Do you love me? Follow me.

A sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter, May 1, 2022

The reconciliation of Peter today stands as a central piece of the gospel lesson we have heard this morning.

Do you love me?

“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

“Woman, I do not know him.”

“Man, I am not!”

“Man, I do not know what you are talking about!”

In the hours leading up to Christ’s death, Peter denies even knowing him, let alone admit to being one of his followers. Perhaps it’s to stay “incognito,” to not draw attention as he tries to get as close to what is going on as he can, but still, he denies his deep love and bond to Christ. He denies all that he has learned, witnessed, shared in, the laughter, the prayers, the miracles, the joy, the tears, the wonder, all of it is denied in these three questions of being a follower of Jesus.

So, Christ gives him an opportunity to be reconciled.

Christ asks Peter three times to undo the three-fold denial.

And, in these questions, Christ also lays out the missional call that Peter is to receive as he leads the disciples in growing this movement after Christ’s final ascension to Heaven.

“Feed my lambs.”

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

“Follow me.”

Jesus lays out this missional call to Peter, to all of the disciples as they gather together, in the most familiar context: breaking bread together, sharing of their bounty, caring for one another in their basic needs for sustenance and support.

The context of this breakfast on the shore is to me a crucial piece of this particular appearance of Christ.

It begins with this story of a net that fills so fully that they have to literally drag it into shore. A net so full with large fish that it should be literally bursting at the seams. And yet it doesn’t break. That net holds well beyond its capacity because it is Christ who has ordered the haul, it is Christ who has once more reminded the disciples that in following Christ, in exercising our faith, that the reward is beyond our comprehension.

They don’t even question “Who is this?” at this point.

They know that it is the resurrected one, come to break bread with them once more.

They hunger for these final moments of interaction with their teacher, their friend.

They hunger for these final moments of simply sharing some fire-roasted fish and bread with Jesus, knowing that he isn’t long for this creation, knowing that each time they sit down with him may truly be the last.

They grieved over that reality just a short while ago.

They rejoice over that reality today.

They rejoice and choose to take on the mantle of Christ, to follow him, to follow the way of love, the way of peace, the new way of relationship with one another and with God.

It is in this context of devotion to following that allows the reconciliation of Peter to resonate so deeply.

Peter is the one who quickly jumps into the water to swim to shore to greet Jesus.

It is Peter who walks back out to the boat, now on the shore, to haul the net forward, so that they may eat breakfast together with Jesus.

It is Peter who is directly forgiven for actively denying Christ.

It’s not that the other disciples didn’t abandon Christ in the moment of betrayal. They all fled. They all stayed around the edges throughout his trial, torture, crucifixion, death. They were all so deeply afraid of what was happening. They couldn’t comprehend that not only would Christ not win the victory they thought was surely coming, but that he would simply allow himself to be murdered.

They are beginning to understand now that Christ had shared that all of this would happen.

They are beginning to understand now that the victory of Christ is something far greater than simply overthrowing a man-made political and religious authority system.

They are beginning to understand now that their work in following Christ has only just begun.

“Feed my lambs.”

“Tend my sheep.”

“Feed my sheep.”

“Follow me.”

I think it is interesting that today’s gospel, one where Peter is reconciled for his denial, one where we receive this missional call for following Christ, is tied to the conversion of Saul (Paul) in the Acts of the Apostles.

We’re introduced today to a follower of Christ named Ananias.

Perhaps Ananias is one of the seventy disciples named and dispersed in Luke’s gospel.

Perhaps Ananias is a prophet of the post-resurrection era.

Regardless, Ananias is called upon by the Lord and he responds “Here I am, Lord.”

Ananias is a bit taken aback by the request to heal Saul. Saul is not unknown. It is well known that he has been persecuting, torturing, killing the followers of Christ. He is infamous.

“But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias went…”

That is the call of following Christ.

To go when called.

To go even to a person who is utterly detestable for persecuting those like you simply because of who you follow.

But, Ananias goes.

Ananias goes to Saul and says to him “Brother Saul.”

He greets him as one of the followers, even though Saul has not yet repented and reconciled.

“’Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God.’”

The conversion experience of Paul echoes much of the lessons Christ asks the disciples, asks Peter, to take away in this final breakfast together.

“Follow me.”

Go where I send you, trusting that I am with you, that I will be your strength through your faith.

And when you go, feed and tend those I count among my lambs and sheep.

Sometimes that will challenge you, but trust in your faith that through loving those to whom you are sent, that this movement will grow because this simple way of being in this world, will change this world.

This is our call, to this day.

To go out into this creation, to feed and tend, to love our neighbor and love God, to follow Christ on the way, and to trust in the strength of our faith that even the most detestable, even those who are literally persecuting us to death, can and will be converted through faith.

For Peter today this is the Good News as seen through reconciliation and the expression of our love for God.

For Saul today this is the Good News as seen through reconciliation by the actions of Ananias, who puts his trust and faith in the Lord, answering the call when it is received.

For us today, it asks us to go in peace as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, spreading this Good News with the whole of creation.

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