It’s been quite a week for the disciples. First it was the empty tomb. Then Mary Magdalene encounters a gardener that turns out to be Jesus. Two disciples walking down a country road to Emmaus chat and share a meal with a stranger, then all of a sudden realize it was Jesus. Then Jesus mysteriously passes through a wall and enters a room full of frightened disciples. He even let’s Thomas touch his wounds. In our 2000-year hind-sight we sometimes reflect on Jesus post-resurrection appearances as distant miracles enjoyed by a chosen few. But imagine what must have been going through the disciple’s heads. The joy, the confusion, the surreal and incomprehensible, the shear unexplainable mystery and elation of a dead man transformed into a life form never seen before, yet all so very familiar. So, after the week they have had in Jerusalem, one can imagine the disciples welcomed Jesus telling them to go to Galilee where he will appear to them once again.
Peter doesn’t know what lies ahead when he goes off to the Sea of Tiberius. After standing as a witness in the background of the previous appearances of Jesus, perhaps Peter was breathing a sigh of relief at having dodged a bullet by not having to face the one he betrayed and look him in the eye. So, when the going gets tough, the tough go fishing. What else was left for him to do but to return home to Galilee, to the same life he knew before. He knows that Jesus is alive in some strange way and that Jesus doesn’t seem angry with him but yet his relationship with the Lord seems limp and lifeless.
Peter was unprepared for breakfast on the beach with the Risen Lord. The scriptures aren’t written like a modern-day novel, so we are left to fill in the blanks, like what did Peter do once he got to shore and what was he doing while the disciples were eating their breakfast. Was he staring down at his feet, ashamed to look the Master in the eye? Did he even have an appetite or did he just stand by the fire drying off his wet clothes?
But when Jesus finished grilling the fish and bread for breakfast, it is time for him to grill Peter. “Do you love me?” After everything that has happened, how devastating those four little words can be. To repeat the question twice would have been justifiable, but three times and Peter’s hurt was unbearable because of course Peter didn’t limit himself to denying Jesus just twice. Jesus intent was not to hurt but to call Peter to feed and nourish the children of God with the only thing that really matters…love.
There are as many responses to Easter today as there were then. Some dismiss the Resurrection as a fisherman’s tale. Some worship at the feet of the Risen Lord. Some tell others the good news and some return to their homes as if nothing happened. But going home to hide from Jesus isn’t an option for us any more than it was for Peter. Jesus knows where we live and he has already forgiven us whatever betrayals we have done in the past. Now he stands at our front doors. He waits for us in all the unexpected places. Now he stands on the shores of our lives and he has just one question for us: “Do you love me?” Our answer to the question will change the direction of our entire lives.