Rev. Dr. Hyuk Cho
May 5, 2019
Rev. Dr. Hyuk Cho
Coordinating Minister

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John 21:1-19
Into Our Grief

As we were waking early on Easter Sunday morning two weeks ago, we heard the shocking news from the other side of the globe. The devastating bomb blasts that ripped through churches in Sri Lanka while they were holding Easter services had killed some 257 people and wounded more than 500. The news was shocking not only because so many people were killed but also because the series of bombings struck the churches during the services celebrating one of the highest holidays of the Christian liturgical year, Easter Sunday. According to the General Secretary of the Christian Conference in Asia (CCA), Dr. Mathews George Chunakara, the lethal actions were “incompatible with the values of any religious teachings and moral values of a civilised society.” The day filled with hope and life was marred by violence and death on a large scale. It is painful to recognize that human beings could be that violent. I was saddened, angry and upset by the cruelty but was comforted by the Inter-Denominational Statement by Christians in Jaffna, Sri Lanka: “Our grief is never a call for violence. Our grief is a call for coexistence.”    

It was like this for Peter two thousand years ago. It is a sorrowful Peter who leaves to go fishing again. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but Peter decides to go fishing. Even though the story says the crucified Jesus had appeared to him and the other disciples, even though the risen Christ has empowered them with the Holy Spirit and sent them out on their mission, Peter chooses to go fishing! Perhaps his head is swirling with the meaning of all of what has happened. Perhaps he is confused and doesn’t know what to make of it all.

Perhaps, perhaps he is still haunted – still tormented by those three denials of Jesus. For whatever reason, Peter declares, “I’m going fishing.” Amid the confusion of the time, his uncertainty about his mission, his self-doubts, he returns to what he knows best and to what he knows can do – fishing. And what a disaster it is. All night these seven disciples are fishing, tending their nets in the bitter cold and darkness. All night they sit huddled in that little boat, bouncing here and there with the waves. And not a single fish to show for it! The fishing trip is a failure and a disaster. They grew up with the nets, but they fish all night without catching a thing.

We know how you feel, Peter! We know how it feels to fail, even at that which we think we know how to do well. We know failure, and it haunts us like a ghost, lurking unseen around us, striking fear in our hearts. Many of us have had a good deal of experience with failure -- failure in business, in school, in marriage, in parenting, failure in friendship. We don’t like to think about those failures, would rather not admit them and hate being reminded of them. Most of us know what it is like to fail, even as Peter and the others failed that night. Failures undermine our self-image. It cuts through our self-confidence. It rips down our façade of strength.  

We know how you feel, Peter! We are challenged by the recent floods in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick; climate change is real to us now. We do not have enough time to prevent the worst disasters. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that there are only twelve years left to prevent irreversible damage from climate change (IPCC – the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). We, the global family, should cut carbon pollution by 45% by 2030. Beyond that even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods and extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. We are experiencing some of this even today; remember the BC wildfires last year. Yet, some politicians do not believe global warming is real. Further we are threatened by one political leader that he will “turn off the taps” to B.C.  

We can imagine what it must have been like for those disciples that night. There they are, wallowing in their failure, depressed that they have blundered again. Then a stranger appears on the shore. “Children, you have no fish, have you?” (21:5) What is this stranger trying to say? “No”, they replay, “we have no fish.” “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (21:6). Now this stranger is telling them how to fish.  

And would you believe it? The story says their nets filled to the breaking point. Then one of them recognizes the stranger: “It is the Lord” (21:7). Peter jumps into the lake to swim to Jesus, leaving his colleagues to handle their full nets. It is not so much the marvellous catch of fish that motivates Peter. Not the success to which the stranger has directed them. What drove Peter into the cold waters of the lake is the presence of his teacher, Jesus.  

Jesus comes to them amid their failure, appears amid their disastrous efforts, speaks to them amid their catastrophe. The risen Christ came to the disciples then and comes to us now in our failures and griefs. In our heartbreak and discouragement, in our self-doubt and uncertainty, in our sorrow and anguish, the Christ appears on the shore of our lakes of failure. Christ appears, not to turn our failures into success, not to make us immune to failure, not to take away the danger of failure. He appears, rather, to be at our side in the hurt and sorrow, to encourage us to see what matters, to empower us in our discouragement and to strengthen us in our self-doubt and to face the reality. 

There is an interesting similarity among the stories of the appearance of the risen Christ. The risen Christ is always popping up just when the disciples are in some kind of sorrow. This is good news: the Christ comes to us when we recognize our sorrow and failure.  

In my life journey I have had many experiences of failures: many tests including driving tests, failure in friendship with my best friend, failure to support my parents since I was living far from them and again I am living far from our children. In these experiences, I thought Christ to be far away from me. But when I feel I have failed, it is Christ who stands beside me, facing with me my sorrow and failure. I am confident that you too have had a similar experience when you have experienced Christ standing by your side.  

Christ appears to us in our grief. Christ comes offering us courage to make changes, courage to be friends to the lonely, courage to build a community where we are all respected regardless of our cultural heritages and faiths, courage to fight for mother earth, to right the wrongs of injustice, to address poverty and hopelessness and courage to build right relations with the First Nations. This risen Christ appears on the shores of despair to say to us, “Cast your nets on the other side.” In our grief, Christ is here to strengthen us. Christ is here for all of us, here to encourage, empower and comfort. Let us go out to do likewise. Amen.