Listen carefully to the last two verses in the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of John and then tell me if you agree with me. (Read John 20:30, 31) That sounds an awful lot like the ending of John’s Gospel. In essence, the Gospel writer says, “Jesus did a bunch of other stuff during his life, believe me. He’s the Son of God and you will always have life in him. That’s it. Period, exclamation point. Amen.”
But wait. Sort of like the end of an when the salesperson has made the pitch and then they add a final line and an extra set of steak knives for incentive…there’s more! So even though we’ve come to what should be the end of the Gospel of John, we now go back and pick up the beginning of Chapter twenty-one. (Read John 21:1-14)
Chapter twenty-one feels like a great “P.S.” tacked on to the end of John’s Gospel. Whoever wrote John came to the end of what they wanted to say and then almost like an afterthought, they stuck in a p.s. or a postscript; a few extra, bonus stories about Jesus and the great catch of fish, Jesus and Peter, and Jesus and the Beloved Disciple.
Which presents us with the intriguing question, “What are supposed to make of these p.s., postscript stories? Especially given the fact that the stories themselves sound more like they belong in the beginning of John’s Gospel. Way back when Jesus was miraculously changing water into wine and gathering the disciples together to follow him. Why do we find these stories here at the end of the Gospel, after the resurrection, after Jesus appeared to the women, after Jesus revealed himself to Thomas and the other disciples? Why here and why now in the postscript of John’s Gospel when nothing more needed to be said? We’ll come back to that question a little later…
One of the things in life I have very little patience for is driving around in a crowded place trying to find a parking spot. Sometimes it happens to me at the gym. Occasionally it happens over at Stop and Shop. It seems like it almost always happens when I’m visiting someone in a nearby hospital where people’s cars often straddle two spaces and make it next to impossible for me to squeeze my Toyota into a half a space.
I know the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen,” but the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews never tried to park a car in the high school parking lot on “back to school” night…for example.
Every so often, however, when I’m driving around looking for a parking space, I think back to a story from my seminary days. I had a friend in seminary who used to commute to the Upper West Side of Manhattan from one of the other boroughs in New York City…I’m pretty sure it was Queens. And he would drive around until he found a parking space within a few blocks of the Union Theological Seminary entrance, located on One Hundred and Twenty-Second Street and Broadway.
Over the years of living in New York City, this friend of mine learned the merits of driving an old, beat up car. When you have to battle with other New York drivers every day to get to where you’re going and then you have to worry about whether your car will still be there when you return to it, there’s not much sense in driving a nice car.
The interesting thing about New York City in the early 1990’s though was that sometimes it didn’t much matter what kind of car you drove. What really mattered was what kind of radio or stereo you had inside the car. In fact, if your car looked like a piece of junk, but the stereo inside looked at all valuable, your car still attracted a good deal of unwanted attention.
Unfortunately, over the years this friend of mine learned his lesson the hard way. He started with a nice stereo in his car. And sure enough when he parked his car on the street near the seminary someone smashed his driver side window and stole the stereo. Soon thereafter, he put a mediocre stereo in his car. And that one only lasted a few months on the Manhattan streets before it was stolen too. Finally, he got one of those portable stereos that you used to be able to pull out of your car and take with you when you parked. Then just to be sure, he found a parking space near the seminary and then taped a note to his driver’s window. In capital letters written with black magic marker the note said, “No stereo inside.”
Well, that idea worked pretty well for a few months. Then one day, when my friend finished his last class of the day, he walked out the front door of the seminary. His car was parked about a hundred yards up the block, and as my friend got a little closer to the car, he could tell that his driver’s side window was smashed into little pieces. Again. Of course, he was more than a little annoyed.
As soon as he walked up to his car, my friend surveyed the damage. There were several bits of shattered glass on the street. And many more scattered on the driver seat and across to the passenger seat. My friend could even see the rock that somebody used to smash the window, sitting on the ground a few feet away. Having been through this routine a few times before, my friend knew enough not to clean up the glass. And he was about to call the police station so he could file a report.
Just then, my friend saw the piece of paper taped to the passenger window this time on the other side of the car. Still facing out. So he walked around to the other side of the car and pulled the paper off his window to read it. He wasn’t at all in a good mood, but lo and behold, the note made him chuckle in spite of himself. Down on the bottom of the paper, underneath the part where he had written, “no stereo inside,” was another line written by the perpetrator in capital letters. “Just checking…”
It’s funny how the p.s. comes across like an afterthought when everything else is all finished. At the same time, isn’t it true that the very best things are sometimes found in the postscript? How many times have you ever gotten a postcard from someone who is sitting on a beach somewhere? All they can talk about in the postcard is how sunny it is and how warm the water is and how relaxed they feel. Which often makes the reader of the postcard happy and jealous and resentful all at the same time. But then at the very bottom of the postcard squeezed in writing so small you can hardly see it, there’s an extra line…”P.S.” it says, “I miss you and I love you.”
The p.s. at the end of the postcard. The emojis strung together at the very end of a text message. The hashtag at the end of a tweet. From time to time, what seems like it’s just tacked on to the message is actually the best part of all…
We’re living now in the first post-resurrection week after Easter. Easter came last Sunday with tulips and lilies and jelly beans and singing and dancing and we have a few weeks now before we make it to Pentecost. All of us in the Christian church are in an in between time. A waiting time. A time filled with questions.
But most of those questions can be boiled down to one question. “What do you do after the resurrection?” And that brings us back to the original question raised by the twenty-first Chapter of the Gospel of John.
Jesus rose from the tomb. One by one Jesus proved the resurrection to his followers. His mission complete, he could have told the women and the disciples to carry on while he ascended to heaven to sit at God’s right hand. But no. With Jesus, you never really get to the final ending. There’s always a P.S. at the end of the story.
And that’s why we have this morning’s passage about the miraculous catch of fish. It’s why we have the story about Peter and the story about the Beloved Disciple which follow the one we heard this morning. It’s why we have all the stories in the Gospels that happen after the resurrection. Because Jesus doesn’t want to leave us hanging. Jesus doesn’t want the story to end any more than we do.
So in John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ appeared on the shore. He called out to his disciples who had gone back to fishing. While they hadn’t caught anything, they were at least doing something they knew. Soon the Beloved Disciples recognized Jesus. And he quickly passed word along to the rest of the crew in the boat. Until Simon Peter impulsively dove into the sea and swam back to shore.
For the disciples who were living in an in between, postscript time of their own, Jesus appearing on the shore had to be one of the best things they had ever seen. It was like reading the final line squeezed in at the bottom of the postcard. It was like seeing that string of emojis and deciphering the hashtags at the end of a message. It was like reading the bottom line of the note taped to the passenger side window. Even when the disciples were frustrated and disappointed, seeing the Risen Christ made them chuckle. Actually, it was the most blessed afterthought they could ever imagine.
Why do we have this story in the P.S. of John’s Gospel? To convince us that no matter what happened before or what will happen in the future, everything is going to be alright. The postscript reminds us how much Jesus missed his disciples. At the same time, it reminds us how much Jesus loves you and me. It reassures us that the story of the Risen Christ never ends. And it offers us an invitation.
Gathered around a campfire in the sand with the early sun casting its rays across the beach, Jesus cooked some food and invited his friends to “come and have breakfast.” In other words, he invited us to go back to doing what we do and what he’s asked us to do in his name.
Go back to doing what we do in the name of Jesus. Feed the hungry. House the poor. Clothe the naked. Visit the imprisoned. Welcome the stranger. Forgive your neighbor. Love your enemy. Tell the old, old story. Carry on Christ’s ministry and spread his love. These are the things we do after the resurrection. Amen.