One of the beauties of the Octave is that every day is as much Easter Day as Sunday was, but each is given a slightly different emphasis by the readings the Church puts before us. During the past few days we have pondered the way in which the Resurrection was revealed and proclaimed and we have spent quite a lot of time eating and drinking — grilled fish and honeycomb in the Upper Room, bread and wine at Emmaus, and this morning, breakfast on the beach by the Sea of Tiberias. No wonder one of the predominant images of heaven is of an everlasting banquet! But, in all these Resurrection appearances, one thing is lacking. There is no engagement with contemporary concerns about how to fulfil the Law or live under the Roman Occupation, no questions about taxes or how to deal with specific sins or breaches of ritual custom. Now it is the person of Jesus which is central, and the decision we must make either to follow or to reject him.
This morning Peter is so unnerved by the sight of Jesus on the seashore that he leaps out of the boat in an effort to get away. He does not want to confront the reality of his own failure, but Jesus does not berate him. Later, he will win a threefold confession of love from Peter, to which he will respond with a threefold charge, ‘Feed my lambs; feed my sheep.’ This is the crux of the Church’s political engagement. It does not rest on any particular theory, has no particular party political expression. It is simply the need to feed the sheep. The centuries of theological reflection and articulation, the great body of Catholic social teaching, the zealous service of thousands and thousands of Christian men and women down the generations, they all come down to this: proclamation of the Risen Christ and obedience to his command. Sometimes, when we face enormously difficult or complex questions, such as what to do about the British steel industry or whether to remain part of the European Union, it can be helpful to remind ourselves of this.
Beaches have always played an important role in our history and intellectual questing.* The idea of ‘breakfast on the beach with Jesus’ may sound embarrassingly corny (and put like that, of course it is) but if we think through its implications, it certainly won’t prove a picnic. It will be, above all else, a decision for or against him, for or against feeding the sheep.
- Think William the Conqueror, Matthew Arnold, Winston Churchill, etc, etc.