Giving Existence To More Life – A Sermon On John 21:1-19

Sermon, John 21:1-19, Easter 3C, Resurrection, Life
Photograph by Paucal, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Third Sunday of Easter – John 21:1-19

How’s your life been the last two weeks? Did Easter Sunday change you or was it business as usual on Monday? What difference has Jesus’ resurrection made?

I am not asking about something abstract or in the future but something concrete and present today. I struggle with those questions and I know when I have asked others those questions they struggle as well. They are difficult questions because we tend to think of resurrection as something that will happen at another time and place, something we are waiting for. Let me give you an example.

Two weeks ago during the children’s Easter egg hunt a woman told me what her five year old grandson asked during the Easter liturgy. He wanted to know if Jesus really came back from the dead. “Yes,” she said. But he asked again, “Is that story true?” “Yes,” she said. “Did that really happen?” he continued. His grandmother told me that each time she answered, “Yes,” he got more and more excited. “So that means,” he said, “someday I’ll get to see Bruce Lee!” That’s right, Bruce Lee of martial arts fame.

Maybe he will. Maybe he won’t. I don’t know. But I know he is not the only one to view resurrection as meaning a future reunion with family and friends. I’ve heard that from a lot of others. And I’ve said it. It’s often in the statements we make, the questions we ask, and the hopes that fill our prayers. 

Maybe we will see our deceased family and friends. Maybe we won’t. I don’t know. I do know this, however. That’s not how the gospel writers think or talk about Jesus’ resurrection and what comes from it. For the gospel writers it’s much more about what’s happening here and now.

  • In Matthew’s account the eleven disciples go to Galilee. There they see Jesus. He sends them out to baptize and make disciples. His final words are, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 
  • In Luke’s account, Jesus appears to two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, a second time in Jerusalem to the eleven and some others, and a third time to the whole bunch saying, “Peace be with you.” He tells them that he is sending to them what his Father promised and they will be “clothed with power from on high.” 
  • In Mark’s account of the gospel there are three endings. The original ending does not even have an appearance by Jesus. It ends with the women being told to tell the disciples that they will see Jesus in Galilee. But they don’t. Instead they flee the empty tomb “for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for the they were afraid.” Later two other endings will be added. The shorter ending sounds a lot like Matthew. The women tell Peter and the others about what happened. After that Jesus appears and sends them out with the message of “eternal salvation.” In the longer ending, as in Luke’s account, Jesus appears to two disciples walking in the country and then again to the eleven as they were sitting at the table. He sends them out to “proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”

For all three, Jesus’ resurrection is more about what the disciples are to do than what Jesus is doing. In each of the three accounts the disciples are left to continue the story, or to not. The gospel writers leave the story open-ended with something left to do, something more to happen. 

And that makes me wonder, what if the resurrection event isn’t the end of the story but a new beginning? What if the resurrection event isn’t an answer but a question? What if the resurrection event is a call awaiting a response, an insistence awaiting existence, a longing and desire awaiting fulfillment? 

That call, that insistence, that longing and desire are about more life; baptism, empowerment, peace, good news. “Resurrection means more life”1 and more life is the only proper response to resurrection.2 After all isn’t that the reason Jesus came? “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” Jesus says (Jn. 10:10). More life. That’s what Jesus is about and that’s what resurrection is about. 

Jesus’ resurrection is a call insisting you and I give existence to more life, whether for ourselves or another. We are the ones to continue the story of resurrection. We are the ones to give concrete existence to resurrection.

That sure seems to be the way St. John describes it in today’s gospel (John 21:1-19). It’s Jesus’ third appearance following his resurrection on Easter Sunday and it ends with Jesus saying, “Follow me.” St. John leaves the resurrection as a story to be continued just like Matthew, Mark, and Luke do.

There’s something about resurrection, about following Jesus, that asks us to get up and move: to do something; to cast our net on the other side of the boat and do things differently; to come and have breakfast and begin a brand new day, a new life; to give existence to more life. And it’s not limited to the end when Jesus says, “ Follow me.” It’s the same insistence and calling that began St. John’s account of the gospel when Jesus says, “Come and see.” Resurrection is God’s continuing insistence and call for more life.

There’s also something unknown, unknowable, and unforeseeable about this insistence and calling. Jesus does not say where they will go, what they will do, what they will see, or even what it means to follow him. We often understand following Jesus as imitating him, being copy cats, and asking ourselves, “What would Jesus do?”

How are we supposed to know what Jesus would do in our time and place? There are so many different interpretations and meanings of what he did in his earthly life and what he would do today. And today is a very different time and context from when Jesus walked the earth.3 Maybe we don’t need the one right answer, but a life giving answer. That’s what Jesus would do. Jesus would give life and more life. That’s the thread that runs through each of the gospels. What does that mean for us today?

It means we must listen, and listen deeply, to the hopes, needs, and pain of our lives, the lives of others, and the life of the world. We must discern the possibility for more life in each particular situation and then do something to give existence to that more life. We don’t need “a literal reproduction of what Jesus did.” We need “a creative reproduction, a creative repetition” of Jesus but “with a difference” so it fits our life and world. 4

What might more life look like for you today and for those you love? For those who have hurt you and those you have hurt? For those who frighten you? For those who are just like you and for those who are your exact opposite? In what ways can you give existence to more life for yourself, others, the world? How will you answer the resurrection question? 

I truly hope we all get to see our Bruce Lee, whoever that might be. I’ve got my list. But let’s not miss the opportunity for more life in this place, in this moment, in these circumstances, because we are waiting around on Bruce.

  1. John D. Caputo, What Would Jesus Deconstruct? (Gand Rapid, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 48.
  2. John D. Caputo.
  3. What Would Jesus Deconstruct?, 48.
  4. John D. Caputo, The Insistence of God (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press), 231.

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