Easter is a season, not just one day. This year, Eastertide lasts all through May and until Pentecost Sunday on 9th June. I found myself starting this season by taking part in an inter-church Easter Praise service, at which I had to ‘do a piece’. Having failed to identify a poem/song/suitable reading, I had to fall back on composing something myself. Here it is:
As we move on from Easter Sunday, it is worth reminding ourselves of the events of Jesus’ life after his resurrection and before his ascension into Heaven. According to the Gospel of John, the apostles first see the risen Jesus back in Galilee on the morning of an unsuccessful fishing trip There follows the familiar story of the miraculous catch of fish, their recognition of Jesus and their shared breakfast of bread and grilled fish.
As with all the Gospel stories, it can be read at several different levels and provoke a variety of questions. One question that keeps coming up about this story is ‘Why are we told the exact number of fish caught?’There are two popular answers. One is that the Greek marine biologists of the day taught that there were 153 different species of fish in the world. So the Gospel writer is telling us that Jesus is casting his net over everyone in the world regardless of race, colour, gender, social position or politics. The other answer is actually a whole group of answers. It concerns the system of allocating each letter of the alphabet a number. This system is called ‘gamatria’. Applying it to the number 153, gives a variety of possible meanings and connections with other passages of Scripture. There is no one obvious correct answer but the simplest is that the phrase ‘It is the Lord’ in Greek has the numerical value of 153, thus the catch of fish reinforces the words of the beloved disciple when he recognises Jesus.
Perhaps both answers can be combined to give the message that the apostles, as fishers of men, have the task of drawing all peoples towards Jesus so that they too can recognise him as God?
One aspect of the story that does not get much attention is the grilled fish. A casual reader might assume that they were part of the catch but this cannot have been so. Jesus had them cooked ready before the fishermen came ashore. What message is being given here? There are obvious parallels with the miracle of the loaves and fishes but I prefer a more personal message – that Jesus does not need us to give him anything; instead, He is inviting us to the eternal banquet. He is love, freely given, not part of some sort of barter system. All He asks is that we recognise Him as our saviour and pass on his gift of love to our neighbours.
How does this relate to the Rule of St Benedict? The May readings, rather confusingly, start with the very last chapter of the Rule. They then return us to the beginning and continue into chapter seven. At the central point, chapter four, we have the list of the Instruments of Good Works, which begin with ‘In the first place, to love the Lord God with the whole heart, the whole soul, the whole strength. Then, one’s neighbor as oneself.’ This really says it all, echoing the lawyer who asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life and who then gave Jesus the opportunity to tell the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). The rest of the Rule is simply describing a system whereby a community of enclosed monks are best placed to live out the instruction to love God and neighbour. Of course, the Rule also applies to oblates – we may not be able to sing God’s praises seven times a day and we do not share the same roof as our neighbours but the general principle still applies!
Jane Coll, Oblate of Pluscarden