Some of us are following a course on Tuesday evenings over Zoom led by Dr. Harry Maier on Resurrection in the four gospels. This Tuesday is the last of the four sessions on the gospels, then we’re having two small group sessions among those of us at Church of the Cross. Dr. Maier is leading us in a wrap up session post-Easter. We’ll have an opportunity to see how our understanding of resurrection has changed after celebrating the resurrection through Holy Week and Easter.
Last week Dr. Maier gave us an overview about resurrection in the Gospel of Luke, which is the gospel we are currently working through in Year C of the lectionary. Lutherans together with Anglicans, Presbyterians, some United Churches, and the Roman Catholic Church, follow a three year lectionary where we read through large chunks of each of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The synoptic gospels tell the story about Jesus drawing from similar stories. The Gospel of John doesn’t share as many stories in common with the other three. John doesn’t have its own year in the lectionary cycle, but its readings are interspersed through all three years.
Dr. Maier explains what stands out especially about the Gospel of Luke, from which today’s gospel reading comes, is that it is the gospel of meals. There are more meal references in Luke than the other gospels. The first reference begins with the Song of Mary, the Magnifcat, in which Mary prophesies how the hungry will be filled with good things while the rich will be sent away empty. There are then up to 90 meal and food references, concluding with the Last Supper, Jesus’ death and resurrection, and then the Emmaus story which also includes a meal.
Today’s story is about the disciples has a kind of meal reference about catching a ridiculous amount of fish. And they catch the fish not just by luck or skill but because who tells them to do it. The disciples have been out fishing and feel defeated because they haven’t caught anything. Jesus is with them and tells them to go out just a little ways and throw out their nets. Immediately they catch an enormous amount of fish. So much fish their nets are starting to break. They can hardly haul their catch ashore. Peter becomes ashamed not feeling worthy of Jesus’ gift. And yet Jesus reassures them that when he is present, there will be an abundance of fish, enough to eat.
Today fewer of us earn our livelihoods through fishing or farming, but those of us who have spent time around a commercial fishing boat or a farm know the importance of the catch or the harvest. Without good yields a household can fall upon hard times. The fish and farming represent food and life for whole communities. Here on the West Coast we know how precarious fishing can be. We are often reminded about the collapse of fisheries, the continued battle around fish farms, diminished salmon populations, and the importance of fish for not only humans but for orcas and other marine. Costal communities rely upon health oceans.
Central to our gospel story is that Jesus’ presence leads to an abundance of food for everyone. We can imagine there will be feasting after this big catch, that the fisherman and families can rest assured they have fish to sell at the market, that there is enough to go around. Jesus’ presence itself is one of feasting, of abundant food and life. When Jesus is present there is abundant life. There is enough. When Jesus is present anxiety and worry subside.
What about us?
What about us? Where does this story of abundance food land in our lives today? One thing that stood out to many of us taking the course on Resurrection is how all the meal references stand in stark contrast to our ability to host large communal meals during pandemic times. We miss being able to celebrate larger communal meals including here at church. It makes sense so that a gospel from which we get some of the words of institution for breaking bread in communion, centres around meals. So much of our liturgy and ritual is about sharing Jesus as meal. Jesus offers himself as an abundant meal that feeds all who come. Thankfully even during the pandemic we have been able to continue celebrating the meal central to worship, gathering around the table for communion. But we have often had to curtail our time for hospitality following worship, as we are currently doing due to health restrictions and concerns for one another’s wellbeing. Fewer people feel comfortable joining for worship in person, although we’ve seen that ebb and flow. Thankfully we are able to offer the worship livestream in which we also invite people to join in communion at home. But I know many of us yearn for larger meals together with family, friends, and together here at church. That too is a celebration of Jesus’ presence, an abundance of food, abundance of conversation, and sharing time together.
Communal Meals, Healthy Communities
Having meals and other indoor activities curtailed has been hard on the mental health of us all. It’s no wonder people are increasingly irritable, upset, and sad. It’s a lot to take over two years and counting. We give thanks for the healthcare workers and other frontline staff who have had no reprieve in their work having to deal with ever shifting health protocols. Most of us have gotten vaccinated. Some of us have already received three doses of a Covid vaccine, while children under twelve are just starting to receive their second dose, and children under five are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. We are thankful that so many people have gotten vaccinated and are working together to increase public health, relieving strain on hospitals which is already great. It is a step closer to enjoying communal meals together again. It makes many of us feel safe enough to participate in some public activities, which is a source of joy.
And yet we know that not everyone has accepted the messaging around vaccines. Many people including some of our own family members and friends remain sceptical, including about vaccine mandates. We have heard of the large convoys that have headed to Ottawa and a smaller but significant convoy here on Vancouver Island that converged in Victoria both last weekend and again yesterday. Mentioning the convoy is complicated and makes us uncomfortable because its evidence of how polarized our communities have become over these two years.
One troubling part of populist movements is that what begins as one thing quickly morphs into something else. Populist movements harness the anger and frustration of thousands of people and they can be used for good. They can also become misguided and make unrealistic demands that lead to threats and violence when those demands remain unmet.
I have extended family members and family friends in Saskatchewan who are supporters of the convoy. I know folks in Victoria who support the convoy. Nevertheless we need to acknowledge that any popular movement will be judged by the company they keep. When it was revealed that key organizers include known white supremacists with a prolific YouTube following, that extremist political parties are involved, that there were some people flying Nazi and Confederate flags in Ottawa, we know things have taken a wrong turn. The monument of the unknown soldier and the Terry Fox statue desecrated. Demands that a democratically elected Parliament be removed by the Governor General. There are moments any of us can admit we’ve made a mistake, we miscalculated the direction an event was taking, but for the most part we haven’t heard much repentance while residents of Ottawa feel under siege in their own homes.
Yesterday my mother and I joined a small counter protest in downtown Victoria. This was the second Saturday a convoy mostly from folks on the island disrupted traffic downtown and blaring horns for hours on end. We felt there needed to be some people standing up for healthcare workers and the effectiveness of vaccines. There were dozens of counter protesters and over a thousand people supporting the convoy both on the sidewalks around the legislature and driving vehicles.
A few impressions from the afternoon. Upon arriving near the legislature a man in his thirties carrying a Canadian flag and antivaxx sign recognized I support vaccines. Immediately he remarked it was a pity that natural selection hadn’t already killed me. It was a foretaste of the feast to come. Finding a few dozen counter protesters on a street corner we checked in and supported one another amidst the noise. Several men on megaphones yelled about freedom for hours. One started yelling about the Jews, but then someone told him to stop probably because it made them look bad. A large utility truck drove around plastered with conspiracy theories about September 11. All the while lots of Canadian flags, unfriendly messages about the prime minister, and more antivaxx and freedom messages.
One man accused us of calling them alt right in the media and asked whether we think they’re all white supremacists. Another counter-protester explained that no we don’t think everyone in the convoy is a white supremacist but that it is troubling white supremacist messaging is permitted. He claimed he would remove such messaging himself. I pointed out a man flying a yellow Don’t Tread On Me Flag which is a white supremacist symbol. The man replied that I was mistaken. That instead it’s a flag about freedom. He refused to remove what is obviously a white supremacist symbol displayed by at least two people at the rally.
A man in his 70’s with an enormous antivaxx sign started crowding the dozen of us at the street corner even though they had literally hundreds of metres of sidewalk all to themselves. We took up so little space at such a large protest it was comical. I asked him to please respect our space and step back. He refused and shoved his way in front of us, including shoving my mother to the side, swearing at her. Eventually he left having made his point.
A man standing next to me with Canadian flags who had been more peaceful asked whether we could at least admit the convoy is fun. With a headache from the noise, even while wearing earplugs, and constant barrage of hateful messaging I found it hard to call it fun. I mentioned the presence of the hate flags. The man admitted they may be hate flags but that there was no one vetting messages and he didn’t feel comfortable approaching the man. He was likely scared of the man with the hate flag and I don’t blame him. Another man in his thirties without a mask screamed at a police officer at close distance, accusing him of not already arresting all the politicians and putting them in jail. He looked ready for a fight.
Clearly a lot of anger and frustration. And while many people there simply waved their flags, held their signs, and honked their horns, it is undeniable there is a threatening and violent current in the convoy movement. One bright spot among those of us supporting one another were small things. One person brought granola bars to share, an abundant meal. Someone else brought poster board and markers while people made signs that read, “Support Our Healthcare Workers.” It was good to be there witnessing to Jesus’ love amidst the anger, hate, and confusion.
Jesus Is Abundance
Meanwhile while we continue to struggle with the realities of a pandemic and public health measures, Jesus reminds us that when he is present there is abundance. Jesus’ presence in our midst through meal, through word, calming our anxiety that there isn’t enough. Our anxiety that there won’t be enough food on the shelves, that there won’t be a bed for our loved one in the hospital.
We’ve learned through the pandemic when we work together, rather than against one another, that there is abundance. Even if people and resources are stretched thin, we know there is enough. But we need to support the ones really struggling including nurses, doctors, teachers, education aids, grocery store workers, and more who often receive the brunt of people’s anger.
As people of faith we trust in Jesus’ abundant life. For God all things become possible.
We can’t forget Jesus’ pivot in the gospel reading from catching fish to catching people. Often we’re uncomfortable talking about evangelism in the church. And yet we practice evangelism here at Church of the Cross. Our own Stewardship and Resource committee has been identifying people’s gifts and willingness to serve in different ways. While we contend with budget deficits, we also rejoice at people’s generosity in giving.
We look at all the ways the Spirit blesses us and raises us out of our fears and anxieties. I know when I feel stressed my vision we can narrow. I can feel like there aren’t more possibilities. The gospel breaks us out of that insular thinking in which we retreat into ourselves. When we turn away from neighbours. Often it’s for serious events unfolding in our lives, whether health issues for ourselves or loved ones, people dying or people we miss, a sense of malaise that makes it hard to get out of bed or leave the house. A sense that everyone’s resources are depleted.
Let us live into the feast of abundant life, that Jesus is calling us as the catch of the day. Neighbours are hearing that message of abundant life and checking in with us. People with no relationship to a church or faith curious about who we are because of a message on the sign, our website, or social media.
Let us join the feast which Jesus provides. And there is enough for everyone. Amen.