On Sunday April 10th I led worship at Hampsthwaite Chapel. We began worship as we read psalm 30 responsively as the call to worship. We sang ‘The day of resurrection’ before I led the opening prayers of praise, thanks, confession and the Lord’s Prayer. I read a meditation based on the conflict of Peter after his denial before his threefold re-instatement by Jesus, when Peter was finally freed from his guilt. We sang, ‘This joyful Eastertide’ before I read Acts 9.1-20. We then heard the dramatised reading based on John 21.1-19. We sang ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ before I preached.
It was sometime after Jesus had risen and long enough for the disciples to have left Jerusalem and made the long journey back to Galilee. Seven had already broken away from the eleven disciples and decided to return to their home and their original occupation of fishing at Peter’s suggestion. They needed to support themselves as they only had memories of the powerful time spent with Jesus. They were at a loss, disillusioned and felt empty, just as empty as their nets were after a night’s fishing. As they returned to shore with heavy hearts they heard someone calling out in the slowly dawning day, who had guessed they had caught nothing and suggested they throw their nets over the other side of the boat. Once they did that their nets were full to bursting, but without breaking. Suddenly they remembered the boats, the nets and the stranger called and the beloved disciple recognised him as the Lord. Peter pulled his outer garment on and jumped into the water and helping to haul the nets in, he made for the shore. They saw the charcoal fire with fish cooking on it, and bread prepared by Jesus for their breakfast. Jesus invited them to join him and bring some of the fish they had caught.
The charcoal fire would have triggered Peter’s memories of another charcoal fire, when he had previously denied his Lord, and it must have reignited his guilt. He had impulsively jumped into the water, but he must have had mixed feelings about seeing Jesus again. Jesus understood his feelings and asked him if he loved him more than these; probably more than the other disciples or than his fishing paraphernalia. Peter had earlier boasted that even if the others deserted him he would never do so, but let himself down when he denied Jesus. Peter said, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!’ Jesus told him to feed his lambs. A second time Jesus asked him if he loved him and Peter replied, ‘You know that I love you.’ Jesus again told him to take care of his sheep. Jesus asked Peter a third time if he loved him. Peter felt hurt that Jesus had asked him a third time if he loved him. Again he said that he knew that he loved him and was told to feed his sheep. Peter was now re-instated as a leader, the shepherd of his people. He would be a better leader as he had recognised his weaknesses and knew he had to keep his eyes focussed on his Lord.
Paul was on his way to the synagogue in Damascus with letters from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to arrest Christian Jewish fugitives and bring them back to Jerusalem, when suddenly he was stopped in his tracks by a blinding light and had a dramatic encounter with Jesus. He heard Jesus asking why he was persecuting him; Paul acknowledged Jesus as Lord. Jesus told him to get up and go into the city and wait until he was told what he was to do. His companions heard the voice but did not see the light. Paul the angry persecutor had been blinded and had to be led into Damascus. He the man of action had become helpless and now having met Jesus, had to await orders. Up to that moment Saul had been trying to destroy the new faith, which had troubled him since he had watched the way Stephen had died, but now he would be told what to do. Peter and Paul had both had their lives profoundly changed by their encounters with Jesus and both had to learn to do as Jesus instructed them.
How do these life changing encounters with Jesus affect us? Have we like Paul and Peter met with our risen Lord and has that encounter changed our lives? I am profoundly affected by the change in impulsive Peter and the way that Jesus reinstated him through Peter’s threefold response that Jesus knew he loved him. Peter gives me hope that Jesus will never give up on me no matter how many times I let him down. We often forget the role of Ananias who took a major risk obeying God by going to help Saul; God was asking him to go and minister to Saul, who had come to throw him in prison. He could have been antagonistic to Saul but instead he called him, ‘Brother Saul’, welcoming him as a fellow believer, showing him forgiving Christian love.
Would we be prepared to take such a risk as Ananias or step out in faith like Peter? Are we ready for a new encounter with our Lord? My late father, who would have been 109 yesterday, came to hear me lead a service when he was in his 80’s. After the service he stated that he had had his faith renewed in the worship. I felt thrilled and soon found out why. I had chosen my favourite hymn by Charles Wesley, ‘And can it be’ and it was the words of that hymn that had rekindled the faith of my retired Anglican priest, father! He immediately went home and added that hymn to the ones he had chosen for his funeral. When we sang that hymn at his funeral in 2000, both my beloved and I felt his spirit lifting to heaven. That hymn is one I have chosen for my funeral, as it reflects my encounter with Jesus and my faith.
We sang, ‘For the healing of the nations,’ before I led the prayers of intercession. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son.’ I love being able to sing the resurrection hymns and would love to sing at least one a week, as our faith is a resurrection faith. Jesus has risen; He has risen indeed, Alleluia!