Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41
There is something incredibly touching about meeting Jesus on the beach as he appears to the disciples casually cooking and inviting them to "Come have breakfast." Basic, simple, nourishing words that give no inkling to all that has occurred in the prior days. The horror of the crucifixion, the denial and cowering of the apostles, the earthquake that split the temple curtain, the shock of an empty tomb and the stunning, awesome awakening to their Savior’s presence once again. How could one ever return to ordinary life after such a cosmic event?
In the wake of walking in a world blown open by unimaginable Mystery, Peter and the disciples return to the familiar where the invitation to follow Christ was first accepted. Ladened with the reality of betraying his allegiance to Christ, the sea, abandoned boats and fishing call out to Peter offering him weathered security and comfort.
Before the disciples could fully embark on their new calling, experiences needed to be understood, integrated and healed. The connection to the real presence of God had to be grounded in each life and made real. Back in the familiarity of what they know, Christ returns to tie up the loose ends of the story, ensuring their connection of memory and experience while renewing, transforming and restoring the path for a deeper commitment. Known again through the miracle of the fish and the breaking of the bread, Christ continues to prepare them for the challenges that lay ahead.
I have always viewed Peter’s and Jesus’ "Do you love me?" exchange that follows as a merciful chance to reverse each denial but I wonder if there is the added element of a deeper invitation. Peter is now more aware of the cost of discipleship. His earlier proclamations of love before his denial remind me of the initial vows of marriage. Exuberant, passionate, unequivocal in its early stages, we meet Love with a degree of pride and naivete, promising and yet unaware of the depth of what this Love will ask. Love must endure and mature through the unforeseen tests and trials of time with the question becoming more real and relevant after it has been tested. It’s as if Christ is asking, "Having now seen and experienced both the miracles and the suffering that loving and following me can entail, are you willing to go forward with me?" This remains an ongoing invitation that awaits a response from each one of us every moment of our lives.
M. Walsh is a retreatant at Madre Dolorosa Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, California, and a friend of the Passionist community.