Déjà-Vu! – John 21:1-19 – The Third Sunday of Easter

No, not the 2006 film with Denzel Washington (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%A9j%C3%A0_Vu_(2006_film)), nor the chain of sandwich and coffee bars (http://www.dejavu.uk.com).

Have you ever had a sense of ‘déjà-vu’? That rather odd feeling that you’ve been somewhere before, or that you’re going through the same experience that you’ve had in the past? Often there’s quite a sense of dislocation about the whole thing – everything seems odd and you wonder what is going on. Perhaps you’re on holiday, visiting a cathedral, and suddenly it seems as if you have been in that very spot before. Or maybe you are having dinner with a group of friends, discussing something, and you have the feeling that you’ve already experienced the same thing – same friends, same dinner, same conversation.

Surveys have shown that 70 % of people report having experienced some form of déjà vu. The highest number of incidents occurs in people aged between 15 and 25 years old. Some doctors attribute déjà vu to simple fantasy or wish fulfilment, others ascribe it to a mismatching in the brain that causes the brain to mistake the present for the past. Some people would like to think it’s related to a past-life experience.

So, have you had such an experience? ……… Peter must have been having some sort of double-take as his story unfolds in our Gospel reading. You might be able to imagine him feeling the sense that he’s been here before, and then gradually remembering what it reminded him of. And I think that this happens twice for Peter in today’s Gospel.

The first time is this ‘fishing-thing’. Can you remember another similar occasion in Peter’s life? What happened then? …. It is a story from early in Jesus’ ministry – he purloins Peter’s boat to speak to the crowd on the sea shore and then, instructs Peter on where to fish. The catch is large and Peter is overwhelmed and he says – ‘Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.’ Jesus ignores Peter’s outburst and asks him to follow him.

The second is Jesus’ series of questions – ‘Do you love me Peter?’

In the first instance, Jesus is gently reminding Peter of his calling to serve as an apostle – a ‘fisher of people’ – a follower of Jesus. In the second incident, Jesus reminds Peter of the time he most obviously failed. The time when he denied Jesus three times.

We are told in the Gospel story that after Peter had denied Jesus three times he went out and wept bitterly. … He’d been the one who had bragged that he would never desert Jesus, yet he had been the one who had most obviously failed to stand by Jesus at his trial and Crucifixion. … Peter must have felt devastated at Jesus death and guilty and ashamed of his own behaviour.

So how did Peter feel when he discovered that Jesus was alive again? Somewhere in the midst of the feelings of elation was at least a nagging doubt, perhaps an even stronger feeling, that the way he’d behaved was unforgivable. Peter must have felt that he had nothing to offer Jesus, that his failure was just too great. How would Jesus speak to him when they next were alone? Would there still be that deep sense of friendship and trust, or would there always be a barrier between them? And I guess, that if it had been left to Peter, he would have always felt a barrier between himself and Jesus that he could not cross. His own failure weighed heavily on him.

feed-my-sheepSo what does Jesus do? We’ve seen it happen in the Gospel reading. He first gently reminds Peter of the circumstances of his first calling as a disciple. He then provides Peter an opportunity to express his faith and his love for his Lord – and we’re told that it was a painful experience for Peter. But Jesus is making it so very clear to Peter that he’s welcome back as a close friend, that forgiveness is real and that his calling as a disciple still stands.

So, the question for us today is, “How does Jesus deal with us when we fail him?” We feel that we can’t meet him face to face, yet God wants us to believe that the same forgiveness and love is available to everyone, how ever deeply we feel that we have failed. Peter’s story makes that so very clear. … None of us will betray God’s trust in us in any greater way than Peter did. Peter was welcomed back and re-commissioned by Jesus to serve him as a leader in his Church. We can have the same confidence that we are welcomed back as repentant sinners, welcomed back into the loved of God.

And often, there is for us, something like a sense of déjà vu about the whole thing – for, time and again, God provides us with the opportunity to serve him again even though we have failed, even when we have repeated the same failures. And in doing so he gives us the opportunity to discover that we have grown and changed through the love he has shown us.

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