It’s hard to believe that life can go on after the end of something glorious: the death of a beloved child or spouse, the loss of an irreplaceable friendship, or, for the disciples of Jesus, no longer having Him among them, daily walking with Him, eating with Him, sleeping with Him out in the wilds as they journeyed together, hearing His words and seeing His divine acts hidden from the world. ‘Of all men You are the most handsome, Your lips are moist with grace, for God has blessed you forever’ (Psalm 45). The most wonderful Man they had ever known was no longer with them.
Yes, they had not forgotten that the impossible had happened. Not just one impossible, but a whole string of them, all events that never should’ve happened, never could have happened, unless this Man really were who He said He was, who they were beginning to understand, gradually, that He is: How could they have arrested Him, who had never done anything wrong? How could they have stripped and beaten Him, who had healed their sick and filled their hungry with good things, literally feeding multitudes?
How could they have put Him to death, and ignominiously, mocking Him, deriding Him, who had brought the only life worth living among them? How could they have rejected Him, who was so obviously Moshiach, the Savior of Israel who had appeared to tell them that God had not rejected them, but had come to them, in Him, to end their exile from the Father? For the greatest of all impossibles had happened, He had risen from the dead, not as He raised Lazarus His beloved friend, but forever.
The winter and the midnight
Could not hold him,
The fire could not burn him
Nor earth enfold him.
Rise up Lazarus,
Sweet and salty!
Stop your gambling and talk to me.
The thieves were stealers,
But reason condemned him,
And the grave was empty
Where they had laid him.
And how did they know this? Was it just through the ravings of some hysterical women? Some of the brothers had murmured in their hurt and doubt, even against their sisters. But no, not just through their testimony, for Peter and John had run as quick as they could to the tomb: John, the youngest, stopping at its gaping mouth, but Peter, older, braver perhaps, but no wiser, plunging into its depths to see for himself: Yes, the tomb was empty. Now, greater fear than ever: What had happened?
They didn’t have to wait long to find out, but it must have seemed long. They were still hiding out behind locked doors when the Truth came to them: Jesus suddenly stood in their midst, almost as He always had, stood among them and once again told them as He had when He walked on the waters of the turbulent lake: ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ Stood among them almost, but not exactly, as He had been with them before. This time it was different. He embraced them with His pierced hands, but His face which came close to theirs in a kiss, was free of blood, grime and pain.
Yes, it was different then, and now. He would come among them, but it was always a surprise, and He didn’t stay with them very long, and He would appear when they were not expecting Him. Why couldn’t it be like it was before? Why couldn’t He stay with them always, so they could walk the roads of the land of Israel again, joyfully doing whatever He asked of them, following Him everywhere? They were never sad, hungry or tired when He was with them. Nothing was too difficult for them. Nothing was impossible. Why? Because Love never tires, and Love was walking with them as a Man.
And they followed Him.
But now, it was different. He hadn’t appeared to them for a long time. How many days had it been? They waited excitedly, anticipating they would meet Him again around the next corner of time, but the Lord didn’t appear. Peter got angry with himself for being so impatient and he crossly said out loud, ‘I’m going fishing!’ Well, yes, a man has to eat, and the disciples had suddenly found themselves sent home, back to their relatives, crabby, selfish, contrary and back-biting as some of them were. They had all reluctantly gone back to their former work. You can’t wait for Jesus forever, can you?
So, some of the brothers, sympathizing with Peter, dropped whatever they were doing and joined him in his old fishing boat on the lake. They fished all night, not talking much, as each of them had a night in his own soul to deal with, an emptiness that could only be filled with Jesus, a darkness that only the Light of the world could dispel. They fished all night but caught nothing. It was already getting light, the sun had even come up and was hanging just above the horizon, shining vermilion between two long banks of slate clouds. A man was walking down to the shore from somewhere.
They were now close enough to see him, but not clearly. Suddenly a voice rang out, ‘Caught anything, friends?’ One of them called back, ‘Nothing!’ The man was probably hoping to buy a few fish from them for his breakfast. He cried out to them, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something!’ Almost before those words had died on the morning breeze, John’s heart leapt, and without thinking, something made him cry out to the others with him in the boat,
‘It is the Lord!’
Peter, quickly tying his wrap around his naked torso, dove into the lake and started swimming for shore. John and the others stayed and followed the man’s instructions, only he and Peter knowing for sure who it was whose words they had believed. Sure enough, the net filled with fish, one for every nation in the known universe, it seemed. Hauling the net in, they too made for shore in the boat. There they found Peter standing a little ways off from the man who spoke the word that saved their night’s efforts.
The man had bread, and there were already some fish roasting over a charcoal camp fire, but the man said to Peter, smiling, ‘Looks like we’ll need some of your fish if we’re going to feed this crew!’ Nobody dared to speak, while Peter ran to where the boat was beached and dragged the whole haul to them. They started counting and sorting the fish, but the man said, ‘Come now and have breakfast! We can start with the ones I brought, and have some more later if we’re still hungry.’ This is how it always was, and is, for the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, not just in those significant forty days, but for always. With Him the impossible always happens, and by this we can know for sure, that ‘it is the Lord.’
Peter turned and saw the disciple Jesus loved following them… Seeing him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘What about him, Lord?’ Jesus answered, ‘If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow Me.’
John 21:20-22 Jerusalem Bible