Readings: Acts 91-6 ; John 211-19
The long reading from the Gospel has many points of interest, but I’m going to concentrate on just one. The Risen Jesus invited his disciples to breakfast. Offhand, I can’t think of any other mention of breakfast in the Gospels. But then the word breakfast is of modern origin; the Authorized Version translates the Greek simply as dine. Reference books suggest that in the first century, working men might break their fast with a morsel of bread and some olives; the two proper meals of the day were a light meal at noon and the main meal at sunset. So, the meal Jesus invited his disciples to share might have been an augmented breaking of the fast or may have been later at noon, when bread and fish would have been quite normal.
Whatever the case, meals in general were prominent events throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry. We may think of him attending the wedding feast at Cana; or eating at Peter’s house in Capernaum; or, after calling Levi to follow him, dining at his house with tax-collectors and sinners; or in the house of Simon the leper, when a woman washed his feet with her tears. And, as a different kind of meal, again at evening, there was the Feeding of the Multitudes with bread and fish. At most meals Jesus is described teaching by questions and answers, as well as by Parables that challenging his hearers to come to a decision or to accept the need for change.
The most famous meal, of course, was what we know as the Last Supper. If we’re to be precise, it was the last meal before was Jesus betrayed and crucified. From it came our Christian tradition of the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion or the Mass or the Eucharist. In the medieval Church and then in Roman Catholic rites and the Book of Common Prayer, it was very much a commemoration of Jesus’ Passion and Death.
However, after Jesus’ Resurrection the Gospels describe a number of meals which the Risen Jesus shared with his disciples. In the Upper Room, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews; the supper at Emmaus when the two disciples only recognised Jesus when he broke the bread; and as we heard just now the meal by the Lakeside. The Risen Jesus came with a greeting of Peace be with you; he helped his disciples begin to understand what had happened; and he came with forgiveness. The disciples all ran away at his arrest – so they were all in need of his forgiveness and loving acceptance. By the Lakeside this was focused on Peter – who’d denied knowing Jesus three times. And so, three times the Risen Jesus asked Peter ‘do you love me?’ And Jesus responded to Peter’s affirmative answer, by charging him to care for all the disciples, so demonstrating his forgiveness and acceptance, adding: ‘follow me’.
In his book Resurrection, Rowan Williams writes of [p.100f] :
the enormous importance of the stories of the risen Jesus breaking bread with the disciples. … To welcome or be welcomed by him at a meal on the further side of Calvary [and the crucifixion] is the ultimate assurance of mercy and acceptance, of indestructible love.
… after Calvary … the community’s meal with Jesus is invariably an ‘Easter’ event (and so most properly celebrated on the first day of the week).
To take food as from the hand of Jesus after Easter is to receive from him the gift of his essential being – that presence of truth and acceptance before which we find again our lost selves. His food is the bread of life … : to eat Jesus’ food is to recognize the gift of himself behind it.
This may seem a long way from our attendance at this service. And yet, as we ponder the Gospel descriptions of what happened after the first Easter Day, we may catch something of the wonder and joy of those appearances of the Risen Jesus to his followers. We have not have gone through the trauma of our earthly Master being crucified, but we may be able to empathise a bit – and therefore then to appreciate something of the incredible change brought by his Risen presence.
In this Eastertide service of Eucharist – of Thanksgiving – we may find in ourselves some Peace, some forgiveness and acceptance, some joy and love, as well as some awareness of the presence of the Risen Jesus. As we do, we may share these among ourselves and then go out to share them with others. And the call of the Risen Jesus comes to us, as it did to Peter: ‘Follow me’.
A prayer I often use before the service seems especially appropriate after this morning’s Gospel:
As watchmen look for the morning, so do we look for thee, O Lord; come with the dawning of the day, and make thyself known to us in the breaking of the bread; for thou art our God for ever and ever. Amen.