Whoever wrote the Gospel of John planned to end the book with a twist. It’s arguably the best twist we could imagine: Jesus who got killed on the cross didn’t stay dead.
Early on the first day of the week, when it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb, and Jesus wasn’t there. She got Simon Peter and the beloved disciple to go and look for themselves; Peter just plunged right into the tomb to see, and sure enough, she’s right. Next Jesus finds Mary weeping, but she didn’t recognize him at first. As soon as she does, he leaves. Next Jesus meets up with the disciples and breathes on them the Holy Spirit. Thomas was late and missed it, so Jesus comes back to find him a week later. Jesus keeps coming back to the ones he loved.
It seems most likely that the Fourth Gospel was supposed to end with the last verses of chapter twenty: “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples which are not written in this book… These are written so you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” You can hear the unwritten “The End.”
Unwritten or not, it doesn’t work. Just like Jesus’ story does not end with his death, the Gospel of John does not end with the ending. Scholars believe chapter twenty-one was added later. So what we’ve got is a post-credit scene. As though the Gospel is still going…
As though if our Christian faith teaches us anything, it’s that what looks like the end might not be the end. There’s always more.
What happened was the disciples went out fishing one night, and they didn’t catch anything. As the day was dawning, they saw a man standing on the shore, and they didn’t know who he was. He told them to go back out and cast the net to the right side of the boat. When they tried it, there were so many fish, they couldn’t even haul it in. This is the moment the beloved disciple realized who the man was. Simon Peter put on his clothes and dove into the water to swim to the shore.
I cannot tell you why Peter was fishing naked… I can tell you, whatever made him run all the way into the tomb on Easter is the same impulse that made him plunge into the water today. No more denying — you can have the whole wide world, but give me Jesus.
When the boat came ashore, the disciples began working to unload their haul, that’s when they saw it. The man had built a fire on the beach, he was cooking fish. He called them to come and have breakfast, see there’s always more. That’s when they knew.
This is the moment I’m pretty sure the disciples realized two things at the same time. One: This man cooking their breakfast is Jesus. He’s really here! And two: He is really dead.
If you have ever loved someone who died, then you know this double realization. It might happen when you’re driving and their song comes on the radio. Or maybe you go to bring down the winter coats from the upstairs closet, and you find his coat, and it still smells like him. Here you were going about your day, when you get knocked down by recognition! Somebody posts a picture of her on Facebook, and it comes up on your feed, and you see her again. It’s really her. She is still with you. And.
She’s still dead.
There’s no being reminded of her without being reminded of that fact. Both come at you at the same time. All the grace and all the grief, all over again.
It is this exquisite juxtaposition that makes the act of remembering an act of courage. It makes us cry. It makes other people cry. We think, I don’t want to tell the story about him in front of his mom; she’ll start crying. But the thing is, she’s not crying because you’re telling a story about him. She’s crying because she misses him, and she remembers him.
Remembering is not for the cowardly. It stirs up our grieving, and that’s not all. It also positions us in exactly the right spot to see what is next, to see the turning —when day breaks into the night, when grace breaks into the grief. We can see: He really is dead. He really is here. And there’s more…
We are part of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, each one of us, and the promise of the Gospel keeps unfolding. Your love for the one who died keeps going; the love of God keeps going. If our Christian faith teaches us anything it’s this: what looks like the end might not be the end. There is life; there’s always more. Come and have breakfast, he tells them.
Blessed are those who hunger, for they will be filled.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are those who weep, God will bless the tears that run down their faces, and they will rejoice.
Blessed are those who are brave enough to remember the one who died, they have put themselves in exactly the right spot to see the day breaking into the night, life rising from the loss.
Oh Hallelujah! There is more.