I love experiential worship (can't you tell?). So, when I saw a workshop about it scheduled for the NEXT Church National Gathering in Minneapolis, I was excited.
We looked at the story of the resurrected Jesus feeding the disciples on the beach from John 21. I chuckled inside as the leader asked our table groups to imagine a prayer station for this passage - we had just created a table-scape for communion based on this text at the church. It felt like I had the answer to the test! But I contained my glee and listened to the other group members, realizing that each story has multiple interpretations.
Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”
They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.
Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.
When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them,“Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:1-14, CEB)
I loved what we did at Pilgrims (surprise, I know) when Ashley preached on the breakfast story. You can read more about it, and see a video, here: http://godofthesparrow.com/the-landscape-of-liturgy-breakfast-at-pilgrims-beach/.
But for now, I want to lift up this idea: go all the way.
At Pilgrims, we shared the bread and cup along with smoked salmon. Actual fish. In the workshop, the leader passed around plates of goldfish crackers and swedish fish. Now, swedish fish hold a special place in my heart from my camp days, but I came away from the workshop feeling cheated.
I texted Ashley, thanking her for using real fish that Sunday in Epiphany. She replied about meeting the gospel fully, not half way. About going full throttle.
That's what I want, I responded. Full throttle, please.
I don't want contrived, cute, or consumeristic religion. I want life and death, this stuff matters, smell it and taste it religion.
The materials we choose to use reflect our theology. The fish in this story is Jesus' way of nourishing the disciples' bodies after a long night of work. Their conversation around the fire ring nurtures their souls. Crackers and candy don't nourish or nurture.
Jesus came the full distance. He didn't just talk about helping the poor and healing the sick, he actually did it. He didn't just pass around bread and wine saying this is my sacrifice for you, he sacrificed his body and blood on the cross.
I don't really like raw fish, but I ate the salmon anyway. The salty taste brought me to the sea shore. Sitting around a fire pit (of candles in sand), brought me back to my days at camp when we would cook and share a meal together over the fire. Those are some of my happiest memories, and it's that kind of fellowship that Jesus shared with the disciples.
Our bodies help us live into the Word. Do we use their full potential or only go half way?