Sermon for 3 Easter Yr C 25/04/2004
Based on Rev 5:11-14 & Jn 21:9-14
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
Breakfast is—for a lot of health-conscious people—the most important meal of the day. If we miss out on breakfast, our whole day is thrown out of balance. Whenever a person is having a bad morning, feeling out of sorts or lacking energy; people often say: “He or she must have forgot to eat their porridge this morning.” Breakfast provides us with the proper nutrients to help us start our day out right. It energizes us so that we are prepared to face the day.
In today’s gospel, the disciples start their day out right and are energized not only by their breakfast of fish and bread—but also by the provider and preparer of these, the risen Christ. The Fourth Evangelist always writes in such a way as to give us a surface or obvious message and a deeper, often symbolic message. On the surface, this story tells us that Jesus is really alive again—he is not a ghost or a vision or a hallucination. He has a real live body and he eats real food. On the deeper, symbolic level, this story tells us that the meal Jesus prepared and ate with his disciples was special and holy. It symbolized the sacrament of Holy Communion.
In early Christian art, bread and fish became a symbol for Holy Communion. Also, in the catacombs, the fish became a symbol of Christianity. The Greek letters for the word fish became a code word, which meant: Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Saviour. Indeed, this symbol is rather popular in our contemporary age too; people frequently display it on the vehicles. Down through the ages, biblical interpreters have had something of “a field day” with the catch of 153 fish. The most sensible interpretation to me is Jerome’s—he simply said that they represent all of the different species of fish in the Sea of Galilee. Therefore, they might be symbolized as the mission given to the Church; to go into the whole world to fish for people of every nation; welcoming all of them into the family of God.
Of course, for John bread was also a very important symbol. In chapter six of this same gospel, after Jesus fed the five-thousand—also with fish and bread—he referred to himself as the bread of life who came down from heaven. He also promised that: “…the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus makes the very important connection between himself and the world by referring to himself as bread. It is interesting that in most, if not all, countries around the world people usually eat one kind of bread or another as a staple food. Bread in many parts of the world literally is the physical food of life. When Jesus said he was the bread of life and when he gave bread to the crowds, to his disciples the night before he died, and again to his disciples on the beach—it was as if he said: “Whenever and wherever people eat bread, I shall be present among them; I shall feed them with the gift of life. This is possible because my resurrection power and presence is at work in the whole universe!”
This leads us into our second lesson, which gives us the vision of everyone and everything in the whole universe worshipping the risen Christ. The writer of Revelation puts it this way: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might forever and ever!”
Once again, some Christians are coming to realise that nature, this world, indeed the whole universe is a precious gift from God. The environmental-ecological crisis of today has finally made us more aware of the importance of God’s whole creation.
God’s creations in the world are his voice, appealing to you and to me not only to join all people of good will in doing what intelligent things we ought to do about the creation, but one thing especially: to love the world and care for it to the glory of God.
Nature is like a fine piece of cloth: you pull a thread here, and it vibrates throughout the whole fabric. 1
It is interesting and instructive that the word ecology comes from the same Greek word for house (oikos). God has given us this world as a house to look after, respect, and care for. If we destroy our house, then we destroy ourselves—if our natural world is healthy, then we too shall be healthy. Viewing our world as our house, shall we not care more about its health and well-being and do our best to keep it in good repair for ourselves and the generations who follow us?
Recently, dozens of renowned scientists signed a statement for Preserving and Cherishing the Earth: (Here is what they said) “As scientists, many of us have had profound experiences of awe and reverence before the universe. We understand that what is regarded as sacred is more likely to be treated with care and respect. Our planetary home should be so regarded. Efforts to safeguard and cherish the environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred. 2
In Holy Communion, God uses elements of our natural world—bread and wine—to work miracles of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, and faith. That is why some Christian theologians are beginning to call this sacrament a sacrament of environmental, eco-justice. The broken bread is the broken world. A world of disrupted, damaged, dying ecological systems. A world filled with suffering and death. A world which has lost the interdependency of everyone and everything in the whole creation. A world of extinct species, holes in the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect. A world in which the air, water and earth is becoming more toxic—almost by the day. The wine of this eco-justice sacrament is the continuing violence and bloodshed in our world. It is the ongoing martyrdom of innocent, poor, forgotten, abused and exploited peoples around the world today. It is a world in which two-thirds of humankind continues to be denied the basic necessities of life. A world that divides human beings from one another by racism, sexism, classism, ageism, and in a host of other ways.
Only the broken and crucified Jesus Christ is able to minister to the moaning, groaning, suffering and dying of the whole creation. In the sacrament of Holy Communion his resurrected power and presence is with us and the whole creation. It is able to transform brokenness into wholeness, sin into forgiveness, hatred into love, divisions into reconciliation and unity. The body and blood, bread and wine, together with the word give life to a dying world. Holy Communion enables us to join every creature of the universe to worship our Triune God by singing that resounding “Amen!” The power and presence of the crucified, risen Christ fills the whole creation with unity, forgiveness, love, and life. For that, thanks be to God! Amen.
1 Cited from: Joseph Sittler, Gravity & Grace: Reflections And Provocations (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986), pp. 21-22.
2 Cited from: The Star Phoenix, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, March
28, 1992: David Suzuki, “Time to forge a new covenant with Nature,” p. C12.