Readings for Third Sunday of Easter 22 April 2007 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out Easter 3 Textweek

Acts 9:1-6, (7-20); Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

They’re really quite long readings this morning: the conversion of Paul, then the shorter reading, the apocalypse of Revelation, then the Gospel reading which is the third resurrection appearance of Jesus and that’s one of the important ones, because that tells us that he was real because he still had to eat breakfast. Sadly, I think eighty percent of the church will preach and celebrate one or all of these readings as the realities they are, just as they’re heard.

But the readings are not essentially about Paul and his conversion, they’re not about the apocalypse, the end of time, nor are they about Jesus and his breakfast. If they were, if that’s what the readings were about, then they would be historical texts or bibliographical texts or theoretical texts. What they are is the living word of God, the voice of the divine, spoken to us in the present. Always and forever, holy scriptures from every tradition are about me and us; they’re about our being in relation to and with the divine. If we get caught up in any other when we look at scriptures, we’re missing them. Who wants to know about Paul? What we do want to know is where are we, where is this story in the present?

This is a brief digression that hopefully is on track somewhere. Last night someone came up to me – this is at Lucy’s art exhibition, which was more like a feast - someone came up and said, very emphatically and in a very real way, they just said, ‘This is community.’ And it was, there was a real sense of, ‘Yep, you’ve hit the nail on the head there’; that’s what it was. It was - the feeling is - a sense of community that went beyond family, something that goes beyond family into other realms and that contributes to my/our fullness of life. And I thought about that and I thought, yes, family is very important. Family is actually about the creation and the nurturing of life; it’s a framework that provides or maintains a basic biological process. Community’s quite different: community is the realisation of life in all its fullness; it isn’t, or doesn’t appear to be, a biological process at all; it’s of a different order and it comes from a different realm. Eighty percent are probably unaware that there’s any differentiation.

As Christians, or Christians-seeking-to-be, we are called to make real that which is unseen; we’re called to realise that which is not seen. Look again at the reading from Paul: what was his blindness about, what was the giving of sight from Ananais about? There are different ways in which we can inhabit the space that we inhabit – what we see, what we can see through, what we can see beyond. We are called to realise as Christians, that which eighty percent are unaware of. That’s why we have those stories about the leaven in the lump; that’s why, mistakenly, in years past, Christians thought they were extra special, that they had something that the others didn’t have - understandably so, because it looks like that. But it’s actually a call to bring that sight then to the whole, just like the leaven in the lump, just like the yeast that permeates the whole of the dough. My guess is that most of humanity, and again I’m happy to stick with eighty percent, most are happy to be alive; most of our being, so most of my being is in that same state - eighty percent of me is also happy to be alive. It’s good to appreciate that that’s that same state that a piece of Ningaloo Reef has – it’s alive, fullstop. Like Ningaloo Reef, that part of us, that part of me, is constantly threatened; there is a fear of things that threaten that life, like global warming.

However, the unseen, that part which does not settle for ‘alive’, that which desires to be fully alive, is a part that is not driven by fear, it doesn’t react to life-threatening phenomena. And when we glimpse the divine - and you can see this reading back into the narratives we’ve heard today - when you glimpse the divine, then the greatest fear is not to realise life in all its fullness. Imagine – I have seen God and all I’ve settled for was to reside in a state that equates to being a piece of coral. All, all of creation, all of creation, so each and every one of us, feel, intuit, know and desire something, something that is more than alive. There is within us a call, we’re drawn towards something more than life. This is what the Resurrection’s about; it’s this call to ‘more-than-alive’ that is illustrated in the story of Paul; it’s illuminated or imagined in the Book of Revelation and it is realised to us in the life of Christ.

In the first reading, the divine asks a question of Paul: in verse 4, ‘why do you persecute?’ What we might wonder is, what does the divine ask of us, of me, of you and of us? What is the question that the divine utters to you and to us? It says in verse 9 that Paul was three days without sight, and he neither ate nor drank. Three days is more than seventy-two hours, three days is a significant time, three days is the time from death to Resurrection. Paul was without sight for three days and neither ate nor drank: I believe that that’s the place, that is residing in the place of the modern world. That is the norm, that’s the eighty percent space – being blind and never being satisfied, being blind, neither ate nor drank, was always thirsting was never filled, couldn’t see – it’s the place of the modern world. And are we not delightfully surprised when we do see that which is divine, when we are truly fed, those moments, those last-night moments, when someone says, ‘This is! This is!’ and you go ‘Yes, it is!’

The first reading I think gives us the opportunity to explore these places within ourselves. God asks something of Paul and he asks something of Ananais; the divine asks. The response from Paul in verse 5 is, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The response from Ananais in verse 10 is, ‘Here I am Lord.’ From where do we respond to the divine voice that calls us? Which of those responses would you spend eighty percent of your aliveness in: who are you, what is it all about? Or, here I am?

The wonderful reading from the Book of Revelation – Revelation quite often gets written off as being the ramblings of a loony. See the writer of Revelation doesn’t need any excuses, the writer of Revelation, she was a Piscean, that’s why she writes that way. It’s a wonderful reading. What does it suggest, what’s the closest approximation in your experience to the reading from Revelation? Perhaps it’s a dream – some of us are lucky to have dreams like that, not all the time, but when they come, they’re stunning. Or perhaps it’s a celebration, something that we shared in. Read it again; read it again and again and again, and say what’s the closest approximation that I have to being there in that heavenly court, and maybe what we come up with is, it’s here, now, making Eucharist together, because we can glimpse, if only for a fleeting moment on a Sunday morning, we can glimpse being fully alive in the presence of the divine, and we glimpse for a moment where the unseen is revealed. You don’t have to understand all the words that are uttered in here; you can drift off for those long readings. Who on earth wants to sit right the way through a New Testament reading? Golly, give me the introduction and that bit at the end and that’s enough. The funny thing is – it’s not rocket science - but what drew me, why am I here? See the words - there’s another word, unseen, that is working, that gives us a glimpse of what is beautifully painted in the Book of Revelation.

The Gospel reading, the Gospel, classically the good news, in light of those other two is really helpful because the Gospel reading today gives us an appreciation of the life movement, the pilgrimage. The Gospel reading is a movement from ‘I am going fishing’ to ‘We will go with you.’ Again, if you pause there you can almost feel, hey I know those places within me, certainly know the ‘I’m going fishing’. ‘I am going fishing’, but what we see in the Gospel is, no, move from there to ‘we will go with you’. It’s a movement from being self-centred to abiding in and with the divine for others, that’s the movement - very simple movement - and it’s a movement that gives sight to the unseen. It’s a movement that will enable us to see the Christ waiting and watching from the beach, ready, waiting, to share bread. This is the companion, the bread-sharer, waiting for us to make the movement from ‘I am going fishing’ to ‘we will go with you’.

In the Gospel reading today through the person of Peter, we’re shown the promise of that life movement. Peter’s three denials are realigned in the reading today by three divine questions, ‘do you love me?’ Three is a significant number: it’s the number that takes us from death to Resurrection. When the Gospel talks about three denials it means any number. Go back and list out your life, the daily denials of the divine that each and every one of us makes; what the Gospel reading says today is, ‘That’s cool, that’s not what it’s about’ - don’t dwell there because the divine is constantly asking of us ‘do you love me’, and will ask that as many times and if not more times than the denials we bring forward. And the response, the affirmative response to that question is the catalyst to the fullness of life: feed my lambs, tend my sheep and follow me.

May we stay with Easter for that bit longer, so that we can understand and become aware of our life movement.

The Lord be with you.