May 1

Communion Mediation- Sunday, May 1, 2022

By Marsh Chapel

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John 21:1-19

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The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord;
we are his new creation by water and the Word;
from heaven he came and sought us that we might ever be
his living servant people, by his own death set free.

Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.  His voice, although we often mistake or mishear or misunderstand it, carries over from shore to sea, from heaven to earth.  For the souls gathered here today, that voice—His voice—makes life worth living.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary nights or days or catches of fish or meals or questions or answers or friendships or loves or losses.  Within earshot of His voice there are no merely ordinary moments.  When the Master calls from the shoreline, “children…have you…cast the net…bring some fish…have breakfast”, no one who hears will dare ask, “And who are you?”.  We dare not.  For we know.  Jesus speaks to us today from the edge of the shoreline.

His disciples stumble through all the magic and grit of a fishing expedition.  Many of us still find some magic in fishing, though few of us have had to depend on this sport for sustenance.  Still—we know the thrill of it!  And the disappointment.  The roll of the boat with each passing wave.  The smell of the water and the wind.  The feel of the fish, the sounds of cleaning, the sky, a scent of rain:  this is our life, too.  All night long, dropping the nets, trawling, lifting the nets with a heave.  And catching nothing.  The magic comes with the connection of time and space—being at the right place at the right time.  How every fisherman would like to know the right place and the right time.  It’s magic!  The tug on the line!  The jolt to the pole!  The humming of the reel!  A catch.  And woe to the sandy-haired, freckle faced girl or boy (age 12 or 90) who cannot feel the thrill of being at the right place at the right time!

John Stewart Mill once wrote that understanding the chemistry of a pink sunset did not diminish at all his profound sense of wonder at sunset beauty.  In fact, we might add, real understanding heightens true apprehension.

Easter is a season of new beginnings. The promise of resurrection is upon us.  Resurrection disarms fear.  Resurrection ignores defeat.  Resurrection displaces and replaces loneliness.  Resurrection will not abide the voice that whispers, “There’s nothing extraordinary here.  There’s no reason for gaiety, excitement, sobriety or wonder.”  Resurrection will not abide the easy and the cheap.  Resurrection takes a day-break catch, a charcoal fire, a dawn mist, fish, bread, and hungry, weary travelers, and reveals the Lord present, and Peter at the table.

The failing of this world, whether we see it more clearly in the superstition of religion, the idolatry of politics, or the hypocrisy of social life, has its root in blindness to the extraordinary.  Because we are unholy, we think God must be, too.  But hear—and today taste—the good news!  The King of love his table spreads.  And the humblest meal becomes—Breakfast with Jesus.

Called forth from every nation, yet one o’er all the earth;
Our charter of salvation: one Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name professing and at one table fed,
to one hope always pressing, by Christ’s own Spirit Led.

Raymond Brown taught us that 21 is an added account of a post-resurrectional appearance of Jesus in Galilee, which is used to show how Jesus provided for the needs of the church. The gospel never circulated without 21, which is an Appendix, supplement, or epilogue, including many stylistic differences, though the material drawn is from the same ‘general reservoir of Johannine tradition’, and is part completion and part correction? (RAH). Ecclesiastical and Eucharistic and Eschatology form the symbolism of the chapter.  C H Dodd taught us: ‘The naïve conception of Christ’s second advent in 21: 22 is unlike anything else in the Fourth Gospel’.  CK Barrett suggests that chapter 21 be read as if it were a metaphorical account of the birth of the early Christian church for the purpose of explicating the different, yet equally important, roles of Peter and the beloved disciple, penned by a second author (577). Read this way, we are to see the disciples as “catching men”, in “pastoral ministry and historical-theological testimony” (587).

That is, the Gospel of John ended originally with Chapter 20: These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).   And in all the twenty chapters, we have a glorious celebration of Jesus, Spirit, Cross, Resurrection, Life, Word, Love, Truth.  But not a word about church. Not a single word about institutional life, nor about leadership, nor about organization, nor about just how one is supposed to live, with others, by faith, in community.  For John, a new commandment is sufficient:  love one another.  For John, a new reality abides:  Spirit.  Live in the spirit and love in the spirit and all will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing will be well, as Hildegard wrote centuries later.

But sometime in the years and decades following the conclusion of John in chapter 20, a later writer added our reading today.  Why?  Well, because it turns out that only love and spirit alone are not enough.  You need leadership.  So, Peter is rehabilitated and jumps into the lake fully clothed.  You need evangelism.  So, we have the quintessential symbol of evangelism included, fish and fishing and catch of 153.  You need stewardship.  So, we have the quintessential symbol of stewardship, the tending of sheep, with the unwritten subtext being the joy of tithing.  Do you love?  Then feed, then tend, then feed, then tend.  Along comes John 21, most probably a later addition, to amend by insertion: in a word, institutions matter.

The gospel today for us today is a ringing challenge, asking in the season of resurrection, just how faithful we have been to the care and feeding of the institutions in life that make life worth living.  We have had a frightful reminder of this word in faith over the last two years.  Read our Dean of Public Health, Sandro Galea, and his ringing challenge this week that we get religion, get religion, about investment in public health AND ITS INSTITUTIONS, including the Center for Disease Control.  We have had a frightful reminder and ringing challenge through this last year, following January 6, that we get religion, that we get religion about attention to democracy AND ITS INSTITUTIONS, including the Congress of the United States.  But you, friends, have had the benefit of such reminders and ringing challenges before.  Do you remember Baccalaureate Sunday, May 2018, here in Marsh Chapel?  After nine days and evenings of remembrance of the Martin Luther King Jr., the month before, including sermons by Governor Deval Patrick and Dr. Cornell William Brooks, come late May, we had two special guests, one sitting three pews from the pulpit, and sitting two pews from the narthex.  One a harbinger of health and its institutional needs, and one a greeting from government and its institutional needs, both honored in a prescient way by BU that year.  In front of the pulpit, John Lewis. Back by the narthex, Anthony Fauci.  Beloved, hear the Gospel of John 21:  institutions matter, they really matter

Though with a scornful wonder the world sees us oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping, their cry goes up, “How long?”
But soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

The church as an institution matters.  Ask John Wesley.

The government as an institution matters. Ask John Lewis.

The post office as an institution matters.  Ask Ben Franklin.

Public Health organizations as institutions matter.  Ask Sandro Galea.

The CDC as an institution matters. Anthony Fauci.

The European Union and NATO as institutions matter.  Ask Vladimir Zelensky.

And one more.  Jesus came to save us from our sins, not from the need to use our minds.

Marsh Chapel as an institution matters.  The public ordered worship of Almighty God is not a matter of indifference, to you, nor to the current dean of the Chapel.  Come Sunday, in worship, one may hear and heed an intervening word, and be saved from lasting loneliness, abject anxiety, deep depression, or worse.  Community, meaning, belonging, empowerment, all are here, and you, beloved, you are offering these things, week by week.  Otherwise a college campus becomes a place with contact but not connection, a place with contact but nof fellowship, a place of contact without communion. You have something to offer, nothing to defend, and everything to share.

Institutions matter.

Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of our war,
we wait the consummation of peace forevermore,
till with the vision glorious our longing eyes are blest,
and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

Therefore, Christian people, as we work and fight, play and pray this week, let us resist with joy all that cheapens life, all that dishonors God, all that mistakes our ordinary sin for the extraordinary love, power, mercy and grace.   Let the sacrament sustain and nourish us.  In Remembrance.  In Presence.  In Thanksgiving.  Let the sacrament sustain and nourish us.  In bread and cup and life.

Let the institution, the institution, of Holy Communion this day sustain and nourish us. Let the institution, the institution, of Holy Communion this day sustain and nourish us. Let the institution, the institution, of Holy Communion this day sustain and nourish us.

Yet she on earth hath union

With God the Three in One

And mystic sweet communion

With those whose rest is won

O happy ones and holy

Lord give us grace that we

Like them the meek and lowly

On high may dwell with Thee.

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Allan Hill, Dean of Marsh Chapel

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