Death Token: Alive Again
Easter 3C, April 10, 2016, Rob Gieselmann
My seminary colleague, Suzanna Metz, writes that the
Apostle Paul was a God-fearing Jew – before his Damascus Road experience. Hence, she claims, his was not so much a conversion as it was a transformation. He experienced the risen Christ and therefore grew from the experience.
I can’t agree. Paul may have been religiously devout, but he
was antagonistic to those who threatened his world, particularly Christians, and he was murderous, acquiescing as they threw their cloaks at his feet so they could kill Stephen. But I do think Suzanna’s claim about Paul could
apply to Peter – His was more of transformation than it was conversion. Yes, Peter denied Jesus three times right before the crucifixion, but, then, who hasn’t denied Christ in some form or fashion in their lives? Peter was, like we find ourselves sometimes, dazed and confused.
This scene at the beach is surreal - like a dream.
The sun isn’t up, yet. And the pre-dawn light is caste grey,
like a filter, or a pall. Jesus wasn’t there, now he is there, on
the beach, cooking fish over an open fire. Peter squints to see that it really is somebody. There’s a fire; there must be somebody. Weeks before, Jesus had instructed them
to return to Galilee, and they had – but now what?
They wondered. Now what? So they fished. When you don’t know what God wants you to do, do what you know to do.
They were fishermen, so they fished. That, too, can be faith – simply doing what you do. Only the disciples aren’t catching any fish – And this man, this grey ghost
by the fire approaches the water and suggests, drop your nets otherwise. And that’s when they recognize the ghost - Jesus. And Peter, who clearly feels the enormous weight of guilt from his denials – He’s stuck – isn’t he? Puts his clothes on, dives into the cold water, and swims ashore. The others secure the catch and the boat and join Jesus and Peter
at the fire. Still grey, still a dream, and Jesus lifts fish
and bread to both heaven and man, and déjà vu, the feeding of the thousands - it’s all so familiar, so dream-like, only
Jesus is alive. When I was a young child, early 60’s, my family would put these tiny plastic angels on the Christmas tree - they glowed in the dark. Phosphorescence, and we
called them dark shiny blue. The scene was grey,
but Jesus shone phosphorescently, dark shiny blue.
He was alive. On that shore.
In the Haruki Murakami novel – Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki,
which I mentioned last August, each character has a color,
like an aura – and is named for that color, but only a few people can actually see these colors of people.
To have the gift – it is a gift of clarity, of spiritual awareness – to have the gift of seeing others’ colors, someone has to have given you a death token. Actual receipt - possession –
of the death token means the obvious – you’re going to die soon –
So here’s the question:do you take the death token from someone when offered? If you do, you die, but you also see
with a clarity nobody else experiences. You gain enlightenment, awareness, insight. Is it worth it?
What is spiritual astuteness worth, anyway? For Peter, it cost him everything. Peter and Jesus start walking along the beach, and young John follows closely behind them.
Peter could touch Jesus, Jesus really is alive – But Peter hardly notices – The burden of his betrayal rests heavy on his shoulders. And his world is grey.
Do you love me? Jesus asks him. Three times. Three times Peter insists he does. Love Jesus. Three times, to match three denials. And only by the third answer does it seem
as though Peter’s world makes some fundamental shift.
Until now, he’s frustrated – Frustrated because of the denials, yes, but also because of the lie he’s been telling
himself – It didn’t matter so much, my denials. The others abandoned him, too. Lord, you know I love you. But by this third time – walking on the shore - Peter gets it right.
Lord, you know everything. You know this burden of guilt I carry. You know I cannot bear the weight of it.
You ask me to feed others, but I have nothing to feed them.
I just can’t get past this? Yes, Lord, you know I love you.
But I don’t know how to love you. Peter turns raw and honest, in confession and faith – and something breaks.
Peter is transformed. He has awareness. Clarity. You might think Jesus has given Peter a death token – Because he now sees, and Jesus turns the conversation to Peter’s death. When you are older, they will take you where you do not want to go. There it is – You want to see clearly. You have to take possession of the death token. Lose your life to gain it. Peter do you love me? Rob do you love me? Sarah do you love me? Rick do you love me? And don’t you know
that transformation – like conversion – follows death?
But transformation is glorious! It is cataract surgery,
and now you can see the greens and blues and reds and yellows clearly, as though for the first time.
Ann Patchett writes in her novel, Bel Canto, about a priest, and the time he truly connected to God: It didn’t happen through the Eucharist, or taking holy orders – as you might expect of a priest - Rather, it happened when he gave in to God: In turning over [his] heart to God there was a magnificence that lays beyond description.
When you are older, Jesus tells Peter, you will go places
not of your choosing. But don’t you see – death no longer matters. And as they walk along that shore, Peter and Jesus, and John, the sun peeks over the horizon, the water,
and Peter finds for the first time in weeks, months – maybe his life – alive! Risen from the dead. And, now, the only
remaining question is – what about you?