“Gathered Around a Charcoal Fire”

Scripture – John 21:1-17
Sermon preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Third Sunday of Easter – May 1, 2022


If you ask average Americans how many Sundays there are in Easter, you will most likely see mystified expressions spreading across their faces. Someone might even remark, “This is a trick question, right?” However, if you are successful in dragging out a reply, they will likely say, “There is one Easter Sunday.”

Well, not in the church. There are seven Sundays of Easter. Each Sunday from the day Christ rose until Pentecost, is a Sunday of Easter. That means for several Sundays the lectionary texts focus on the risen Jesus appearing to his disciples or passages from Revelation talking about a new heaven and earth. Which leads me to what I want to whine about this morning: Easter is a tough season to preach. Good Friday? That’s a cinch. I could call on any of you to come up to the pulpit and talk about suffering and death and you would find it a breeze.

You could reel off horror stories about Russians killing civilians in Ukraine. You could talk about crime or COVID deaths or racism or the scourge of opioids.

Did you hear the report that came out last week about the leading cause of death for American children and teenagers? For more than 60 years, car accidents have been the number one cause of death for kids in our country. The new number one? Guns. Car accidents are now number two and drug overdoses are number three.1 Gun violence and the resistance of legislators to pass common sense gun laws is a Good Friday sermon that will preach. We are far more acquainted with pain, injustice, and death than we are with resurrection.

Part of the problem is that most people have a limited idea of resurrection. Most think of it simply as what happens to us after we die. God raised Jesus from the dead and if we believe in Jesus, then we, too, will go to heaven after we die. A simple formula!

Episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Taylor, occasionally teaches a basic religion course to college students. In it, she covers several different religions. One of her students said to her, “I love studying other religions because they have so much in them about how to live. That’s different from my own religion, Christianity, which is about going to heaven when you die.”2

Is that it? Is resurrection only about life after death? Or could it also be about a new way of living while we are still upright, breathing, and walking around on this earth?

After Jesus was executed by the Romans, his disciples were devastated. They had been robbed of their teacher, their counselor, and their source of security, purpose and hope. The future they had envisioned while journeying with Jesus was scrubbed out.

Then, Jesus appeared to them and they were ecstatic. But apparently, they had not yet figured out their next steps because today’s passage picks up their story several days later. Seven of the remaining eleven disciples are back at their old job in a boat 100 yards offshore. They have been casting their nets into the deep blue the entire night, but have yet to land a single fish.

At sunrise, Jesus appears on the shore, but the disciples do not recognize him. He shouts to them to throw their nets off the starboard side of their vessel and when they do, they score – big time! They capture a school of fish so enormous – 153 to be exact – that their nets are at the brink of shredding.

Tossing in this detail of the precise number of fish appears to be symbolic, but, what does it mean? Various interpreters throughout the ages have taken a stab at it – none of them convincing.

It may be that the gospel writer is simply giving a bookend to the miracles of Jesus. The Gospel of John tells us that the first miracle of Jesus is at the wedding in Cana. You remember what Jesus did there. He created an abundance of wine – more than 150 gallons. At the end of his gospel John tells us that the last miracle of Jesus is also about abundance – a net-breaking catch. Surely the gospel writer is telling us that when you are close to Jesus, there is abundance: an abundance of love, and abundance of joy, an abundance of grace, an abundance of hope. In the 10th chapter of John, Jesus says, “I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The abundant catch is a harbinger of who is standing on the beach. One of the disciples says to Peter, “That has to be Jesus!” Peter is so pumped by the news, that he plunges into the water and, presumably, sets the ancient world’s record for the 100-meter freestyle. The others follow by boat, dragging their prize catch with them.

Once all are onshore, Jesus invites them to gather around a charcoal fire where he serves them breakfast. After they finish, still gathered around the smoldering embers, Jesus turns to Peter and says, “Do you love me?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus questions Peter a second time, “Do you love me?” Peter replies as he did the first time, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep.”

A third time Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Perhaps a bit exasperated with Jesus for asking the same question three times, Peter – beginning to realize what Jesus is doing, replies, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”

Why did Jesus toss Peter the same question three times?

If you do a word search of the New Testament, you will find that there are only two places that a charcoal fire is mentioned. Today’s text is one of them. The other is when Peter was standing around another charcoal fire outside the house of Caiaphas where Jesus was being interrogated after his arrest. Three times, standing around that charcoal fire, Peter said, “Jesus?  Never met him.”

So in today’s reading, a post-resurrection beach scene around a blazing charcoal fire – Jesus takes the opportunity to set things right with Peter. Three times Peter had denied Jesus, so Jesus gives him three opportunities to set the record straight and to mend their relationship.

A colleague3 pointed me to writer, Michael Chabon, who analyzed a recurring theme in films by Wes Anderson. Chabon says that when we are children, we experience the world as big and beautiful, full of marvels and surprises. However, over time, we discover that the world is irretrievably broken. There is mortality, violence, cowardice, and grief. We struggle to reconcile this brokenness with a feeling that arises from time to time of a vanished glory, a misty memory of the world unbroken. This is the world as God intended for it to be – what Genesis calls the Garden of Eden. This feeling haunts people throughout their lives.

Chabon says, “Everyone, sooner or later, gets a thorough schooling in brokenness. The question becomes: what to do with the pieces? Some people hunker down atop the local pile of ruins and make do…Others set about breaking what remains of the world into bits ever smaller and more jagged, kicking through the rubble like kids running through piles of leaves. But some people, passing among the scattered pieces of that great overturned jigsaw puzzle, start to pick up a piece here, a piece there, with a vague yet irresistible notion that perhaps something might be done about putting the thing back together again.”

It’s a nearly impossible task. For one thing, we have only had a brief and incomplete glimpse of the picture on the lid of the jigsaw puzzle box. And, second, “No matter how diligent we have been about picking up pieces along the way, we will never have anywhere near enough to finish the job. The most we can hope to accomplish is to (restore a portion) of this beautiful and broken world.”4

Restoration is a close cousin of resurrection. It is the active effort of reviving life, beauty, and hope. Picking up the pieces and restoring what’s broken is what Jesus does with Peter. He exudes an abundance of forgiveness. He picks ups some of the pieces of the great overturned jigsaw puzzle and begins putting them where they should be. However, the story does not end with Jesus forgiving Peter. Jesus says, “Feed my sheep” which is another way of calling on Peter to pick up the broken pieces he encounters and to restore a portion of the beautiful puzzle.

Of course, what Jesus says to Peter, he says to us. He challenges us to restore the things that nourish life, to revive the things that have died.

A colleague talks about a man he knew named Joe Moll. “Joe was small, quiet man; and the strongest person he ever knew. He looked 15 years older than he was, as he had done his best to destroy himself with alcohol. But he dried up, and ran a halfway house. On any given night, there were 24 men living in that suburban house fighting to put their lives back together. Many of them failed. But every day, Joe was there – teaching, caring, loving these men into a new tomorrow. Why was Joe so persistent? Joe said ‘You have to trust that there is a better man buried down in each one of these men, and it requires a persistent love to restore that better man to life.’”5

We restore a piece of the puzzle when we assist our sisters and brothers in Guatemala with water filtration systems and farm animals and when we pray for each other. We restore a piece of the puzzle when we take a meal or flowers to someone grieving the death of a loved one. We restore a piece of the puzzle when we stand with the oppressed and refuse to stop clamoring for justice. We restore a piece of the puzzle when we weep with those who weep and when we love someone who feels unloved.

We live in a world that is constantly replaying Good Friday. But for those of us who believe in resurrection, we know how to spot glimmers of Easter.


  1. Josiah Bates, “Guns Became the Leading Cause of Death for American Children and Teens in 2020,” com, April 27, 2022.
  2. Barbara Brown Taylor, Always a Guest, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2020), p. 164.
  3. Dan Clendenin, “A New Newness,” net, posted April 24, 2022.
  4. Michael Chabon, “Introduction,” to The Wes Anderson Collection, (New York: Abrams, 2013).
  5. Tom Are, Jr. “The Stranger You Have Always Known,” April 16, 2017.


Great Prayer of Thanksgiving

Elder Carla Krupanski


Eternal God, Christ asks if we love Him? If we say yes, he says: “Then care for one another.”

Jesus, you know that we love you and we remember that you told Peter to “FEED YOUR SHEEP.” You have called your followers to pick up where you left off. We are here to carry on your work. This is our opportunity, Oh Lord, to make a difference, to live lovingly in this world.

We cannot promise to do it perfectly, but we can give it a go. We rely on your abundant wisdom to take our small love and fit it into a larger pattern of good for all creation

Almighty God, we pray for those locked in circumstances beyond their control. We thank you for the opportunity to work with organizations and individuals who help address these needs.

We pray for the people of Guatemala, as they continually strive to better the lives of their children, families, and communities. We lift up our partners on the ground there, doing your work each and every day. Partners such as CEDEPCA, and individuals especially for our new mission co-workers, Betsey, and Eric Moe, may we learn from their faith and resilience as we walk side-by-side with them. They are set in this world to show how people belong together and how your gifts are meant to be shared.

For our brothers and sisters in Gaza, help us clearly see the ongoing oppression of Palestinians and the denial of many of their human rights. The most basic of these is the right to clean water. Help us this day to truly embrace Your scripture in Matthew and live into Your words “when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink”. In so doing, we provide life-sustaining water for the vulnerable children of Gaza and know that whatever we do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, we do for you.

Lord, decades of war, violence, and poverty have claimed the lives of over five million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. An absence of schools, health care, and reliable income-generating opportunities hinder communities’ ability to emerge from crisis. Despite overwhelming odds, our partners in the Congo spread seeds of hope and encourage resiliency. The Springtime Echo Campaign project at Conserv Congo will provide solar energy for the new education conservancy being built and we pray for the young hearts and minds that will learn about God’s creatures and practice farming techniques in the adjacent gardens.

Lord, we hear the cries of the world’s hungry and suffering. Give us, who consume most of the earth’s resources, the will to share with others. That all may have their rightful share of food, medical care, and shelter.

And to have the necessities of a life of dignity.

SO many are unknown to us, Lord, yet each is known to you and each a child of your love.

We are your shepherds engaged in ministries here and around the world. Lord, we are here to FEED YOUR SHEEP

Gracious God, we pray to you in the name of the one who came to show us the way. We pray to you as one family. And now we pray the prayer you taught us…together as we have been taught by saying: Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen