How Easter Day Comes to Stay

A sermon, based on John 21.1-19 and Acts 9.1-20, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 3rd Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2019

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Easter Day has come. Again. Easter Day has gone. Again.

Sometimes life is this simple. A great moment comes and goes, and, inevitably, we go back to the routine normality of our daily lives.

What’s not simple is that great moments often stir up in us conflicting impulses or passions. On the one hand, our hope that we can and will reach that metaphorical state of “more” where we are different, better. On the other hand, our fear that we won’t, that we can’t be different or better.

Years of Easter Days teach us to be skeptical of the potential for the lasting fulfillment of our highest expectations. Maybe the best Easter Day can offer is a temporary thrill, then a return to every day and who we were the day before.

So, for the disciples. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to them, but not as he had been. He no longer daily walked and talked with them, led and guided them. Rather, in one moment, he would appear, then, in the next, disappear.

So, now what? Peter announces that he’s reverting to his old life, picking up where he left off before Jesus, going back to do something he knows how to do. “I’m going fishing.” His fellow disciples, with nothing better to do, leap at the idea. “We’ll go with you!”

A night passes. No success. Jesus appears. “Do you have any fish?” (Though prefaced with an affectionate “Children,” I imagine his question irritated, infuriated those tired, frustrated disciples. I can “hear” the tone of their exasperation, “No!”)

Jesus advises them. They net a great catch of fish.
The Second Miraculous Draught of Fishes (La seconde pêche miraculeuse), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Jesus prepares breakfast…
Christ Sharing Breakfast with the Apostles in Galilee, James Tissot (1886-1894). New York, Brooklyn Museum

which leads to one of the most poignant exchanges in scripture, Jesus thrice asking Peter, “Do you love me?”
Peter, do you love me, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Whenever I’ve denied something I said or did, which I should not have said or done or betrayed a cherished belief or value through expediency or cowardice, the thing I most fear is a conversation, a confrontation with the person I’ve wronged. Likewise, when I believe I’ve been wronged, the last thing I want to do is engage my offender.

Yet Jesus and Peter painfully, courageously opened the tomb of the rotting bones of Peter’s triple denial of Jesus when he faced the cross of his crucifixion and death.(1) Through their reaffirmation of love, they were led to the resurrection of reconciliation and the restoration of trust, expressed in Jesus’ renewal of his call, “Feed my sheep” and “Follow me.”

In the encounter between Ananias and Saul, Ananias willingly followed the insane directive, notwithstanding it came from Jesus, to go to Saul who was on a mission to kill the followers of Jesus. This led to the resurrection of reconciliation, expressed in that term of endearment, “Brother Saul” and, eventually, launched Saul, also known by his Roman name, Paul,(2) as the greatest missionary apostle of the gospel of Jesus.
Ananias heals Paul (1719), Jean II Restout (1692-1768)

Henri-Frédéric Amiel, a 19th century Swiss moral philosopher and poet,(3) famously wrote: “Life is short and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us. So, be swift to love and make haste to be kind.”

In the searing light of these transformative encounters between Jesus and Peter, Ananias and Saul, I see more clearly the acts of denial and betrayal. Those that I have done unto others and those that others done unto me.

In this light, I see more clearly that there are people in this world with whom I need (though I may not want!) to have a conversation like that of Jesus and Peter, Ananias and Saul. There are some who have died with whom I cannot speak. Still, there are others who are alive.

And, more truth to tell, sometimes, in my betrayal, in word and deed, of my better self, the person with whom I need to have such a painfully courageous (or courageously painful) conversation, confrontation is me!

Intending no judgment, I would guess that what I have confessed to you is true for me may be true for some of you.

If so, then will we, as Easter-people, take the risk of going to the tombs of our broken relationships, daring to trust in the hope of resurrection?

For this, I submit to you, is one way that Easter Day comes to stay.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See John 18.17, 25-27
(2) See Acts 13.9
(3) Henri-Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881)

Illustrations:
The Second Miraculous Draught of Fishes, James Tissot (1836-1902)
Christ Sharing Breakfast with the Apostles in Galilee, James Tissot
“Peter, do you love me?”, James Tissot
Ananias heals Paul (1719), Jean II Restout (1692-1768)

7 thoughts on “How Easter Day Comes to Stay

  1. Paul,
    This sermon will help me so much this week!! Sometimes even when the answer to the question “do you love me?” Is YES, there is still pain. As you said, no one really likes to have that come to Jesus meeting, but they are necessary if we are to achieve resurrection day!! I’m ambivalent about the meeting I need to have, but know that it’s required IF there is to a continued relationship with that person. I will read this sermon again before doing so, AND go into the conversation with an open heart and mind, especially knowing that this will be very difficult for the other person as well. Besides doing what Jesus would want us to do, we also gave a great incentive to have this meeting because in addition to our love for God, there’s a little girl at the center of this that we both love as well.

    Thanks for these words…. much love!!

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  2. Dear Paul,

    I have to admit a part of me wants to walk away from this sermon, because that’s what a part of me has grown accustomed to doing with a few people and issues in my life that are hard, and embarrassing, and awkward, and “part of the past.” It’s easy to think we can “move past” something by putting it behind us, forgetting it, and getting on with it. And sometimes we can, depending on the circumstances, I guess, but sometimes – and we all know what those are for ourselves – the thing we think we have put behind us keeps hitting us in the face again and again, which must mean that in some sense we are going in circles trying to get away from it. We struggle to live our lives avoiding the issue to try to escape the pain of another encounter, of a stab at reconciliation, of another effort at forgiveness, of gaining understanding, of working to rebuild relationship. It could hurt; it could be mortifying; it could open old wounds that are now just quietly festering under an ugly scar. We just let Easter pass with a few “hallelujahs” and move on back to Good Friday again in those areas of our lives where we can’t admit the possibility of actual resurrection. (I have often thought that resurrection must be terrifying and painful and something that no one would willingly choose if she could help it but for the certainty of suffering the alternative to resurrection if we don’t choose it. I imagine being peacefully dead…. and then…….!!!)

    Is it obvious my mind is having a hard time thanking you for this sermon? My heart, however, is prompting to me to tell you IT is quite grateful for it. So… humbly, thank you.

    I’m going to live with this sermon for a while, as I think of those two or three areas of my life where I’m pretty sure I can choose to let things remain peacefully dead or face the possibility of a scary, painful resurrection Meanwhile, you should realize (and I’m sure you do!) that it’s clear you do know how to stir up trouble. And I’m actually very glad you do know how and that you also know what the results may be for us folks who believe you… and that you do it anyway. Sounds like something Jesus may have put you up to.

    With much love and real gratitude,

    Karen

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  3. My dearest, beloved sisters, Loretta and Karen, given what you have written, and, in Loretta’s circumstance, I surely sense that I know some of the concrete details, I share one additional word…

    Somewhere, now, long ago, from someone (I cannot recall who), I learned these lessons:

    (1) Easter calls me to try to reconcile.

    (2) Reconciliation does not mean, always, that the proverbial fence has been mended. Rather, reconciliation can mean that I and another with whom I am at odds, through honest discourse, can come to understand and accept our ‘at-oddness.’

    (3) Such acceptance can liberate the other person and me, each and both, to choose to go our separate ways without either of us bearing the burden of the regret for not having tried to comprehend the disability of our relationship.

    (4) Such acceptance may/can be the experience of only one of us and, if that is my experience, then I may/can benefit from the liberty to carry on without the burden of regret. For I cannot chart another person’s course of life or choices.

    And, again, I say, I confess, one of the hardest conversations, confrontations I ever (always?!) have is with myself (or, as I’m wont to say/write, my self).

    Love you in every way,
    Paul

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    1. Dear Paul,

      Your further word is so helpful. I’m glad your wise friend from long ago brought those valuable points regarding reconciliation to your attention and that you have guarded and remembered them through the years and were willing to share them with us. I will add them to my thinking about the sermon and the situations in my own life it brought to mind to see whether I am led to some actions that I have considered, but never seriously enough to move forward.

      Thank you again.

      And love again,

      Karen

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  4. Karen, my dearest sisters, you, I have come to know, possess a deeply discerning spirit. And, just so that you know, your boundless capacity to self-reflect spurs me to think and to feel more broadly. It is I, therefore, who must (and I do so gladly) thank you.

    Love

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    1. Paul!!
      You are sooooo RIGHT about Karen!! She’s an AMAZING SOUL!! Thrilled to have connected with her!!

      You know you and I should do another Love & Forgiveness retreat right??

      Much love!

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      1. Oh, Paul and Loretta! Thank you both for your kind words. I am so fortunate to have lived into knowing both of you and Pontheolla too. You are three of the most amazing people I know, and I love every opportunity to hear and experience what you are doing in your lives and in your souls. Just the knowledge that you are out there in the world with your energy, dedication, and love help keep me going every day.

        Much love to all of you,

        Karen

        Like

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