+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 21:7
Theme: “It Is The Lord”
Dear Saints of our Risen Lord,
Life can be tedious. Our capacities are stretched. Our failures accumulate. Our scars accrue. Our faculties diminish. Yet, the resolve of the maturing Christian grows strong. The confidence of the seasoned believer increases. Conviction becomes more steadfast. And this is true exactly insofar as we understand that everything depends on God and not on us. Dear friends, we so easily forget that grace is not a human enterprise. It is the autonomous self-giving of God in Christ. So, even in the midst of tedium our lives can have purpose and joy. Blessings we cannot yet imagine lie beyond the horizon.
The Easter gospels continue to bring us into contact with the Living Lord who makes good on His promises. The occasion for the third post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His disciples-this time by the Sea of Galilee- is remarkable for its mundaneness. Does it not seem incongruent, considering the past events, that some of the disciples are even out fishing at all? But, they were fishermen by trade. While their hands were occupied with nets their hearts were occupied with faith. They were still coming to terms with what the resurrection of Jesus meant, not only for their salvation, but for their vocation. They still needed more encouragement and direction from their Lord.
They spent the night fishing. They caught nothing. At daybreak Jesus stood on the shore. They did not recognize Him. He tells them to cast out the net again. At His command the net is filled beyond capacity. The miracle causes John’s eyes of faith to be opened. He identifies the Lord. Peter then plunges into the water to greet Him. At Jesus’ invitation for breakfast the Scripture says, “None of the disciples dared ask Him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord.”1 Evidently, the glorified appearance of Jesus’ resurrected body wasn’t immediately recognizable to His followers. They caught 153 large fish; but Jesus had already provided all they would need.
In the context of these fishermen learning what it would mean to be fishers of men, Jesus also employs the symbolism of the shepherd and the sheep. This was especially necessary for Peter who needed to be restored in the wake of his denials. Jesus tells Him three times explicitly to feed the sheep. You see, God chooses not to rule the church directly through the Holy Spirit. He uses human agency. He uses fragile people to handle His infallible word. He uses mistake-prone people to handle His inerrant word. He uses sinful people to handle His holy and sacred truth. And so, the church has the pastorate, the Office of the Ministry. The church has undershepherds of the Chief Shepherd.
The work of pastors, and the term pastor comes from the biblical word for shepherd, is not symbolic. The church deals with real sins and real forgiveness for real people in real circumstances. Jesus stood before His disciples not as an illusory image of the mind convincing them to buy into some intangible ideology that denied the concrete evidence all around them. His physical frame consumed food among them and He taught them the way forward to address a fallen creation.
Here is the point: When we over spiritualize things we can deny (even if inadvertently) the implications of Christ’s incarnation. That is, we run the risk of engaging the truths of the faith only in the realm of ideas and not in concrete reality. Christianity is not fundamentally a symbolic religion. Certainly it has many important symbols but it is not symbolic in its essence. Jesus took on flesh and blood He didn’t remain pure spirit. He promises to restore creation in realiter, that is, in reality- tangibly and concretely. We are actual, tangible, material sinners. And we deserve actual punishment. Therefore, artificial or symbolic forgiveness won’t do. We would remain in the guilt of our sins. The Scripture says, “He has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in His sight.”2
Consider the sacrament of baptism. It is full of symbolism. The water, for example, represents cleansing. But in reality, the Holy Spirit promises to be present to create faith and actually cleanse the soul from sin. Or consider the name into which we are baptized: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Bible talks about being reborn into God’s family or kingdom. Again, a nice symbolism exists here. But it’s not just ideological rhetoric. Through baptism we really do come into fellowship with the triune God and become heirs of the heavenly kingdom.
The same truth holds for Holy Communion. The meal may remind us of the last supper Jesus had with His disciples, but it’s much more than that. In the bread and wine we receive His body and blood. He meets us in these gifts in reality. Therefore a wicked or unbelieving heart can expect His rebuke and judgment. But the repentant soul receives His promised pardon and forgiveness. In the controversy over ordination which is raging within the LCA some essentially understand the pastoral office as symbolic. That it, the pastor is seen to represent Christ in some spiritual way but not in an incarnational way- as one who stands there in His stead, by His command, speaking on His behalf. This falls short of the biblical expectation.
Thankfully, Christ never falls short of expectations. He has already initiated His eternal kingdom. It’s helpful to understand the Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost events in this way. The Bible says believers have already entered into the Sabbath rest.3The Christian Sabbath began when the Lord Jesus breached time and space through His incarnation, death, and resurrection, rendered Satan toothless and bridged the chasm between a holy God and sinful humanity. The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. So, every minute, of every hour, of every day, of every week is the continuous day of the new creation in Christ. It is a prelude to the timelessness of eternity.
Nevertheless, because of a threefold weakness in human nature, 1) the need to work to provide for our earthly needs, 2) the need to work to prevent idleness that can lead to wasteful self-indulgence, and 3) the need for regularity to maintain good order, God has been conciliatory towards us and allowed ancient Christians to designate Sunday as a public day of spiritual rest and worship. Sunday is the day of the resurrection.
And what happens on the Sabbath, the day the Holy Spirit gathers His people into community around His word? What happens when the risen Christ is among us to serve? The sheep are fed. They are led “in the paths of righteousness.”4 Hardened hearts are admonished by the threat of the law. Wounded consciences are soothed by the comfort of the gospel. The timid are given courage. The lonely find companionship. The downtrodden have their cause championed by the Advocate. Those who feel they are without a voice have the clear communication of their needs fast-tracked right to the throne of grace. The company of angels is present too, assuring us that when our voices fall silent because of fatigue or the prayers of our hearts are stilled because of our frailty, they carry on the ceaseless praise of our Creator and Redeemer.
St. John described the future for us today, “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth…singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!”5 This is already the present reality for some. Life can be tedious. But for believers it is never without purpose. Amen.
Christ is risen!
He is Risen, indeed. Alleluia!
+ In nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday of Easter
10 April, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 21:12 2 Colossians 1:22 3 See Hebrews 4:3
4 Psalm 23:3 5 Revelation 5:13