I often say that if the students forget nearly every word I ever preach, I at least hope that they will always remember two truths: they are loved by the God that created them always, and they are never alone for God is there with them always.Father Chris Duncan
What is it about the phrase “And they lived happily ever after” that is so unsatisfying? Perhaps it is that we know life is more complicated than the fairy tale version of “yada yada yada” because there is more to the story. We know in real life it would not always be perfect for Cinderella and Prince Charming. Life is more complicated than that.
At a recent Day School Eucharist, we heard the story of Jesus’ third resurrection appearance according to the Gospel of John. What is strange about this pericope is the way in which the author already wrapped up the whole gospel story in the previous chapter, chapter 20. He has given his own version of “and they lived happily ever after.” Yet, now we pick right back up with the disciples still not knowing what to do with themselves and so they go out fishing. As a reminder, fishing was the original profession of many of the disciples before they began following Jesus. This is not a casual fishing trip, but a return to what they knew before Jesus ever came along. Then as they come ashore after a terrible night of fishing, Jesus fills their nets and furthermore is waiting for them with a hot breakfast on the beach. The whole scene then builds to this climactic moment when Jesus pulls Peter aside and asks him three-times, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responds “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” In this way, Peter is reconciled back to Jesus after the threefold denial of Jesus during the Passion Narrative.
However, just as there were more resurrection stories to tell by John with the inclusion of this text, there is even more to this story as well. In a past chapel service, we discussed how the Greek language does not have one word for “love” like we do in English, but rather four words. “Storge” is the most primitive love which means the natural affection we have when we are cared for, such as what a baby experiences when looking up at a parent that tends to their needs. “Philia” is the love of companionship. This is reciprocal as in you scratch my back and I scratch your back. The third love is “eros.” This is the love of desire most often associated with romantic love. Ultimately, it is a selfish love. Finally, there is that love that is perfectly modeled by God… “agape.” This love is unconditional and always present. It is not earned, but freely given. If “philia” is reciprocal with equal treatment, then “agape” is you kick my shin and I say “I love you.” You slap my face and I say “I love you.” We nail Christ to the cross and he says “I love you.”
The reason this is so important is because in Jesus’ conversation with Peter, Jesus asks Peter “do you ‘agape’ me?” and Peter responds “I ‘philia’ you.” This is like a person after several dates saying to the other “I love you” and that person responds “Cool, thanks.” Jesus asks Peter the question twice with agape and then finally on the third time asks “do you ‘philia’ me?” Once again Peter says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I ‘philia’ you.” In this way, we see two incredible things happen:
- As mentioned above, Peter is reconciled to Jesus after his threefold denial of Jesus.
- We see that Jesus meets Peter where he is and loves him for who he is.
I often say that if the students forget nearly every word I ever preach, I at least hope that they will always remember two truths: they are loved by the God that created them always, and they are never alone for God is there with them always. This story of breakfast on the beach with Jesus is a beautiful reminder of these truths. Jesus first reflects his love and presence upon all the disciples as he meets them on the shores and then furthermore with Peter as they are reconciled to each other in love. This is not only their story, but ours still today. And so the best happily ever after we can have is this: God loves you always and God is always with you.