I woke up on Monday morning wishing it was the Monday after Christmas and not the Monday after Easter. It’s not that I don’t like Easter or that I like Christmas more than Easter or that I was wishing for three more months of winter. (I may be crazy, but not that crazy.) The reason I wanted it to be Christmas and not Easter is I woke up tired both mentally and physically. For as wonderful as our Easter worship services were and for as important and as meaningful as Easter is, when I walked into my office and sat down at my desk and looked at my calendar and saw that another Sunday was a week away, I found myself thinking “Another Sunday already! How am I supposed to do this again?” After spending all the time and energy I did thinking about and writing and preaching on Easter, I didn’t have much energy left and I wondered what else I was supposed to say? At least on the Sunday after Christmas (and this is why I was wishing it was Christmas and not Easter) there are Christmas carols to sing which provides the respite I need to regain my balance I have the energy and creativity to face another Sunday. There are not really any Easter carols to sing, are there? If there were that is probably what we would be doing right now.
So, what next?
We have celebrated Easter.
With trumpets and organ and timpani and choir and flowers and preaching and singing we have been reminded, again, of the life changing, world tuned right side up good news wrapped up in the resurrection and the affirmation of Christ alive which, as I did my best to say last week, declares that the last and truest words are not hatred and injustice and death which we have heard so much and so often before and which the world around us does its best to make us believe. But, believe it or not, the last and truest words are love and justice and life. What else do you want me to say?
So, on Monday, as I gasped for breath and wondered what next, I remembered this story.
Overwhelmed, I am sure, by the reality of the resurrection in a way I will never fully understand because they were there and I am here, what did the disciples do? They went back to what they knew. Home. Work. Family. Being husbands and fathers; wives and mothers. Being a part of the community in which they lived. They went back to their day in, day out responsibilities. They went fishing.
In that place they knew so well…
Doing what they knew how to do and what they did each day…
They run into Jesus.
The ensuing conversation, at least the way the author of John’s gospel tells it, was primarily between Jesus and Peter. I am sure whoever wrote that Gospel had a good reason to tell it that way, but maybe we can imagine that the conversation Jesus had might have been for more than just Peter. If that is the case, or might be the case, then Jesus tells the disciples to do two things:
One. Feed my sheep.
Two. Tend my sheep.
In other words…
Take care of them, Peter.
Take care of them, the rest of you.
That is what I want you to do.
Oh, by the way, there is one more thing: Follow me.
As I remembered and read again and thought about the story I was struck by a number of things. Maybe the most important is that Jesus didn’t tell Peter and the others to go someplace other than where they already were. He doesn’t tell them to go back to Jerusalem. He doesn’t tell them to go to Rome. He doesn’t tell them to go into the whole world like the author of Matthew’s gospel does when Jesus appears to the disciples following the resurrection. It seems as if the disciples are to do their feeding and tending just where they are.
And I noticed Jesus didn’t tell Peter and the others who the “them” were. As in feed them and tend them. Maybe since they knew Jesus they already knew who Jesus would mean when he said “my sheep.” They already knew it included the Samaritan businessman on the way to Jerusalem who stops and helps the victim alongside the road and it includes the lepers who cried out from a distance and the blind man who sat in the shadows begging and the woman with the hemorrhage who only wanted to touch the hem of his robe and the children who were too often considered disposable and the tax collectors with whom Jesus ate and the woman who had washed his feet with her tears and dried them with her hair and the Roman centurion who begged for his son to be healed. They already knew, because they knew Jesus, that all were in and none were out.
And, I noticed, too, Jesus didn’t provide any specifics for what he meant by to feed and to tend. The specifics he leaves to the disciples. He trusts them to know what those words will mean in the moment when they need to know it.
So, if it is true like I think that it is and the Bible is not just about then, but also about now and not just about them, but also about you and me, then maybe what was true for Peter and the others is also true for you and me. And, the post Easter, what next words of Jesus for you and for me are take care of my sheep. Feed and tend.
Take care of each other and the person down the street.
Take care of immigrant and the hungry and the children as they go to school.
Take care of your co-worker and the passer-by on the street.
Take care of the victims and those who do their best to do their jobs each day.
Take care of Christian and the Muslim and the Jew.
Take care of those who stand with you and also those who do not.
Take care of my sheep.
And, you and I don’t have to go any place special to do any of those things.
We just have to go to school or go to work or go to the grocery store.
Sometimes it means just going home.
And, maybe, in addition to all those things, it may also mean allowing your heart to be broken by those things which break the heart if God.
Take care of my sheep.
And, there is no specific way you are to do this.
No instruction manual written in six different languages.
No 12 steps.
No 10 commandments.
No committee assignments or by-laws to follow.
And the world out there.
And the world around you.
Feed my sheep.