The Rhythm of Creation Includes Breakfast on the Beach – Carmen Retzlaff reflects on the story of Jesus meeting his friends in Galilee, and our place in nature.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Year C (2022, 2025)
Acts 9:1-6, (7-20)
The simplicity and beauty of Jesus making breakfast on the beach for his friends sets us—humans, and our story with the risen Christ —within the rhythm of all creation. Our Easter journey in Year C continues with readings Acts of the Apostles, Psalms, Revelation and the Gospel of John set alongside each other: this season when we read of Jesus’ afterlife visits to his friends, while also hearing the stories of the birth of the new church set against a vision of the final days, rooted, always, in the ancient prayer book of the Psalms. In the readings for the third Sunday of Easter, Paul is blinded by a great light, the Psalmist waits for morning, and John of Patmos’ vision reminds us of all creation praising God. When Jesus meets his friends by the lake, we remember that we humans are part of the larger story of creation.
The humility of the scene in John 21 makes it tender. Jesus’ friends have returned to the place they know and love – Galilee, this great lake, out on the water, gathering food. They – and we- are not greater than the rest of creation, but also a beloved part. This story reassures us of our place with Jesus, and in nature.
Seven of the male disciples “were gathered there together,” by the Sea of Tiberias, a Roman name for the large lake, also known as Kinneret in the Bible and other ancient texts, as well as modern maps. The large and deep lake is also referred to as a sea, and has a history of human habitation and fishing for thousands of years. It is a very unique ecosystem: It is about 700 feet below sea level at its surface, making it the lowest freshwater lake in the world (only the salty Dead Sea is lower), and it is also the largest freshwater lake in the Middle East (Gal, G. and Parparov, A., Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research, Kinneret, 2012. “Management of natural lake water resources: problems and solutions,” Proceedings of the 2nd World Sustainability Forum, https://sciforum.net/manuscripts/892/original.pdf). Galillee is a beautiful place, with abundant flora and fauna. To Jesus and his friends, it was home. Pastor Victoria Loorz, author and leader in the movement to re-connect church and creation, writes,
“Try asking your friends this question: ‘Tell me about the land who raised you.’ I’ve found that nearly everyone knows how to answer it. And usually with animate enthusiasm, they share about the fields, the surf, the mud pies, the songs of the meadowlarks, that were as important to their early childhood as their families” (Victoria Loorz, Church of the Wild: How Nature Invites Us Into the Sacred. Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021, p. 97).
This was the land that raised them. And fishing was their livelihood, before they left to follow Jesus. John the evangelist does not tell us when they returned or why after the the scene with Thomas and Jesus in the closed room, but it seems obvious that they returned to the familiar. One of the best parts of this story is the dialogue, beginning with Peter announcing, “I’m going fishing,” and the rest saying, “We will go with you.” Today the primary human use and concern for the Kinneret is that is the region’s primary drinking water source (Gal & Parparov). The economic contribution of fishing is not huge, but the fishing industry is still important in its social value, still supporting hundreds of fishermen (Linn, M., 2016. “Experts from Israel, Great Lakes compare big water,” Great Lakes Echo, Center for Environmental Journalism, Michigan State University, https://greatlakesecho.org/2016/09/27/experts-from-israel-great-lakes-compare-big-water/). The disciples were home, in their place of comfort. It surely is significant that their fishing yielded nothing all night until the stranger on the beach offered his advice: their old trade seems fragile now. Jesus at today’s Tiberias might be watching scientists test the water for algae overgrowth, an unwanted abundance and sign of ecological imbalance (Gal & Parparov); in this story, the imbalance is in the lives of the fishermen, which will not just revert back to what they were before.
Here, home, after a long night, they encounter the risen Christ on the beach, making them breakfast.
“When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.
Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught…’
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”…
Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish” (John 21:9-13).
As in some of the other Easter appearance stories, Jesus takes food, and gives it to his friends, further revealing both the truth of who he is, and his real, alive, human-ness — his earthliness. Here again, he shows his incarnation, in the action of feeding. Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff describes the person of the Son in the Trinity as one revealed in the acts of prayer, merciful works, and forgiveness.
“…in the midst of persons, acting in a liberating manner, the Son has revealed the Father to us; the transforming drive that he radiated indicated the presence of the Holy Spirit…This Son of God set up his tent in the midst of our misery…The logic of hands is more convincing than the logic of words. To be revealed as the Son of the eternal Father, Jesus has privileged deeds over speech” (Leornado Boff, Trinity and Society. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988, trans. 2000, p. 78-79).
Not in eloquent words, but in comforting servitude, Jesus returns to his friends. In the land they loved, in the midst of their grieving misery, there Jesus built a fire and fried some fish for tired fishers. They must have felt like the Psalmist, that “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning” (Ps. 30:5). Or in Robert Alter’s translation, “At evening one beds down weeping, and in the morning, glad song” (Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation With Commentary. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007, p. 103). As morning arrived, and the birds began their song, so did the disciples grief and weariness become joy. “It is the Lord!” As, later, Saul was struck down by a great light on the way to Damascus, experiencing the presence of the living Christ, so the disciples met Him with the gentler breaking of first light over the Sea of Galilee.
This scene underscores that we are not separate from nature. So much of Jesus’ ministry, public and with small groups and individuals, was out-of-doors, and much of it in natural settings like this lakeshore. Here both Jesus and the familiar natural place comfort the grieving disciples, and help them, giving them courage for the next phase of their work as apostles. We are part of nature. God loves creation, including us, and we love God and all of the rest of creation, and it loves us. We are interdependent and we need each other. Not only do we need nature, but it needs our love and encouragement as well. Biologist Robin Wall Kimmerer recounts a story about teaching that surprised her from her Indigenous perspective.
“One otherwise remarkable morning I gave the students in my General Ecology class a survey…they were asked to rate their knowledge of positive interactions between people and land. The median response was ‘none.’ I was stunned. How is it possible that in twenty years of education they cannot think of any beneficial relationships between people and the environment? … When we talked about this after class, I realized that they could not even imagine what beneficial relations between other species and them might look like. How can we being to move toward ecological and cultural sustainability if we cannot even imagine with the path feels like?” (Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2013, p. 6)
Once again, Jesus shows a path: finding comfort in the nature that raised you, in the familiar outdoors. Fellowship over a fire on the beach. And then a walk. A way. Saul, we read in Acts 9, “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).”
Community faithfulness to God and others is frequently portrayed in the simple terms of a “way of life.” The followers of Jesus were called “people of the Way” even before they were called “Christians” (Acts 9:2) just as Jesus himself was presented as “the Way (John 14:6)…” The Way denoted a particular pattern of living, the instruction and training required for this (called “discipleship” or a following in the Way), and the continuous remembering and retelling of the formative stories, the Jesus story itself above all.” (Bruce C. Birch, Jacqueline E. Lapsley, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Larry L. Rasmussen., Bible and Ethics in the Christian Life: A New Conversation, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018, p. 20).
Community, in this story of Jesus, includes the lake, the fish, the beach – the familiar community of the disciples. The story they remember includes their life and work together on this lake, in this place. And the story continues with a walk that becomes, in the view of Victoria Loorz, an ordination, which mirrors callings we might receive, to serve in a way that includes all of creation.
In a wild ordination, the questions you might be asked are more along the lines of the first ordination, issued by Jesus to Peter, beside his boat where he was fishing. Using the language of deep relationally, Jesus asked him, “Peter, do you love me?” And Peter said something like, “Oh my God, yes, I love you.” Three times Peter affirmed his love. Three times Jesus said to him, “Okay, then, go feed my sheep.”
“Do you love me?” Earth asks, the deer ask, the remaining oak tree in the park asks. And you say yes.
“Will you speak for those whose voices have not been heard? And you say yes.
“Will you represent the wild ones whose authentic worth as been disregarded for too many generations, to recover and rescue and restore them?” And you say yes in the way only you can. “Okay, well done, go and feed my sheep.” And so you do. In the way only you can (Loorz, p. 185).
Jesus’ breakfast and walk on the beach with his friends, in that tender time between his resurrection and ascension, is a scene of communion with each other and with nature.
Everything bears the marks of the Son, because everything has been made in him, with him, and for him. The scrap in the street, the star in the sky, and the atomic particle are like children, because they are in the Son. They are also our brothers and sisters. Hence, we respect and love them as we do our selves (Boff, p. 85)
Originally written by Carmen Retzlaff in 2022.