Last week, I mentioned using this Easter season to pray about our communities. I noted that the Eucharist must be the heart and the goal of all we do. In part because it is in the sacrifice of the Mass that we come into the real presence of Christ. It is in the Mass that we learn to recognise him in all the different ways he comes to us. Our gospel today has much to teach us on this front, in particular, I believe through the person of the beloved disciple.
The beloved disciple is the one who recognises Jesus and tells Peter, “It is the Lord.” But he doesn’t recognise him straightaway. He recognises him only after a few things have happened, and I think it might be these things that alert him to the presence of the Lord.
First, they have been fishing all night and have caught nothing. Second, Jesus calls to them, calling them children and asking them whether they have caught anything to eat. Finally, it is only after Jesus gives them instructions and they consequently land a huge catch that the beloved disciple realises that it is Jesus.
The first thing to notice, though, is that it is the beloved disciple that recognises Jesus. It is the one who, in John’s Gospel, is almost closer than any other disciple. This is the disciple who leans on Christ’s chest at the Last Supper; and the one who stays at the foot of the cross during the passion. The other thing that I think is important is that the beloved disciple is the one who believes that Christ is risen on entering the empty tomb. He sees and he believes. But he does not see Jesus – he sees the empty tomb and believes in the risen Christ.
He sees Jesus in the world around him. He has listened to Christ, he has watched him. He is so close to him that he can recognise his traces. Just like in a deep friendship or in a loving relationship, everything can act as a reminder, everything can become part of the relationship, so with the beloved disciple: things can point to the risen Christ.
But I don’t think it is just anything that points to the risen Christ. Maybe it is the combination of the words and events. Maybe the combination of feeling tired and hungry, even a little downcast, after a fruitless evening, reminded him of the feelings of loss at the foot of the Cross. Maybe the question as to whether they had caught anything reminded him of how Jesus always fed them; most importantly, at the Last Supper. Finally, maybe the beloved disciple remembered the impossible joy on seeing the empty tomb when they landed that catch.
I wonder, then, if the beloved disciple is not teaching us an important lesson: to be on the lookout for Christ. To keep an eye out for how Christ appears in our lives.
How do we do this? Two things might help us here. First, we should know Christ. We should know how he lives, so that when we come across him we can recognise his traces, too. We should therefore know our scripture and be familiar with our sacraments. We should be familiar with the Bible because in it we read how God is with us. We can say the same thing about the sacraments. In the sacraments we see how God acts with us. We should learn their structure, become familiar with their details. These can become the lens through which we see the world, enabling us to spot the outline of Christ in the events of our lives.
The second thing I think we see in the beloved disciple’s action is that they are in hope. When he sees the empty tomb, he believes Christ is risen. I wonder if this is because there was a tiny hope in his heart that he did not dare speak aloud. A hope based on what he had heard Christ say, but a tiny hope because no-one else seemed to have heard what he had heard.
And again in today’s gospel, I wonder whether after catching nothing all night, he had felt the same hope stir when he heard the affection in someone calling him ‘child’ and asking whether he had eaten. Whether the instruction to cast their nets had reminded him of another time this had happened, and the hope had grown a little bit.
The final lesson, I think, we can take from the Beloved disciple is that when he recognised Jesus, he shared this news. The presence of the risen Christ is not something we keep to ourselves. People are desperate for this good news. We can see this in the way Peter responds.
Perhaps then as we think and pray about our communities, we might turn to the Eucharistic to help us discern where Christ is in our lives, in our neighbourhood. What is he saying? To whom is he calling us? How are we to follow? So, in today’s Mass, let us pray for a greater familiarity with Christ, first, through the Church in her scripture and sacraments and then, through them, in the rest of our lives. Let us also pray for that gift of hope, so crucial in believing Christ has risen from the dead. Finally, let us pray that we will share this good news with our neighbours.