Revelation 5.11-14 is a vision of millions of angels singing praise to God and to Christ.
Psalm 30 is a song of thanksgiving to God, who has rescued the author from death. “God’s anger is but a moment; God’s grace is for a lifetime.”
In Acts 9.1-20 Saul, who is persecuting Christians, has a vision: he sees that they are actually Christ—that he is victimizing God! In the shock of recognition—both his guilt and his forgiveness— he is changed. (Saul will later change his name to Paul, and become a leader of the early church and the author of much of the New Testament.)
In John 21. 1-19 the risen Jesus appears to the disciples, directs an abundant catch of fish, feeds them breakfast, commands them to feed his sheep, and says, “Follow me.”
The appearance on the beach
There are three scenes in the Gospel reading. (There’s a fourth, about the beloved disciple, not included in the lectionary reading.) Each is a rich vein of ore from which to pick a gem of a sermon. Really using your imagination to find yourself in the story helps you locate your gems.
Scene 1: The Catch. (Want to follow Jesus? There’s a catch.) I imagine the disciples’ discouragement. I can feel it when I think of the church’s “golden days” which seem now past. I imagine their sense of loss, pointlessness, grief. They go back to what they know, back to the way it was. Which doesn’t really work. Jesus stood on the shore watching. (He’s always there, watching.) They don’t recognize him. Nobody does, at first. I imagine that’s because he’s changed. He calls them children. I imagine that hauls them (as in a net) out of their despairing, responsible adulthood. They’re in charge, accountable to produce results, obligated to justify themselves. How jarring to be called a kid.
Jesus tells them to change their ways. Again—how jarring to be told how to live your life. But look what it produces! Maybe Jesus know more than we do about the rich gifts in our lives. And about the fruits of transformation. Now the beloved disciple recognizes Jesus—not by looking at him more closely, but by observing his life-giving power. Peter leaps into the baptismal sea, in love and service to his Chief. Peter, once beckoned to get out of the boat and walk on water to Jesus, now is happy to simply swim toward his Beloved.
Scene 2: Eucharist on the beach. Once again Jesus “took and gave” bread. Nobody knows why there are 153 fish. The number of members of John’s community? Churches in the area? A mystery. Though there are so many, the net is not torn. Even as the community spreads and grows it stays connected. Our Eucharist is not just the Last Supper; it’s the First Breakfast, too—and the feeding of the 5000, and all the other food and drink Jesus shares.
Scene 3: Peter, Peter, Peter. Maybe Jesus’ asking Peter three times is re-instating him after he denies Jesus three times. But Peter doesn’t feel restored. He’s “hurt.” Remember: John wrote his gospel around the end of the first century, when Peter was already seen as the first pope. Maybe John is cutting the pope down to size! There is no rank, no better or worse Christian, just loving Jesus.
Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” In the Greek it’s like “be grazing my lambkins.” Very tender. Then “Tend my sheep.” (Literally “shepherd my sheep.”) Like, don’t just feed them, take them somewhere. And then “Feed my sheep.” There’s a sense of both nourishment and mission, journey inward and journey outward.
Then comes Jesus’ koan about being led where you don’t choose to go. Something like Paul’s “giving up childish things” in 1 Cor. 13? “When you grow old” could mean when you get aged and feeble. But it can also just mean when you mature, when you grow up. Maybe part of growing up is letting go of our childish “I want to do it myself” urge: allowing ourselves to be led by the Spirit.
I avoid calling this story Saul’s “Conversion.” That label lends itself to categorization by which people too easily exclude themselves or others. It was an awakening, which any of us can and should experience all the time. The radical nature of it is not just that Saul, has a vision of Jesus, but that he has a vision of his own life: the very people he’s persecuting are the ones in whom God is most fully present. If Christ is the Crucified One, then no matter how righteous we think our cause, Christ is present in whoever it is that we judge, exclude, marginalize or oppress, whoever we think of as the ”other.” That’s a lot more likely to “convert” us than a dramatic (and unlikely) vision of Jesus.
By the way, let this story live in mystery. Explaining it as a scientific fact will only get you tangled up in irrelevant things. There are several version of the tale, and they differ. For instance here “Those traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one” (v. 9). In the version in Acts 22.9 Paul says “those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice.” In the version in Acts 26.12-18 they all fall to the ground… Let it be a story about awakening, not about special effects.
Oh, also by the way—there was no horse. It was in Caravaggio’s painting, not in the Bible. (Do you see how the faith was taught through art? We all think there was a horse, because we saw it. In the painting.)
Call to Worship
Leader: Christ is risen.
All:Christ is risen in deed!
Risen Christ, you come to us,
hidden and unrecognized, and you bless us.
We greet you with awe and wonder.
You give us your gifts, and nourish our souls.
We welcome you with gratitude and joy.
You give us the spirit of your peace, and call us to love.
We serve you with faith and hope. Alleluia!
Leader: Crucified love, risen love, you walk among us.
All: Loving God, heartbroken God, you pour yourself out to us.
Risen Christ, Beckoning Christ, you work miracles among us.
Loving Christ, tender Christ, you feed us.
Holy Spirit, Living Spirit, you come to us.
Holy Spirit, life-giving Spirit, you call us to follow.
We are yours. We worship you. Alleluia!
3. (Revelation 5.11-14)
Leader: I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, singing with full voice:
All: Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered
to receive power and wealth and wisdom
and might and honor and glory and blessing!
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor
and glory and might forever and ever!
And the four living creatures cried out:
And the elders fell down and worshiped.
Leader: Christ is risen!
All:Christ is risen indeed!
Creator God, we praise you!
Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, we are one body by your grace.
Eternal God, you alone are holy, and we worship you.
By the light of Christ, rising from the grave in victory,
dispel the darkness of our hearts, shine upon us with mercy,
guide us in the ways of peace, and lead us to your heart.
We have died with Christ. We are raised with Christ.
Receive our old ways of living and grant us new life,
that we may serve you in love, all of our days.
You who grant your disciples a miraculous catch of fish,
grant us your grace that we may worship you.
Alleluia! Bless us, that we may feed your sheep. Alleluia!
Leader: God of love, by your grace
the disciples who thought they were empty handed were given great gifts.
All: By your love Saul who thought he was persecuting by your will
saw your presence among the persecuted.
Open our eyes, change our hearts, and lead us in new directions.
Give us your Spirit to follow Jesus,
to proclaim your Word, to feed your sheep. Amen.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
God of love, you have raised Christ from the dead, yet we don’t recognize the Beloved among us. Speak to us and awaken our hearts. Open our eyes to see your presence, to hear your call, and to follow you, in the power of your Spirit of love. Amen.
Life-giving God, the Risen Christ came to the grief-stricken disciples and fed them, taught them, and called them. You are present among us now; speak your Word to us, feed us with your grace, and call us again into the ministry of loving service, in the name of Christ and the power of your Spirit. Amen.
Jesus, our risen Savior, you bring new life to us, and ask us to share it with others. Help us realize the presence of your Spirit in us, and live as you have lived. In your goodness, teach, heal, forgive and give new life to others through us, to the glory of God. Amen.
Loving One, though our love often fails, We do love you. Give us your spirit to feed your lambs. Though our discipleship often falters, you give us miraculous gifs to share. Give us faith to tend your sheep. Though we have our own hopes and wants, lead us by your Spirit to feed your sheep, in the name and the company of Jesus. Amen.
Gracious God, the risen Christ spoke to Peter by the lakeshore, and to Saul on his way to Damascus. You called them to serve, and changed their lives. Speak to us now; transform us by your Word, and call us into your service. Bless us with open hearts and minds, that as the scriptures are read and your good news proclaimed we may hear with joy what you are saying to us today. Amen.
Holy One, come to us. Like Saul we go about our business, like the disciples we stick to the familiar, not realizing what we are doing—until you reveal yourself. Shine your light on us now; come to us, awaken us, speak to us, and change our hearts. Amen.
Christ, though our nights be dark, you are near, and your blessing awakens us. Though our boats be empty, a mysterious abundance billows beneath us. You feed us your Word of grace; you lead us to life that we do not design. Help us to listen, and to love you. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
God we confess that like Saul we think we know.
We think we are right.
Shine the light of your love on us,
that we may see where we have excluded you.
Bring us to our knees
that we may be changed.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
[From Colossians 3.1-16]
Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above,
where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
We set our minds on higher things, not on worldly things,
for we have died, and our life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ, who is your life, is revealed,
you also will be revealed with Christ in glory.
As God’s beloved we clothe ourselves in love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,
to which you were called in one body.
May the word of Christ dwell richly in us.
With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
like the disciples we think we are empty-handed;
but you draw up gifts from the depths.
Like Saul we judge other;
but you are among those we judge.
Open our eyes to see you anew,
and to receive your gifts.
[The body of the prayer may be read responsively or by the presiding leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your heart.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
Eternal Creator, Unfailing Liberator, Steadfast Lover, we thank you.
Like then sun rising on the sea you shine on us with beauty and hope.
When we think we are alone you are with us.
When we think we are empty handed you provide nets full of fish.
You feed us; you call us your children; you set us free from fear and despair.
You give us bountiful gifts, and we thank you.
You set this table before us and invite us to feast with you
in the morning light of resurrection.
So we come to your table, with all your Beloved singing your praise.
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He fed the hungry and healed the broken.
He suffered with us and for us.
In Christ you are faithful to us;
you walk through death to be with us, in love and blessing.
(The Blessing and Covenant) *
As he did at that table, and so many other tines,
Jesus did again on the seashore:
he took bread, blessed it, and gave it to this friends.
We feast on the miracle of your presence.
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember Christ’s death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ,
taken—drawn up in the net of your grace,
blessed—awakened by the light of your love,
broken—stripped of all but our love for you,
and given to the world,
in the resurrecting power of your Spirit.
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending
Gracious God, we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace and use them according to your will. You have come to us; you have loved us; you have called us; you have brought forth our gifts. We are ready now to go where you send us. Wrap the belt of your Word around us and lead us, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
Holy One, blessed by your presence and fed by your love, we give you thanks. You have drawn up from the depths of mystery gifts we did not know we have. Send us now in the power of those gifts to feed your sheep, to tend your Beloved, to live for the well-being of all who long for life, in the name and the Spirit and the presence of the risen Christ. Amen.
Prayer after Communion
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You have come to us in Christ, and fed us with your love. You have filled us with your Spirit, so that we might embody your love for others. Send us into the world now and help us to feed your sheep, to tend your lambs, to care for your beloved ones. May our lives be nourishing to the poor, in the power of your Holy Spirit and the name of Christ, who is risen in us. Amen.
Gracious God, we thank you for this mystery in which you have given yourself to us. You have fed us with grace that can’t be predicted, with abundance that is hidden until it is received. Send us into the world now to follow Christ, to feed your sheep, to embody your love, in the name and Spirit of Christ. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
Communion Songs for Easter set to familiar tunes
Eight songs of invitation to the table, set to these melodies:
All Creatures of Our God and King,
Infant Holy, Be Thou My Vision,
The Gift of Love / Water Is Wide,
Morning Has Broken, Fairest Lord Jesus.
Easter Eucharistic Responses
Sanctus, Memorial Acclamation and Amen set to:
All Things Bright and Beautiful (Includes Preface)
Christ the Lord is Risen Today
Fairest Lord Jesus
Morning Has Broken
Now the Green Blade Rises
Come, Risen Christ (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)
Come, risen Christ, to us. Come into our daily lives.
Come in our labors and in our rest.
Walk with us by our side. Show us where grace may hide.
Become our host, who once was guest.
Come, risen Christ, to us. Come into our fear and pain.
Come, speak to us your word of peace.
Nourish our weakened hearts. Feed us the food of grace.
From guilt and anguish grant release.
Come, risen Christ, to us. Lay your hand upon our hearts.
Draw us to follow. Our lives now use.
Call us your word to keep, love you and feed your sheep,
and bear your light where you shall choose.
Feed My Sheep (Original song)
“Feed my sheep. Tend my lambs.
Do you love me? Reach your hands.
Bear your cross faithfully.
Give you life and follow me.
Sight restored,wounded healed,
God’s deep love is thus revealed.
God sent me: I send you,
love, my new commend, to do.
Serve the poor and the weak,
help them find their voice to speak.
Evil turned, mercy raised,
love and justice are my praise.
Peace be yours from this hour,
and the Holy Spirit’s power.
Raised from death, born anew,
live in me and I in you.”
Psalm 23 (Tune: Be Thou My Vision)
God is my shepherd; I have all I need. God
Makes me lie down in green pastures to feed.
By the still waters God gently will lead.
Love, you’re my shepherd. I have all I need.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I
fear not, for you are as close as my breath.
For you are with me, your staff and your rod
they are my comfort, my shepherd, my God.
You set my table before all my foes. You
pour out your blessing; my cup overflows.
Goodness shall be with me wherever I roam,
and I will live with you, my Heart, my Home.