We are now living in post-resurrection times and we are asked to reflect on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, a follower of him in 2016.
Just think back it is hard to imagine a more horrible death, nor one in which a dying person was more degraded. Yet early Christianity insisted upon seeing this appalling torture as a triumph by a victorious Christ. Consider Paul who, as an observant Jew who had originally been hostile to the Christian movement, had a blinding apocalypse or revelation which convinced him that Jesus who had been crucified was alive, and believed through this disgraceful criminal death, humanity itself, Jews and Gentiles alike had been set free. His revelation of Christ may have occurred not long after the crucifixion of Jesus. Paul makes allusions to the historical Jesus, institution of the supper, the Christian sacrament, and that he forbade the re-marriage of the divorced.
The earliest records of what men and women thought about Jesus are not quite what you expect. They are not memories of a simple teacher and healer; rather they are beliefs about his death on the cross as the key saving moments of human history.
This was the earliest testimony of what his followers believed about Jesus: that having been hideously tortured and crucified by the Romans, had died, been buried and rose again.
The fact that they expressed these beliefs does not prove that the resurrection actually happened. The NT documents are only testimony of what the early Christians believed.
The story of Thomas which we heard last week says that the first witnesses were witnesses to a stupendous event, but it was more blessed to belong to the later generations who had not seen, but had begun to grasp the significance of the Christian faith.
They are not down-playing the astonishing physical fact of the resurrection, nor saying it was something which had only happened in the imagination or in a spiritual sense. What was more important in both cases, than the first dawning wonder of the resurrection itself was the continuing faith of the church.
The stranger who they had not recognised in the roadside is known to the faithful in the breaking of bread. Every Sunday, and during the week, Christians have gone to the eucharist, meeting for the same rite, to share in the mystery, proclaiming in the liturgy the presence of the risen Jesus Christ in the broken bread and shared cup. Their actions, words and beliefs were in essence those practised by the early Christians in Jerusalem and Rome within memory of the man who helped carry Christ’s cross.
As in any tradition conveyed by ritual and speech, there was a Chinese whispers effect, but the essence of it was very simple: the crucified Lord rose; he returned to the Father in glory; he left to his people his presence in the loaves. The loaves are his body. The people too are his body.
Decades before there were written Gospels, Christians met together, sharing the faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ
in the breaking of the bread, the holy communion, the liturgy, the mass, the eucharist.
They had a church order,-elders or bishops, and deacons-which they believed descended directly from the twelve, chosen by Jesus himself.
Finally we come to today’s gospel of the return of the fishermen, where Peter returns to his secular job and says, “I am going fishing”. It is at the very time of deception and apostasy, that the glorified Lord will make himself known. This is the great link of every age of the apostles who saw Christ in the flesh and in his body of glory.
This night they caught nothing again then Jesus appears. It is a resurrection story “as day was breaking” and Jesus stands on the beach unrecognised, and tells them to cast their nets on the other side. Impetuous Peter recognises Jesus, puts on his clothes, and jumps into the water.
An Easter Day story you might say but the writer of the gospel is telling us that the call to Christian discipleship is not really fulfilled until the Lord is crucified and glorified, and then it is fully effective in the world for each one of us to live it out and imitate it in our encounter with others.
The fish and bread are now provided by Jesus not a young lad, and he feeds them: “come and have breakfast”. He is now the bread of life, and this is a meal of plenty and fulfilment.
Like Peter and the disciples we are now to follow him in his missionary work and mission
What a glorious opportunity we have in this time of vacancy, to imitate the way of Christ and bring others to a knowledge of him, not by grand schemes and charismatic service, but by faithful grounded service, worship, silence and prayer, and compassion for those in need of our help and support.