Wednesday 17 April 2024

Favourite resurrection stories

The Gospel writers include a mix of events that took place after Christ’s resurrection. The accounts of what exactly happened when the tomb was first found empty all capture the same events from a different angle — whether that is of the women who found the tomb empty, of Mary Magdalene, or of the apostles. It may be that each Gospel writer wanted to include something that the others had not. Or that there are significant spiritual truths being conveyed in these different emphases. Or, perhaps, that each writer simply included his own favourite accounts of what happened next.

St John more or less says this himself when he seems to conclude his Gospel with the words: “there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) Christ continued to appear to his disciples for forty days — we only have partial accounts of four of these days in the Gospels. There probably was too much to write down. But then John goes on to write another chapter, where he includes just one more resurrection appearance that he couldn’t leave out. Perhaps this was his favourite story — we can certainly understand if it was.

Seven of the disciples, including Peter and John, go fishing. They work all night and catch nothing. Then a mysterious figure appears on the shore and tells them to try again on the right side of the boat and they’ll catch something. And they find more fish than they can haul in.

They’ve been here before, of course. Jesus did this when he first met them (Luke 5). And it makes John realise: “It is the Lord!”

When they get to land, they find Jesus waiting with a charcoal fire with bread and fish ready, and he invites them to bring some of the fish they have just caught and join him for breakfast.

There are many important things that take place here, like Peter’s reconciliation, and Our Lord’s prophecies of what will happen to Peter and John. There is a powerful image of the Church in the net full of fish that does not break. But what I find most interesting are the questions this passage raises in passing without any attempt at answering them.

For a start, where did Jesus get his bread and fish and fire from? When the disciples come ashore, it’s clear that there is plenty of bread and fish on a fire already, and the disciples add to that fish. Jesus has a “here’s one I made earlier” moment. But did he? Did he say: I’m God, so let there be a fire, let there be bread and fish, and there were? Did he command his angels to light a fire and provide these things? Or — and this is the option I like best — did he do it himself? No one says that we can’t take pleasure in fishing or lighting fires once we’ve risen from the dead.

As much fun as it is to picture the angels busying themselves with fishing rods and kindling, I suspect that’s not what happened. We can’t be sure of course. Each option is possible. But that still tells us something. It tells us that it is possible that Our Lord, risen from the dead, could have chosen to do these things for himself, if he wanted to. We know he continued to interact with the physical world — as we see when he eats breakfast. There is something quite moving in the idea that all those everyday tasks that go with being human are not beneath the risen Lord, and that he might even have done them by choice.

It takes John only a few sentences to describe the disciples’ work and journey back to shore. It won’t have been instantaneous. Jesus was waiting on the shore for a long time. What was he doing during that time? He wasn’t teaching anyone. He wasn’t healing anyone. He wasn’t sleeping.

Was he praying? Maybe. Earlier in the Gospels, whenever he has time to himself, he uses it for prayer, to be alone with his heavenly Father. But those intense periods of prayer he set aside before were for working out the details of his mission. Now that his mission is more or less complete, I don’t think he needed to pray in quite the same way. So what is he doing?

Perhaps he just sat there, enjoying the sun rise across the lake and lighting up the hills on the other side. (I’ve never been to the Holy Land, but a quick image search suggests it’s a stunning view.) And so I like to think that Our Lord simply took pleasure in the beauty of the world he created. He looked at it all and saw that it was good, as he had done once before. And he did so, sitting on the beach, next to a fire, listening to the sound of the waves, and waiting for his friends to join him.

Christ is risen from the dead, but he hasn’t lost any of his humanity that he shares with us. We look forward to sharing in the joys of heaven with him one day. But he already takes pleasure in sharing our joys now.