Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
John 21:15-17 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Jesus and Peter
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Have you ever had the experience of unresolved guilt…of regret…of wishing that you had it to do all over again? I would be surprised if you answered “no” to any of those questions. It is a part of our human condition to experience that. We are all people who stray. We are people who turn away from the way of God. We are people who go our own way and sometimes hurt others along the way.
On the Northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee there is a small bay with a rocky protrusion. Next to it is a pleasant grove of shady trees. It is a place which is called in the Greek “Heptapegon,” or the “Seven Springs,” usually known in its Arabic shortened form as “Tabgha.” Here seven warm springs empty into the sea, thereby attracting large schools of fish. Even today one can see boats surrounding the area, as it is a great place in which to fish.
The little Franciscan Church of the Primacy of Peter encloses a rocky promontory that is the traditional site where one of the most profound experiences of Easter—of Resurrection and new life occurred. I have been there three times now and to me it is one of the most sacred places in Israel because it stands as a symbol of the amazing power of the second chance. To stand before that altar and remember the Risen Christ and the experience of the disciples is to stand on holy ground.
To understand the power of this post-resurrection story, we also have to go back to the night of Jesus’ arrest as he was led in chains through the courtyard of Caiaphas, the High Priest, in Jerusalem. Jesus had said that when he was arrested the disciples would all scatter, but Simon Peter had arrogantly said, “Not me, Lord! These may all go running, but not me! I would never desert you.”
But, Jesus told him right there in front of everybody that in fact he would deny him three times before the crow of the rooster signaled the approach of morning. Peter had insisted that he would never do such a thing. But, on that awful night in Caiphas’ courtyard he had done just that. He stood by a charcoal fire warming himself along with others gathered there. He denied even knowing Jesus three times and, to make matters even worse, he spat out profanity and a curse when he denied his Lord for the third time. He of all people had said he would never desert him and then when the heat was on he couldn’t even bring himself to admit to knowing Jesus.
You can imagine how that memory stung Simon. Memories, whether pleasant or painful, are burned into our minds in proportion to the emotional impact of the event. Surely this memory was the most painful, vivid memory of his past. Every detail would have been there: the way the charcoal fire smelled (the sense of smell is closely related to our memories) and the way it looked and felt; the way the shadows created by the light from the fire danced around all the objects; the way he had denied even knowing Jesus three times; the sound of his own voice spitting out profanity and a curse when he denied his Lord for the third time; the look in Jesus’ eyes when their eyes met as his friend and Lord was led by in shackles. What a horrible memory!
And then the roosters. The roosters began to crow all over the countryside. Jesus had said he would do this. Jesus had known him better than he knew himself. The roosters were crowing, signaling the coming of day, but there would be darkness for Simon Peter. Nothing, we must have thought, could erase the pain and the guilt and the remorse he felt. He had a chance to do the right thing, the courageous thing and he blew it. It was trial by fire—trial by a charcoal fire—and he failed. How could he ever forgive himself? How could Jesus ever forgive him?
For Simon Peter, the sound of roosters crowing and the smell of a charcoal fire—a sound and a smell that would go unnoticed by most people—must have brought back the terrible scene of his betrayal and the painful regret that he felt. But that would change for Simon Peter, too.
Today’s reading comes after some of the disciples fished all night, but without any luck. Just as the day was breaking and they were ready to call it a night, they saw a stranger on the beach.
“Having any luck?” he called out to them.
“Afraid not,” they called back.
“Cast the net on the other side of the boat,” the stranger replied, “and you will find some.” And they did, and this time their net was teeming with fish! It was another amazing, astounding catch of fish! In fact, when they counted them up later, there were 153 of them! A huge catch!
The disciple John turned to Simon Peter and said, “It is the Lord!” Who else? No one else had an eye for the fish like Jesus! Always impulsive, Simon Peter jumped into the water and headed toward shore, while the more reserved disciples steered the boat on in.
What did they see when they got ashore? They saw a charcoal fire that Jesus had built. He was cooking breakfast for them. Only two times in all of scripture is the Greek word used that means “charcoal fire.” The first time is for the fire built in Caiphas’ courtyard by the slaves and guards where Simon Peter was warming himself when he denied Jesus and the other time is here. When Peter sees the fire, hears it crackling in the semi-light of dawn (about the time of the rooster’s crow), smells it burning, feels its warmth and sees its light dancing on the face of Jesus, what do you suppose Peter thought of? What a powerful connection!
The Risen Christ was working to bring to Simon Peter the healing of memories, wholeness, and forgiveness. Jesus was going to great lengths to give Simon Peter a second chance. I believe that Jesus tailored the whole event to meet Simon Peter’s need for forgiveness. I believe that the Lord loved Peter that much. I believe that Christ built that charcoal fire to bring to mind that painful moment for Simon Peter when he denied even knowing Jesus three times. The sight and the smell of the fire in the semi-darkness of early dawn would call to mind one of the darkest moments in Simon Peter’s life. Roosters were probably crowing across the Galilean Countryside. But, it would call that dark moment to his mind for one purpose: to bring forgiveness and healing to Peter’s troubled soul. Jesus loved Simon Peter and reached out to him in just the way he needed at that moment in his life.
Our reading picks up after breakfast. Christ turns to Simon Peter and asks one of the most famous questions in the Scripture, “Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?” Three times Christ asks Simon Peter if he loves him–once for each time Peter denied him. “Lord, you know I love you,” Peter replies. He was giving Simon Peter one of the most amazingly powerful gifts in all the universe—the gift of forgiveness and the ability to forgive himself and move on in his life.
The Good News is that the Lord loves you and me that much today! The Good News is that the amazing power of the second chance is something the Lord goes to great lengths to give us today. I love the way that St. Augustine put it: “God loves you as if you were the only one in the world to love.”
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster