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Easter 3: Finding a New Normal

Sunday 5 May 2019

Well. We’ve had two bumper Bible readings this morning and enough material, not just for an organ improvisation, but a whole symphony. So let me start with words, not from our readings, but today’s collect:

Almighty Father, you gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:

Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,

That we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life….

What do you do when life hits you with things you weren’t expecting, especially when they are unlooked for and unwelcome? Perhaps it’s a bereavement, the loss of a job, news of a friend or family member who has been taken ill, or a dramatic change in our own circumstances.

All of us, as we go through life, will encounter those moments that take us by surprise. They may not have the drama of Saul’s life-changing encounter on the way to Damascus, but – like Saul – they can leave us feeling disorientated, turning our world upside down.

Last week I met with someone who was dealing with a very sudden and unexpected death. They were taking time off work to deal with all the practical arrangements. But, as so often happens in such situations, they were also looking forward to going back to work because it gave them a fixed point amongst everything else they were dealing with.

As human beings we cope best with the changes and challenges that life brings us, if we also know where are fixed points are. We need familiar people and places and tasks, to provide us with landmarks in an uncertain world. We see something of that going on in today’s Gospel reading. The disciples of Jesus had been through so much:

•        the excitement of Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem.

•        the pain and grief of his execution.

•        and then the joy, but also the disorientation, of the empty tomb.

Was Jesus really risen? If so, what did resurrection mean?

After all the drama in Jerusalem, the disciples return to Galilee. They go home. They reach for the familiar. It’s as if they are trying to find a way of moving on by going back to where it all began: back to Galilee.

Dealing with situations of change and loss nowadays we hear a lot about finding closure and moving on. That’s understandable. But the danger with such language is that it can suggest that our experiences of change or bereavement or other kinds of loss are things that need to be fixed so we can then leave them behind. I’m not so sure. After all, the risen Christ still bears the wounds of crucifixion. They are healed, but they remain part of who Christ is.

When I was a vicar in Norfolk, a very wise lady in the parish reflected with me on her experience of bereavement, specifically the death of her husband. ‘You never really get used to it’, she said, ‘but you do begin to find a new normal’: You begin to find a ‘new normal’.

There’s a wisdom and honesty in those words I’ve treasured ever since. It’s what I think the disciples are beginning to learn at the end of John’s Gospel. Back in Galilee, the disciples return to their boats and to their fishing. But, as they discover, picking up their old lives can’t be a way of going back to normal. Too much has happened. The journey with Jesus has turned their lives upside down. So, while the disciples might have found comfort in the familiar routines of a fishing trip, it doesn’t go the way it used to do. Out all night, they catch nothing.

But then, as dawn breaks, a stranger on the beach invites them to throw out their nets in a new direction: ‘cast your nets to the right of the boat’. The disciples trust the stranger’s advice, cast their nets in a different way, and find them filled. At that moment the disciples recognise that the stranger on the beach, the one calling them to fish, but to fish differently, is the risen Christ. He is ahead of them, leading them into a new normal.

It is then that the disciples begin to accept that their lives won’t be the same again. Peter, in particular, begins to glimpse the costly path that lies before him. But they also begin to grasp that, through the challenges that lie ahead, Christ will be their constant companion, their fixed point in a changing world, the one calling them into the future. And that’s what resurrection means. Not just that Jesus came back from the dead, but that he goes ahead of us into the future.

On the beach, the risen Jesus calls the disciples into the place where he already stands as he welcomes them to sit and eat with him. Today, as we gather around the Lord’s Table, the risen Christ calls us towards God’s future and the heavenly banquet of which this Eucharist is both sign and pledge.

When we, like the first disciples, find ourselves having to move from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from the known to the unknown, from the normal to a new normal, we all need our fixed points, be they family or friends, familiar tasks or places. But we also have the promise of Jesus:

‘I will be with you always’.

As we trust that promise, so the words of today’s collect can become our own:

Almighty Father, you gladdened the disciples with the sight of the risen Lord:

Give us such knowledge of his presence with us,

That, amid the changes and chances of this world, we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life…. Amen.

Canon Dr Andrew Braddock

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