Our scripture lesson this morning has always intrigued me, especially the picture of the resurrected Christ asking for and eating piece of broiled fish.
When I was growing up, my Baptist church had a week of revival every August. We had services Sunday Night through Friday night, and concluded the revival with a fish fry on Saturday.
Six long nights: 30 minutes of singing; one hour of preaching; and then thirty more minutes of altar call. It was hot. It was humid. It was more scary.
The guest preachers would always preach that heaven or hell is coming, and it’s coming sooner than later, so we better get ready! Although I’d never really feared going to hell; as a nine, ten, eleven-year old, going to heaven was not a place I wanted to go to anytime soon.
The only thing that got me through the week, and I suspect a few others, was that big, delicious fish fry that awaited us on Saturday.
Every year, without exception, preachers would frighten us with their heaven-or-hell-is-right-around-the-corner sermons. However, I remember that one preacher preached a particular sermon that made me feel a lot better about going to heaven.
It was Friday night, and bless his heart, I suppose he was trying to connect the revival service with the fish fry that everyone was looking forward to the next day.
He said that one of the most appropriate things we can do at the end of these services is to have a fish fry. He said: “After all, most of Jesus’ disciples were fishermen. And Jesus called the disciples ‘fishers of men.’”
He also pointed out that the early Christians used the Greek word translated “fish” as an acronym for the first letters Greek words translated “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior,” and how the sign of the fish was used to identify Christian communities, especially during the time when the church was persecuted.
But he did not get my full attention until he said: “But the reason that our fish fry tomorrow is especially appropriate is because when we all get to heaven with our new resurrected bodies, we are going to eat fish with Jesus, because after Jesus was resurrected, Jesus ate fish!”
For the very first time all week, I wanted to jump out of my pew and shout: “Amen! Brother, preach it!” Because that preacher answered one of those deep theological questions that no one could answer for me, a question that was more important than: “If God created the world, who created God?” or “Who was Cain’s wife? or “Did Adam and Eve have bellybuttons?”
He answered the all important: “Are we going to be able to eat in heaven?” The answer is a resounding yes! We are going to be able to eat fish! And for someone who loved to eat, and especially loved eating seafood, it took the fear of dying right away.
I really like this interpretation; however, I am pretty sure Luke, through the telling of this story, is trying to teach us something more.
Last Sunday, one of you asked me: “Isn’t Tilapia what they call ‘the Jesus fish?’” That really got me thinking about our scripture lesson this morning. What kind of fish did Jesus eat? And, what was the risen Christ trying to teach the disciples, and teach us, by asking for and eating a piece of broiled fish? Do you suppose Jesus, in his new resurrected body, was hungry? After all, from all we know, he hasn’t had anything to eat since that Thursday evening in the upper room.
To answer these questions, like all biblical questions, it is always important to put the story in its context.
The disciples had disappointed Jesus, and they knew it. The disciples had failed Jesus, and it was obvious. The disciples had forsaken Jesus, and they were cowering. For thirty pieces of silver, one of them betrayed Jesus with a kiss and then took his own life. One of them denied three times even knowing who Jesus was. To save their own necks, to avoid carrying a cross themselves, all of them in some way had abandoned Jesus in his hour of need.
And now they have received news that Jesus had come back from the grave. Which meant that he was probably coming straight for them. And considering their great failure at discipleship, they just knew that if he was coming, he was bringing hell with him!
“While they were talking about this…”
Can you imagine their conversation? “What are we going to do? Where are we going to go? How do we hide?”
John tells us the doors of the house where the disciples had gathered were locked for fear of the Jews. Perhaps the name of one of those Jews was Jesus.
It is then,
Jesus himself stood among them… They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
Notice that they were not only “startled,” they were “startled and terrified.”
I bet they were! Like a ten-year old at a Baptist revival! For I am sure that in that moment they just knew that heaven or hell was right around the corner!
But then, notice what happens next. Jesus does not point out their failures. He doesn’t mention their denials, their betrayal, their abandonment. He does not shame them, guilt them or say anything to elicit any feelings remorse whatsoever for their bad behavior.
There are no words of judgment or condemnation. Jesus doesn’t give them a sermon on how they should have been better or even how they could do better.
Jesus surprises them and surprises us by saying, “Peace be with you.” To those who have very good reasons to be afraid, Jesus says, “Peace.”
He empathetically asks: ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?”
It is then where Jesus begins doing all that he can to relieve their doubts and fears. He shows them his hands and feet to prove that he was not some vengeful ghost come back to haunt them for their misdeeds.
And seeing a little joy in their eyes, but still sensing some lingering apprehension, Jesus takes it a step further and asks for something to eat. They hand him a piece of broiled fish that he eats in their presence.
He eats “in their presence.” It has been said that in sharing a meal with someone that we become most aware of who we are and with whom we are. In the previous scripture passage, on the road to Emmaus, when was Jesus made known to them? In the breaking of the bread.
Throughout the world, sharing a meal with someone has always been understood a great act of solidarity. Thus, in eating that fish, Jesus was not only making the statement that he was not some vindictive ghost, Jesus was making the statement that he was their merciful friend. He was their gracious brother. In spite of all of their denials and betrayals, in spite of being abandoned, tortured, humiliated and crucified, Jesus still loves them and is still willing to join them at the table.
If the disciples had any doubts that their sins were forgiven, those doubts quickly vanished when Jesus took the first bite of that broiled fish.
And it quickly became apparent to the disciples that the fish Jesus asked to eat was not for him. It was for them. It was not the risen Christ who was hungry. It was the disciples who were hungry.
So, what kind of fish did Jesus eat?
It was a fish of unconditional love. It was a fish of unlimited mercy. It was a fish of radical inclusion. It was a fish of amazing grace. It was a fish that revealed nothing on earth or in heaven can ever separate us from the love of God.
It was a fish that revealed God is always willing go a step further to proclaim the good news of Easter: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
“My love for you has no end. My love for you never fails. My love does not keep an account of wrongdoing. My love is without reservations, without conditions. My love offers a grace that is greater than all sin and a peace that surpasses all understanding.”
Peace be with you, for you are my sons. You are my daughters. I have always loved you. I still love you. And I will love you forever. I will forgive you always. Peace, for I am making all things new. Fear not, for I am working all things together for the good. Do not doubt, for I am the resurrection and the life, and because I live you will also live. Peace be with you.”
The risen Christ ate fish—filling, satisfying, delicious fish—not because he was hungry, but because we are hungry.
It is very important for us to pay close attention to what happens next in our lesson: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed to all nations.”
What kind of fish did Jesus eat? He ate a fish that has the power to open minds!
Perhaps more than anything else, what the church needs are more minds that are open to understand the scriptures teach us that graceis what we are to proclaim to all nations.
Grace. Not judgment. Not condemnation. Not fear. Not shame. Not fire and brimstone. For those things never bring peace. Those things never bring healing.
It is unconditional love and peace that is to be proclaimed to all nations, beginning right here, from this very place where we became witnesses to these things:
- Where we witnessed the words of the resurrected Christ: “Peace, be with you”: words spoken to remove all fear.
- Where we witnessed the wounds in his hands and feet: wounds that have the power to heal the world.
- Where we witnessed the Risen Lord eating a piece of broiled fish: where we experienced a grace that will satisfy the hunger of all humanity this day and forevermore. Peace be with you. Amen.
Invitation to Communion
This is the Lord’s table. He is the host. We are his guests.
He welcomes everyone to come and eat and be nourished, fed and forgiven.
Come and eat and live!
The only people excluded from our communion table are those that Jesus himself would exclude and that is nobody.
All are welcome.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go in courage and peace, proclaiming the Risen Lord to all!
Having witnessed unconditional love and unfettered grace,
Be a people who bring hope and justice to a hungry and hurting world!
The peace of the Lord is with you now and forever. AMEN.