For the final chapter of John’s Gospel, the disciples are fishing (unsuccessfully), and a difficult-to-recognize Jesus is making a fire and breakfast on the beach. He calls out to the disciples on the water, “Cast the net to the other side of the boat!” They do so, and the haul is so great the net and boat can barely handle it. Now the identity of the stranger on the beach crystalizes. It’s Jesus after all! Like Mary Magdalene a chapter ago, and like two wandering disciples in Luke’s Easter story, the risen Jesus is hard to recognize at first; our eyes and hearts must catch up to the new transformed reality in which he abides. But the miracle of fish gleefully jumping into their net all at once is a dead giveaway. It’s unmistakably a Jesus thing (Luke 5). Peter suddenly jumps out of the boat, the others slowly make it to shore, and Jesus prepares breakfast for his friends.
It’s a story we didn’t even realize needed to be told. The other Gospels only give us one chapter to explore the resurrection. John 20 even ends with a clear climax. “These things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name!” If this were a play or a symphony, we would know that this is the moment for thunderous applause. Except, the actors aren’t taking their bow just yet. The orchestra is still playing, and they’re playing something quieter. Now after the climax, after the drama of trial and murder and resurrection, we simply find a group of friends going fishing. And after breakfast comes an intimate conversation between Jesus and Peter. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks three times. “You know I love you,” Peter responds in turn. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus continues, all three times. Jesus is the good shepherd, but now so is Peter.
Prior to the resurrection, we last saw Peter denying three times that he knows Jesus. Until now, on the beach this morning having breakfast with Jesus, Peter’s failure still looms over him like a dark cloud. He has thoroughly fallen apart, betrayed the most important person in the world. And now Jesus is going to put him back together just as thoroughly. Peter’s triple affirmation of his love for Jesus is more likely for Peter than it is for Jesus. Jesus knows Peter loves him, but Peter needs to know it too.
It’s a story we didn’t even realize we needed to be told. But it is everything Peter needs. He needs to look Jesus in the eye, to be confronted by the one he betrayed. He needs to hear the sweet, gentle invitation to “come have breakfast.” And he needs to hear that Jesus trusts him enough to give him the job of taking care of the sheep. All of this is how the pieces of Peter will be put back together.
Those who dare to follow Jesus will fail, will stumble, will make mistakes after which we feel ashamed and unqualified to continue following. Think of your failures. Think of the things that cause the most guilt, the parts of your life most in need of repair.
Just as these failures are clinging so closely to us, Jesus says, “come have breakfast.” Since his resurrection, Jesus has been breathing new life into his followers, and that breath is repairing all of our brokenness, calling us back into communion, entrusting us with nothing less than the most important task of all – the work of feeding and caring for each other. Here is our risen Lord Jesus inviting us into his healing presence and embrace. Let’s come and eat.