West Point Grey United Church
May 01, 2022

Into Our Sorrow

John 21:1-14

On this past Sunday morning, while I was preparing for the service in the sanctuary, my phone began to ring. When I took the phone from my pocket, I saw the name, Norm Henderson. It was not unusual for me to receive a phone call from Norm on a Sunday morning. Usually they were about tech-related matters for our worship service. So, I said, “Good morning! Norm,” but unusually there were a few seconds of silence from the other end, and then I heard the voice not of Norm but of Leslie, his daughter-in-law, John’s wife, to tell me about Norm’s death a few hours earlier. I couldn’t believe it. I had just seen and talked to him on Easter Sunday in the morning. I am shocked at his sudden death; I think you too are saddened at his passing, but we give thanks for his love for our faith community, his vision for seniors’ ministry through the Lunch Club (TLC) and the benefits of technology in ministry. We are surrounded by his vision and legacy to move beyond our geographical limits to connect with each other. We often heard Norm say, “Nowadays geographical limits are nothing.” What we are doing during the Sunday morning service is a fine example of how we reach beyond geographical limits to stay connected and develop our faith community. 

About two thousand years ago beyond time and space Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, however the event was meaningless for them, especially for Peter. In today’s scripture reading, the editor of Luke records that Peter had decided to go fishing. Even though the story says that the crucified Jesus had just appeared to him and the other disciples and as the risen Christ, empowered them with the Holy Spirit and sent them out on their mission, Peter chooses to go fishing! Go back to his familiar trade!

Perhaps his head was swirling, trying to find meaning in all that had happened. Perhaps he was confused and didn’t know what to make of it all. Perhaps, perhaps he was still haunted – still tormented by those three denials of Jesus (13:38). For whatever reason, Peter declares, “I’m going fishing.” Amid the confusion of the time, amid his uncertainty about his mission, amid his self-doubt, he returns to what he knows best and to what he knows he can do – fishing. And what a disaster it was! All night these seven disciples fished, tending their nets in the bitter cold and darkness. All night they sat huddled in that little boat, bouncing here and there with the waves. And not a single fish to show for it! The fishing trip is a failure and a disaster. They grew up with the nets, but they fish all night without catching a thing.

Peter, we know how you feel! We know how it feels to fail, even at that which we think we know how to do best. We know failure, and it haunts us like a ghost, lurking unseen around us, striking fear in our hearts. Many of us have had, at least, some experience with failure – failure in business, failure in school, failure in marriage, failure in parenting, failure in friendship. We don’t like to think about our failures; we would rather not admit them and hate being reminded of them. Most of us know what it’s like to fail, even as Peter and the others failed that night. Failure undermines our self-image. It cuts through our self-confidence. It rips down our façade of strength. 

We can imagine what it must have been like for those disciples that night. There they are, wallowing in their failure, depressed that they had blundered again. Then a stranger appears on the shore. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” What was this stranger trying to say? “No, we have no fish,” they reply. “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Now this stranger is telling them how they should fish. 

And would you believe it? The story says their nets fill to the breaking point. Then one of them recognizes the stranger: “It is the Lord.” Peter jumped into the lake to swim to Jesus, leaving his colleagues to handle their bursting nets. It was not so much the marvellous catch of fish that motivated Peter, not the success to which the stranger had directed them. What drove Peter into the cold waters of the lake was the presence of his teacher, Jesus. 

Jesus had come to them amid their failure, appeared amid their disastrous efforts, spoken to them amid their fiasco. The risen Christ came to the disciples then and comes to us now in our failures. In our heartbreak and discouragement, in our self-doubt and uncertainty, in our sorrow and anguish, the risen Christ appears on the shore of our lakes of sorrow and failure. Christ appears, not to turn our failures into success, not to make us immune to failure, not to take away the danger of failure. He appears, rather, to be at our side in the hurt and sorrow, to empower us in our discouragement and to strengthen us in our self-doubt. 

There is an interesting similarity among the stories of the appearance of the risen Christ. The risen Christ is always popping up just when the disciples are in some kind of sorrow. This is good news: Christ comes to us when we recognize our sorrow. This is just as true for us now that the risen Christ come to us as we are saddened by the death of a dear friend, Norm Henderson. 

In my life journey, I have had many experiences of failures. Through my failures, I thought Christ had abandoned me. But just when I had sunk most deeply into grief over my failures, it was Christ who stood beside me. Christ appeared to me in the face of a friend or colleague. It is Christ who journeys with us, to strengthen the weak, the meek and the sorrowful. 

Christ appears to us in our sorrow and failure. Christ comes offering us courage to make changes, courage to be friends to the lonely, courage to speak up against Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, courage to right the wrongs of injustice toward Indigenous peoples, courage to address poverty and eco-justice, and courage to work with less fortunate peoples in our city and beyond. This risen Christ appears on the shores of despair to say to us, “Cast your nets on the other side.” Christ comes to us into our sorrow. Christ is here to strengthen us. Christ is here for all of us, here to strengthen, to empower and to comfort. Let us go out to do likewise. Amen.