“Our church is celebrating Lent!” I said happily to my Catholic friends one Friday afternoon in March. We talked about beliefs for a while; they had been rooted in the traditions of Ash Wednesday and going without an indulgence for 40 days; I was just sprouting in my understanding, eager to know more. As the conversation came to a close, I was asked casually, “So, what are you doing tonight?”
Oh. Suddenly I was embarrassed to let the words come out of my mouth. Here I was, fascinated that my church traditions were reflecting, at least a glimmer, of those around me, but my response was about to reveal I had so much to learn...
“I’m going to a steakhouse tonight.”
My friends were gracious in their response; giving up meat was not a part of my church tradition, but as I sat at dinner wolfing down tangy ribs with sides of cornbread, green beans, and sweet tea, I wondered about this practice of giving up meat on Fridays. I had seen signs around town for fish fries and Lenten soup meals. As much as I love eating, I’d never visited such a gathering until one day I was unexpectedly invited to a fish fry.
Sunnies and crappies were battered in Shore Lunch and cooked in a deep fryer, then served up on paper plates. The food was so good that I almost started crying. It reminded me not of where I was, but I where I wanted to be: the lake. I looked outside the window that March day to see grass and pavement, but I closed my eyes and tried to envision a heron flying across the expanse and a boat coming in from fishing. I thought about kayaks and hammocks and ice cream at the Chocolate Ox. I tried to hear the birds singing, the breeze blowing, and my little nieces and nephew dancing around me, wanting to play a game.
Then, by some act of grace, I was taken to John 21. It’s hard to believe that eating a filet on a paper plate, smothered with store bought tartar sauce while standing near a deep fryer can be a spiritual experience, but it was! I looked around the room and realized this was bigger than longing for the lake; this practice of eating fish brought people together to share a meal who were normally apart. We were huddled around in a circle looking at each other face to face.
It seems like John could have wrapped up his gospel at the end of chapter 20. He had witnessed Jesus performing miracles: seeing dead people raised to life, water turned into wine, and the feeding of thousands. John goes on to tell just one more story. Maybe John had a feeling of nostalgia as he penned his last chapter. Perhaps he missed the small things of being with Jesus--like the sound of his gait as he walked, the way he whistled, or his inviting smile. I like to imagine that John wanted to conclude his writing in 20 chapters, but this last interaction was so poignant, so personal, that his book demanded an afterword.
The disciples were going about the routine work of fishing, when suddenly they realize their friend is on shore. Peter gets so excited that he jumps into the water and swims to meet him, not waiting for the boat to come in. The fire had been started, the bread was baking, and the fish were about to fry. I wish I could have been on the beach that day, savoring fish together. I’m sure it tasted like hope, rest, and joy—like memories of the lake on a cold March day.
Can you see the fire crackling?
Can you smell the fish frying?
Can you hear Jesus calling?
An invitation is being offered to you, “Come and have breakfast.”