based on John 21:1-13
It’s the Simple Things…
Last week in the middle of my vacation, I sent an email to Eric telling him that I wasn’t coming home. It’s not that I don’t love all of you, it’s just that for a day or two, I loved being in the mountains more. Fortunately for all of us, Eric reminded me that while Ben’s cat would never notice my absence, our dog, Cletus the WonderMutt, would miss me terribly.
And he was right, so I came home.
One of the things Ben and I noticed on our vacation is how happy simple little things made us. There was no tv or internet at the house, and it wasn’t just the most fun I’ve ever had driving up and down that scary hill, so we planned to spend lots of time in the quiet of the mountains. We read books and took naps and cooked, which are all things we don’t often get to do at home. We only went places we wanted to go, only did what we wanted to do, and in the end, we were glad to come back home where we belong.
But we won’t forget again, I hope, how much can be communicated in simple things: a quiet afternoon on the porch, listening to the wind in the trees, a quiet cup of tea early in the morning, a late night snack of cheese and crackers by candlelight: a sense of peace, of belonging, of comfort, that at least for a little while, “God is in his heaven, and all is right with the world.”
It’s easy for me to get overwhelmed…as much as I enjoy the computer and the ways it helps me stay connected to people, sometimes there’s just too much happening. Sometimes the phone rings, and I just want to let it ring. Sometimes I watch tv and instead of being entertained by a story, I’m worn out by commercials for one more product I just have to have. Sometimes all the ways we have to stay in touch with one another, I’m convinced, complicate our lives so that we forget the simple pleasures of quiet time, a shared meal, a some conversation with a friend.
For the disciples in today’s reading from John, times had been complicated. They had followed Jesus faithfully, seen the signs and miracles, even performed a few themselves. But then things got tough: first a Pentecost meal in which Jesus said strange things about bread and wine and how someone at that meal would betray him. Then there was that night in the garden, when Jesus seemed to grieve…and then the trial, the cross, the tomb—and then it was empty, and things got really complicated.
In hindsight, we find the Resurrection to be miraculous, astonishing good news, a miracle that inspires us…but we’ve had 2000 years to process it, to understand it, to simplify it. The disciples experienced it firsthand, and found that there was so much going on that they could barely comprehend the changes that came so fast in those first days after the crucifixion. Jesus was the Son of God, alive among them, and then he was tried, and killed, and dead…and his followers were lost. And then he was alive again. I honestly don’t know which left them more confused: that weekend when Jesus was dead and everything they knew seemed false, or the days that followed Easter, when they were trying to deal with the incredible news that Jesus was alive, and that they had some work to do.
I wonder how much we are like those disciples. We know that Jesus is alive, and that there is work for us to do…but especially as we approach the holidays, we can become easily overwhelmed by all the opportunities to do good. Look at this week’s bulletin: Operation Christmas Child Shoeboxes are due tomorrow, so that children around the world who might not otherwise receive a Christmas gift can get one. Thursday is our Soup and Bread lunch, which not only feeds hungry people in the community, but also provides funding to the Loaves and Fishes ministry. The Salvation Army bell-ringers will soon be out in force, and the Domestic Violence shelter has a benefit coming up. Our UMW did a great job last week at raising funds for both local and global needs, and the UMM will be cooking peanuts this week to raise funds for the same. Looking for something to help you grow closer to Christ? We can connect you to Bible study on Tuesday mornings, Sunday school classes and the Young Adults group, the YAH club, the Handyman ministry, Meals on Wheels, or one of our disaster response teams. We have all kinds of ways to keep you busy, to help you connect with one another and to help others…it is wonderful, and yet at the same time, where do we start?
Perhaps, like the disciples, we need to look to Jesus for a little guidance today. In this post-Resurrection appearance, Jesus doesn’t make any pronouncements about going out to the whole world and preaching. He doesn’t tell them to go on a mission trip or volunteer at Hope Mission, although these are great and worthwhile things to do. Instead he offers them simple comfort: a plain meal, a little more time together, a warm fire after a long night of fishing. And in the breaking of bread, there by that fire, we are reminded of that Last Supper, which we will celebrate together in a few minutes.
Scholars and preachers have spent a great deal of time thinking about all the implications of this symbolic meal we are about to share. Many books have been written and the finer points continue to be debated. There are questions over how it is that Jesus is present here, as literal flesh and blood or in a more mystic way. Christians don’t all agree on who can come to this table, or why, or what happens here.
We haven’t reached a consensus on how often we should have communion, or even how we should do it, although I promise that we have researched the “sanitary” issues and have come to discover that our method of intinction, with one person touching the bread and with the cup tipped so that no one’s fingers get wet, is more sanitary than using little cups, and besides, by the time we’ve all shaken hands and hugged necks, we’ve spread all the germs we’ve got to spread. And although these are important considerations, they are not the most important thing.
When we come to the communion table, we come to meet Christ. We meet him in a historical sense, as we commemorate the last supper Jesus shared with his disciples. We meet Jesus spiritually, as we are gathered in his name in worship. There is a sense in which this time together can be thought of as a memorial, a remembrance of the Cross, and Jesus’ death. And perhaps we meet him in one another, too, as we share this symbolic meal together.
Sometimes we have a tendency to want to make life seem more complicated than we have to. Our faith life is no different. Because there are rules and boundaries we hold ourselves and one another to, we tend to construct rules and boundaries for how God behaves. We want to make Jesus over in our own image rather than being made over in his. For today, maybe we need to focus more on the simple things.
As you come to this meal today, come with an open heart to this small meal. In this morsel of bread and wine, in some special way, Christ is with us—Christ is with you. It may not be the same way for each of us, but that matters less than the simple truth: God loves us. Christ is with us. We are not alone.
Let me leave you with one more sign of Christ’s presence, one more opportunity to share both a simple meal and a tremendous blessing with someone else. This week I took a phone call from a woman who receives Meals on Wheels. She was calling to find out how much the meal cost, so she could bring her family. When I told her there was no charge for the meal, I believe Jesus was present in her joy that this celebration wouldn’t be a hardship for her. I believe Jesus was present, too, when she was told about the meal by the person who had brought her a meal earlier in this week, a member of this church.
A word of welcome.
A shared meal.
Sometimes it is in the simplest things that we encounter God.