Is it any wonder that the fish became an emblem of faith for these first believers?

Before we take this any further, let’s ask if the sign of the fish can speak to us in this day and age.

How about this? Perhaps it’s indicative of the sheer earthiness and practicality of the Gospel.

Fish was a vital part of the economy of Christ’s society. Jesus didn’t go down to the lakeside to find as his followers some romantic sportsmen. He went right into the heart of the community – right to the centre of local industry. He walked straight into the practicalities of life.

After the highs of Easter Day, we’re back to normality now; back to the everyday stuff of normal life.

But…. Christ is STILL with us – with us in all the experiences of life.

He’s with us in the hungry who need to be fed, with the homeless who need shelter, the sick and the marginalised who need our compassion. “as you did it for the least of these my brethren” he says, “you did it unto me”
Let’s think of this too – the fish represents vitality. Have you ever watched a trout, for example, darting from stone to stone in a rippling stream?

It’s so alive – in its natural environment. Could that not be an image of the Christian living in the grace of God?

New Christians were plunged into the waters of baptism, and they began to see their life from then on as one sustained and supported by this symbol of God’s grace.

{note: the Latin word for a baptismal font is “piscina” – literally a fish pond. Converts to the Faith were called “little fish” (Latin: “pisculi”)}

May we always live as if we are alive in God’s environment of love.

Now, to the main reason for Christianity and the symbol of the fish. Something, I guess, all of you have heard about before.

And, when I attended Church in February in Port of Spain in Trinidad, the minister preached for almost half an hour on the meaning and symbolism of the fish…… oh, dear – perhaps twenty minutes too long.

 

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But, fear not! This is it in condensed form:

In Greek, the word for “fish” is ICHTHUS. – it can be an acronym – each Greek initial letter spells out the word – translated – “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour”

{Iesus Christos, Theou Uios Soter}

A powerful and secret symbol shared between believers – and a reminder of their Creed.

This is the faith by which Christ’s Church has lived for some two thousand years.

Yet Jesus is never referred to as “The Great Fisherman”; rather as “The Shepherd of the Sheep”

And in today’s passage the Book of Revelation, he is called the Lamb.

And Peter, the big fisherman, is charged (in the second part of today’s Gospel passage) to be a pastor, to feed the sheep.

Peter, like Paul (in today’s Scripture Reading from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles) is changed by Christ into a new man. Both are given a new task and a new opportunity.

This was only possible because of the Cross, and the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

The fish may be a fascinating sign, but the Cross is a much more potent symbol.

It speaks to us of grace, of love, of sacrifice, of forgiveness.

It is not in the symbol of the fish we glory, but in the Cross of Christ – towering o’er the wrecks of time.

Do we believe enough to identify with Christ’s Cross – through what we believe and do and say?

So that those with whom we interact, will not need any secret sign or veiled clue as to whose we are and whom we serve and who we are ………

……. followers and disciples of the great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Lamb of God, and the one who is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

 

 

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