A long night of work…
2016 04 10 – Homily at the Church of the Holy Trinity
After the torchlight red on sweaty faces
After the frosty silence in the gardens
After the agony in stony places
The shouting and the crying
Prison and palace and reverberation
Of thunder of spring over distant mountains
He who was now living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience
After the busyness and disruption of Easter, we get back to work, the children go back to school, and Simon Peter gets together with his friends and goes fishing.
A long night of work, and nothing to show for it, but then, through the sudden provision of great abundance, they recognise the Lord in the mysterious, almost unrecognizable form waiting by the shore.
In another city, in another time, another mysterious figure appears to another disciple of Jesus Christ. It is the fearsome spectre of Saul of Tarsus, Pharisee of Pharisees, persecutor-by-appointment, and he appears in an almost unrecognizable form to the disciple Ananias, no longer sustained by breathing threats and murder but fasting, humbled, blinded, and suddenly receptive.
We might imagine that Ananias came to know Jesus through the witness of one of those eating breakfast on that other morning. Perhaps for him, all the stories of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were stories he had learned through the witness of others, just as we did. This was a delicate time. The actions of women and men of faith and conviction were shaping the world. Whose stories would be remembered? Whose would be forgotten? This was a delicate time, and it still is.
At the shoreline meal there is a strange sense that these are numbered, precious days. The scripture says that none of them dared to ask, “Who are you” – they knew it was the Lord. This was now the third time that Jesus had appeared to them after he was raised from the dead. It was not the last time, but, there would be a last time. Imagine those days, those disciples, meeting Jesus in the strangest of places, their hearts yearning to see him, but fearing to name him, to claim him, knowing that his visit was for this time only, knowing that it would never again be the way it was.
So when Jesus asks Simon Peter ‘do you love me’, the disciple’s response has all of this longing to have his every word mean everything it possibly can. To say to his friend what needed to be said, to express love even as he knows that this love will not keep Jesus among them. Simon Peter’s words are earnest, honest, confused and hurt and unified in love. His impossibly alive friend is here again and this fragile moment is the moment of listening and struggling to understand and to get it right just this once. There may not come another moment.
And Ananias is fully in the moment, praying a prayer that is short, clipped, to the point. It is a prayer you say when you think you might change your mind, or when you want to keep a lungful of air in case you need to make a quick getaway. And, it is liturgically complete, solemnly whole, and heartfelt in all its breathlessness. And immediately, the scales fell from his eyes, and he rose and was baptized, and he ate food and was strengthened, and immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the Synagogue, saying ‘he is the Son of God’!
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”
And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshipped.
Three scriptures, three revelations of Jesus Christ communicated to us, his disciples, in these last days after his time on earth. After the brutal revelation of the crucifixion, the Lord persists in new revelations, some terrifying and strange like blinding light, some as ordinary and absurd as making breakfast for his friends coming off a hard night shift.
And all the while, he is glorified by all of creation, worshipped forever and ever, and he continues to invite his friends for breakfast, and invite his enemies into the company of his friends.
Simon Peter does not get blinded by the Lord, but fed and forgiven and given a task and mysterious words about how he is to be killed. Saul does not get punished for his murderous persecution, but derailed from his mission and taken aside until Ananias can hear the call to come and tend him, for the Lord says, “Saul is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honour and glory and blessing!”
This worship we participate in through the reading of the Revelation is directed toward the Lamb who was slain, who is worthy to open the seals, to set in motion the complex visions to follow. The writer of Revelation has wept because there is no one worthy, until he is shown the Lamb, looking as if it has been slain. Now the whole host of creation sings in praise.
Simon Peter’s insistent proclamation of devotion allows Jesus to give him a purpose, and to share with him that he is surrendering his future. This is a fragile moment.
Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Ananias’ willingness to follow God’s call in Damascus, and those three days of prayer, fasting and blindness for Saul mark an in-between time. Despite the evil he has done, Saul is somehow worthy to carry God’s name – and to suffer for it.
It seems that suffering and worthiness are connected in all of our readings. There are consequences to following God’s call. Ananias fears these consequences when he is sent to tend to an enemy, but he obeys. Jesus asked the Father if the cup could pass from him, but stayed in the garden to await his trial. Simon Peter and Saul both respond out of their own weakness to the call on their lives.
You don’t need to be worthy to suffer. You don’t need to suffer to be worthy. But in those fragile moments where we encounter Jesus at work, we must look beyond fear and suffering and the possibility of death to act out our love, and gracious compassion, and so bring Jesus fully present.
In those moments, surpassing death and pain and fear, the Lamb is accorded worthy to open the seal,
and the stranger with food to share
or a desperate need for prayer
can become who they truly are.