All Saints by the Lake, Dorval
Easter III, Year C
May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-20, Psalm 30, Revelation 5:11-14, John 21:1-19
I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of something becoming part of your personal experience and thus appearing suddenly ubiquitous. Like when you get engaged and overnight everyone else you see is also wearing a diamond ring, or when you buy a red Ford truck and apparently the number of red Ford trucks on the roads quadruples.
In March, All Saints by the Lake settled on its new motto (tagline, condensed mission statement, whatever you want to call it), “Reconciling, Affirming, Rejoicing”. We chose these words partly precisely because there were so many things they could apply to, and we have not been disappointed: once you start looking for those things, they start popping up everywhere, and of course particularly in the scriptures, which is, after all, where we started looking for God’s will for us in the first place.
This week is no exception. This is one of those Sundays, for lectionary preachers, that will always frustrate us, not because there’s too little to talk about, but because there’s too much: we get both the classic conversion story of Saul on the road to Damascus, and also the rich and fascinating scene of Jesus and the disciples on the shore of the sea of Galilee, not to mention a fabulous Psalm and the hymn of the saints in Revelation.
But one clear theme that unites the story of Saul and that of Jesus and the disciples after the resurrection, is precisely that of reconciliation. So what can we, a congregation that has just committed itself to reconciliation, learn from these stories?
In Saul’s story, a man who has violently persecuted the church of Jesus is stopped in his tracks and told to radically change his path. Ananias, a follower of Jesus who is sent to restore Saul’s sight, is understandably skeptical of Saul’s change of heart. But both men listen to the voice of God, and that is the beginning of their reconciliation.
Also essential is the fact that after his vision of Jesus, Saul spends three days in prayer and fasting. Before entering into a restored relationship with Ananias and the rest of the believers, he shows that he is willing to reflect on what he has done and change his behaviour.
When Peter and the other disciples gather on the shore of the sea of Galilee, one can only imagine the emotions swirling about. They have gone through the mess and betrayal of Holy Week, and everyone there knows how Peter denied Jesus. They know now that Jesus is alive, but his strange and unpredictable presence is perhaps even more confusing than his absence after his death.
In this unsettled time, they fall back on what they know best: work. Peter goes fishing, and the others come with him. Perhaps using their muscles enables them to turn off their brains, and the familiar patterns of helping each other with the boat and the nets allow them to begin to rebuild trust. Working together toward a common goal can be a major part of reconciliation.
So can sharing a meal, and so after Jesus’ appearance and the astonishing catch of fish, they all sit down around the fire and eat together.
And then Jesus takes Peter aside and addresses him directly. Another essential element of reconciliation – talking to the person with whom you are in conflict one on one, with openness and honesty. Three times Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?”, once for each of the times Peter denied him before the crucifixion. And once Peter has responded three times, Jesus hints that he will have the chance to complete the process of reconciliation, to redeem himself, by embracing the suffering that he was too afraid to risk before. And the passage ends with Jesus solemnly inviting Peter to “Follow me,” using the same words he used so long ago when he first called the disciples on this same seashore.
So, some hints about reconciliation as distilled from these scriptures:
- Listen for, and to, the voice of God.
- Take time for prayer, fasting, and self-examination.
- Repent, and change our behaviour.
- Be willing to listen to and learn from each other.
- Sharing a task can build relationships.
- So can sharing a meal.
- Speak directly to each other.
- Be willing to do the hard things.
- Offer, and accept, second chances.
One of the ways in which we enact reconciliation with each other is through our worship. Every Sunday, we come together and hear the word of God, affirm our faith, and pray for the church and the world. And then we confess our sins to God, are absolved, and then come together at God’s table, like the disciples sharing bread and fish around the fire on the seashore.
The formal expression of reconciliation in worship is, of course, the passing of the peace – and it’s a bit ironic that right now, in this parish, the peace is one of the things we disagree about, and thus part of our ongoing process of reconciliation. On the other hand, what a wonderful opportunity to practice some of these strategies we’ve derived from scripture.
We strive for a middle ground when it comes to passing the peace in worship. Yes, it is an expression of a theological principle, not a mini-coffee hour in the middle of church; but as such, it is also important to give space to make that theological principle more than just symbolic. If you offer peace to the same three people every week, you might miss the chance to clasp hands and make eye contact with someone who’s new to the parish and longing to experience the love of God from a fellow human being, or someone whom you have genuinely offended (or vice versa) and for whom the sharing of the ritual words can be an expression of real penitence and forgiveness. The peace of God does, indeed, pass our understanding, and perhaps it’s appropriate that it make us a little bit uncomfortable, as we prepare to approach God’s altar.
We are, after all, in defiance of all logic and caution, claiming that we can be reconciled with, and in relationship to, the very God who made heaven and earth. We are asserting that the peace of God is something we can participate in. We are joining in the song of the myriads and thousands who sing before the Lamb on the throne in the reading from Revelation: “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” We are claiming that our worship is their worship, and our prayer their prayer.
We share the peace of God, and so are reconciled with one another. That reconciliation is not a simple, or easy, or brief process. But it is the most important work we can possibly do, and it is the work we have committed ourselves to do for this season of our life together.
Let us take the passing of the peace seriously, and let it be a time of genuine connection in Christ. Let us take the work of reconciliation seriously, modeling ourselves on Paul and Ananias, and the disciples by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. And let us move from there to affirming and rejoicing, until our worship reflects that of the multitudes in heaven, gathered around the throne to adore the Lamb.