may 3rd, 2020 – while it was still dark

Let us pray together:


Living God,
     we worship you today with joy in our hearts
  and thanksgiving on our lips.
When the powers of evil had done their worst,
    crucifying your son, and burying him in death,
      you raised him to life again:
  an act of power giving hope to the world.
Lord Jesus,
     we rejoice that death could not keep you in its grip;
  that you were raised to life, alive forevermore.
You greeted your friends
     and now you stand among us in your risen power.
Spirit of God,
     you are always giving life to the people of God,
   giving birth to children of God.
Remodel us in the image of Jesus,
    fill us with his love
      and enable us with his risen power,
   that we might be faithful to his way,
 used by you in the redeeming of your world.
Baptist Union of Great Britain

Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing (click here for audio link)

Come thou fount of every blessing
     tune my heart to sing your praise
Streams of mercy never ceasing
     call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet
     sung by flaming tongues above
Praise the mount I’m fixed upon it
     mount of thy redeeming blood


Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
     prone to leave the God I love
Prone to hear you and not heed it
     prone to scorn you in your love
Prone to wander
     prone to wander
Oh to grace how great a debtor
     daily I’m constrained to be
Let your goodness like a fetter
     bind my wandering heart to thee
Jesus sought me when a stranger
     wandering from the heart of God
He to rescue me from danger
     used his own precious blood
Robert Robinson
John Wyeth
Sara Groves

While it was still dark
While it was still dark.
While it was still night.
While she could not see.
While she thought death held sway.                           
While she grieved.
While she wept.
While it was still dark, resurrection began.
When it is dark.
When it is night.
When we cannot see.
When we think death holds sway.
When we grieve.
When we weep.
When it is dark, resurrection is at work.
Jan Richardson

Shelter (click here for audio link)

In the arms of a good Father
     you can go to the deep water
Where the questions, we have left unspoken
     come out in the open
We will find shelter here

So I lay down
     what I cannot hold in my hands
 Every sorrow and hope spinning out of control
     here I find sweet resolution comes in letting go
 We will find shelter here

Sandra McCracken

Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James and John, and two other followers were all together. Simon Peter said, “I am going out to fish.” 
The others said, “We will go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat. They fished that night but caught nothing.
Early the next morning Jesus stood on the shore watching them, but they did not recognize him.  Jesus said to them, “Friends, did you catch any fish?”
They answered, “No.”
Then Jesus said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they did, and they caught so many fish they could not pull the net back into the boat.
John said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” 
When Peter heard him say this, he wrapped his coat around himself because he had taken his clothes off to work. 
Peter jumped into the water and started swimming for the shore.  The others followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish. They were not very far from shore, only about a hundred yards. When they arrived, they stepped out of the boat and saw a fire of hot coals. There were fish on the fire, and there was bread.
Then Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” 
So Simon Peter went back into the boat and pulled the net to the shore. It was full of big fish, one hundred fifty-three in all, but even though there were so many, the net did not tear.   
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”  None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.   Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, along with the fish.
This was now the third time Jesus showed himself to his followers after he was raised from the dead.

John 21:1-14

Christ the Lord is Risen Today (click here for audio link)
Christ the Lord is risen today
   earth and heaven in say
Raise your joys and triumphs high
   sing, ye heavens, and earth reply
Love’s redeeming work is done
     fought the fight, the battle He won
Death in vain forbids him rise
     Christ has opened paradise
Alleluia, oh hear them sing
     alleluia, oh death has no sting
Christ the Lord is risen today
   earth and heaven in say
Raise your joys and triumphs high
   sing, ye heavens, and earth reply
Love’s redeeming work is done
     fought the fight, the battle He won
Death in vain forbids him rise
     Christ has opened paradise
Charles Wesley
Latifah Alattas

Hey everyone – it’s good to be with you through the waves and wires. I hope all of you are well.
Just before I get into our reflection I want to mention that over the next few weeks we are going to be highlighting our church’s ministry partners.  We’ve asked each of them to send us an update, including ways that we can best support them at this time.  Today we are highlighting The Bridge.  The link to access Linda’s update is just below the link for this liturgy.  If you would like to hear it now, you can pause this now, click the link and have a listen. 
Well it’s the fourth Sunday of Easter Celebration, which means it’s only been three weeks since Easter.  It seems like Easter such a long time ago—almost like it never happened.  I was standing in front of the closet this week trying to decide between wearing a plaid shirt or a plaid shirt and I said to Laurie, ‘I didn’t get to wear my Easter shirt this year.’ 
Yes, that’s right, I have things in the closet I have given names to.  Like my Easter shirt, or Sunday jeans, or frisbee day socks…it’s cool to make fun of me for this, my family mocks me about it all the time.  Like, ‘Hey dad, I see you’re getting all crazy and wearing your ‘fancy shoes’ to supper tonight!’ Cue Priestley kids cracking themselves up.


But standing in front of the closet what I was recognizing is that with the forward motion of life, the living in COVID isolation, and without the regular routine of our Sunday morning Easter service, including donning the previously mentioned shirt, my experience of Easter Celebration has been a bit flat.  That all of this all has thrown me off a bit. 
I’ve been trying to put myself into the resurrection stories.  It dawned on me that the dissonance I feel must be pale in comparison to what Jesus’s followers must have experienced.  First, just their rhythm of living would have been completely thrown off.  They went from physically spending almost every day with Jesus to nothing.  Then, they must have wondered about the lack of his presence.  Like, ‘If he’s come back from the dead why isn’t he hanging out with us?’  This had to circle back to the debate that was going on about whether Jesus actually had come back to life.  What Thomas said makes total sense – ‘Dude, unless I physically see Jesus, touch the scars, and hear his voice, I’m not going to believe – just saying.’


I think It’s easy to create a picture in our heads that after Jesus rose from the dead everything went back to how it had been.  You know, lots of hangs and laughter and meals and stories.  But that’s not how it was.  The disciples stayed behind locked doors and hid in shadows for fear of being recognized.  The story we are considering today concludes by saying that this was the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples.  That’s a lot of not seeing Jesus, a lot of dead space, a lot of isolation, a lot of time to be in ‘their own heads.’
The account in John 21 begins with Peter just not being able to take the silence and sitting and waiting and the ‘nothingness’ any more.   Maybe he needed a distraction or something familiar that he could exert control over or maybe he had concluded that there was nothing more to come and he needed to get back to a making a living.  In any respect, he stands up and announces that he is going to go fishing.


Several of the others who were with Peter decide to tag along and they all make their way to a boat in the cover of darkness.  (Or at least the twilight of dusk.)  The text says that they fished all through the night.
I want to pause the story here for a moment. 


This year I’ve noticed that several of the resurrection stories occur in darkness, or at least low light. For me, this creates an interesting symmetry between Advent and Easter and the tensions between seeing and not seeing, between understanding and not getting it, and between darkness and light.  Though the symmetry makes sense to me, it has caught my attention in a new way.  One of the big metaphors in the Gospel of John is of Jesus as light.  During Advent we often speak of Jesus stepping into our darkness.  Easter also works in this motif except that resurrection tips it upside down.  Resurrection is about reversal, and repair, and restoring, and making all things new.  So the light doesn’t step into the darkness, it steps out of the darkness.  Resurrection is the miracle of light breaking out of the darkness of death.
Are you familiar with the saying that it is darkest just before dawn?   It’s based on the idea that the time just before dawn is literally the darkest time of night because it is the longest point from which sunlight has last been seen.  In the 1600’s Thomas Fuller theologically riffed on this idea saying that, ‘It is said that the darkest hour of the night comes just before the dawn.’  This in turn was simplified into a proverb meaning that things seem at their worst just before they get better.  I’m not a super fan of this proverb.  It’s been used too many times in ways that trivialize or avoid the hard or dark places by suggesting that ‘dawn’ is on the horizon. By suggesting that ‘just hang in there, everything will turn out okay.’.


But I have to say, for me the resurrection accounts breath life and truth into this saying. Resurrection actually does guarantee that there is a dawn on the horizon—that all things are being made new, even when I don’t perceive the work or see its full completion.  The work of resurrection is active amidst the places of our darkness.


The first resurrection account begins in darkness with Mary making her way to the tomb with the notion that at first light she would prepare the body of Jesus for a proper burial. Yet when she arrived at the tomb she discovered that in the darkness an anomaly had occurred; death turned to life and darkness was split open by light.


In our story today the disciples fish in the darkness of night, to no avail.  I wonder how that must have felt.  Peter returns to what is familiar, what he’s good at, what he made a living from, but on that night just can’t make it work – couldn’t catch a fish.  In the story it seems like he must have been working up a sweat because he’s stripped down.


As the first light of morning breaks, a man on the beach calls out to the disciples in the boat.  Of course we know that the man calling out is Jesus but the disciples don’t recognize him. Here’s another resurrection story where Jesus is content to be ‘unrecognized.’  It a way it almost seems that he is intentionally keeping his identity on the down low.  He doesn’t call out their names—instead he uses a generic greeting.  In the translation we used for reading Jesus calls them friends.  Probably more accurate would be something like ‘Hey guys!’ or ‘Hey lads!’ 


Lots of versions use ‘children’ which is a literal translation of the Greek – but in a generic sense,  not like the affectionate, teacher to disciple use of ‘children’ found in John 13.  I’m going a little out of the way, but I want to point out Jesus is playing like he’s a stranger.  I think he wants them to discover his identity in a different way. 


Jesus asks them if they’ve caught anything.  Which I also have to think had the potential to be super annoying.  Like when you’ve been struggling at trying to get something to work and it’s just not happening and then somebody wanders up and asks you how you’re doing at getting the thing to work…and you’re tired and frustrated and you kind feel like letting loose all of the aggravation that’s built up inside…I think that’s what’s happening there.


Anyhow Jesus asks them if they’ve caught anything, of which he obviously already knows the answer to.  They yell back that they haven’t caught anything.  (I say yell because the text says that they are about one hundred yards off shore.)  Then Jesus hollers back for them to throw the net on the other side of the boat.  
Now at this juncture, some bells must start going off in their heads.  Remember, the first time Jesus met Peter it was after  Peter had spend a night fishing and hadn’t caught anything. Jesus tells him to row back out and throw the nets in and he’ll catch fish. (See Luke 5)  The disciples pull in their nets and throw them on the other side of the boat.  Immediately their nets are filled with fish.  When this happens John immediately recognizes, at least in his spirit he recognizes, that the man on the shore is Jesus.  He says to Peter, ‘It’s Jesus!’  Peter is so stoked – as fast as he can, he puts his outer clothing back in and jumps in the water to swim for shore.  The others in the boat follow behind hauling the giant catch of fish.


It must have been quite a swim for Peter.  I mean he was fully clothed, which in the water must have weighed a ton. In his excitement to see Jesus Peter did what he always did – he just jumped in. I wonder if at some point between the boat and the shore Peter remembered that, as had been predicted, he had denied knowing Jesus.


The text doesn’t say what transpires between Jesus and Peter when he finally makes it to shore.  I suppose that makes sense—John is in the boat so he wouldn’t have heard. Perhaps Peter didn’t ever talk about it.   Maybe nothing was said—just a holy moment of Jesus and Peter looking at each other.


What we do know is that when everyone got to shore they found that Jesus had a meal set out for them.  That while the disciples were struggling in the deep darkness just before dawn, completely unaware of his presence, Jesus had been at work—collecting wood to burn, starting a fire, catching fish, baking bread, laying out a meal for them to partake in with him at dawn.


Isn’t that the story of Jesus?  That while we were in darkness he was at work.  That he stepped into our darkness, that he became our darkness, that triumphed over our darkness.  I really like Jan Richardson’s poem While It Was Still Dark.  It was read for us earlier in the liturgy and reminds me that while it was still dark resurrection began.  That even when it’s dark, even when we cannot see our way out, even when death is all around, even when we experience grief and pain, even in those places resurrection is at work.  That when the night is holding on, God is holding on to us.


Resurrection promises that dawn has broken the darkest part of night.  The presence of Jesus is with us; quietly, diligently, tenaciously at work in our lives and in this world making all things new.  And this week, for me, that was comforting—way better than wearing my Easter shirt.

King of My Heart (click here for audio link)

Let the King of my heart
     be the mountain where I run
The fountain I drink from
     oh, He is my song
Let the King of my heart
     be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life
     oh, He is my song
You are good, good

Let the King of my heart
     be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
     oh, He is my song
Let the King of my heart
     be the fire inside my veins
The echo of my days
     oh he is my song
You are good, good
You’re never gonna let
     never gonna let me down
John Mark McMillian
Sarah McMillian


O Lord our God,
   as we have sinned,
      whether in word, or deed, or thought,
   forgive us all,
      for Thou art good and lovest humankind.
Grant us a peaceful and undisturbed sleep,
   and deliver us from all influence
      and temptation of the evil one.
Raise us up again in proper time,
   that we may glorify Thee
      as we learn to live alive in hope, victory,
   and power of the resurrection.
Thou art the eternal Father,
   the Only begotten Son,
      and the all holy, and good,
   and life giving Spirit.
Now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.
And when the night is holding onto me
     God is holding on
John Mark McMillian
Sarah McMillian

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