The phrase “Easter faith” refers to the conviction that Jesus who was dead has been raised and thus has brought about the victory of life over death. Before Easter the disciples (and others) regarded Jesus as a wise teacher, a powerful miracle worker and a prophet. After Easter they proclaimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, had overcome the power of sin and death and so deserves to be celebrated as “Lord Jesus Christ.”
Today’s passage from John 21 marks a further step in the development of Easter faith that we have been tracking over the past few weeks. Some of the disciples are at work at their old profession of fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Fishermen often worked at night in order to be able to sell the freshest possible fish at the market in the morning. Then some surprising things begin to happen quickly.
First they come to recognize the risen Jesus on the shore. When Peter hears, “It is the Lord,” he jumps into the water. Then the disciples share a meal with him. Finally the risen Jesus confirms Peter in his pastoral mission, “Feed my lambs.”
There is an interesting correlation between what happens to the disciples in John 21 and what happens to us in Christian life. Just as Peter recognizes the risen Lord and leaps into the waters, so Christians profess their faith in the risen Jesus and are baptized in water and the Spirit. Just as the first disciples share a meal with the risen Jesus, so we now regularly share the Eucharist with him. And just as the risen Jesus commissions Peter to undertake a pastoral mission on his behalf, so the natural consequence of baptism and the Eucharist is to share ourselves and our faith with others. After Easter Jesus’ disciples moved from fear and cowardice to strong faith and courageous action. That is a great and inspiring story. But it is not unique. Rather their story follows the outline that reflects our stories: baptism, Eucharist and mission.
The difference that Easter faith made in the lives of the first disciples is illustrated in today’s reading from Acts. Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus before his death (not the kind of story that early Christians would have made up), emerges as the fearless proclaimer of the good news about the risen Jesus and as the prototype of the forgiven sinner. This passage shows that an encounter with the risen Jesus has the power to transform the lives of otherwise weak persons, that in Jesus it is possible to find forgiveness for even the worst sins and to make a new beginning, and that there have been and still are Christians willing to suffer and die for the sake of the Gospel.
The image of Jesus as “the Lamb that was slain” (see Isaiah 53) in Revelation 5 would have sent the message to the first readers that the only lord worthy of worship is the risen “Lord Jesus Christ” (and not the Roman emperor). The irony is that one who died a criminal’s death on the cross at Roman hands now reigns with “the Lord God almighty.”