Photo by Community Photography ‘now & then’ at

Mysterious Presence

Since the artist/author of this “painting” crafted it so carefully, let’s look at it closely milking it of its meaning.

One stroke of the artist is the phrase “Jesus showed himself.”  If I visit someone, I don’t say, “I showed myself to my friend.”  We say I went to be with my friend.  So this is the language of a mysterious presence.

A major theme of the painting invites us to identify with the disciples.  They are frustrated in their work.  Pause, and take this in.  Making a living is difficult.  Maintaining a family is difficult.  Building a community of faith is difficult. We can all identify with people working long hours, being tired, and having nothing to show for it.

So the painter wants us to step into the painting by putting ourselves in the boat.  Then Jesus “shows himself” to us.  But notice that even when Jesus “shows himself,” it is hard to determine that it is really Jesus.  (“The disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” John 21:4  And see vs. 12 where they know but don’t know who this is!) So we have a mysterious presence with a mysterious identity.  These are clues the artist is painting into the picture.

This Gospel Crafted Seventy Years Later

Remember that this painting was fashioned somewhere around 70 years after the time of Jesus.  That would be like Jesus dying and rising in 1943 and the gospel being authored today.  The author is using stories that have been told and retold and eventually written in some form over a period of  70 years; and then our creative author injects his own creative genius into process.  The author interprets this story through the prism of his own experience of the church.  How does the mysterious presence of Jesus “made known” to people in the author’s time?  How mysterious is the identity they barely grasp?  One answer is the weekly communal celebration of the Eucharist, for which they have been by now gathering for decades.

Elements of the “Painting” Borrowed from Chapter 6 on the Bread of Life

Pay attention to the over-abundance of fish.  Notice that bread is present.  Notice that their “knowing” that it is Jesus is in the context of his distributing the bread and the fish.  All of this for the careful reader of John takes us back to the 6th Chapter which is devoted to the Bread of Life.  Here we have the superabundance of bread and fish.  Here we have the long explanation of the meaning of the Bread of Life.  And here interestingly tucked into that story we have another moment in a boat where fear, instead of frustration, fills the disciples.  Only the mysterious presence of Jesus on that occasion brings them “to shore” (i.e., to a safe place).

So we are in the painting, Jesus “makes himself know” however mysteriously; we have more difficulty identifying him than we do one another; and symbols of the Eucharist are present.  In other words the evangelist (author/artist) is sharing his experience of the resurrected Jesus, an experience his community has regularly at the Eucharist.

While we know that the early church clearly believed that Jesus rose from the dead, their descriptions of the Risen One’s presence all display an element of mystery.  And—this is my point—the mysterious way that Jesus is present with us at our communal gatherings for the Eucharist is not different from the experience of the early church.  Sometimes our experience of the week, both individually and as a church, leave us feeling frustrated or frightened.  Our time together at the Eucharist is a chance to re-center on the One who brings us to a safe place and a place of abundance. 

One More Detail

There is one more touch of the artist we should notice.  The last time Peter stared at a charcoal fire in John’s telling was the night he claimed he didn’t even know Jesus three times.  Now, in this experience, Peter has the humbling experience of repeating three times that he loves Jesus.  And that too is what the Eucharist is sometimes like for us.  Sometimes we need to re-center our fidelity.  In this mysterious meeting, Jesus says to Peter what he said to Peter at the beginning: “Follow me.”  The Eucharist reminds us every week that we have been called and that we have been sent.

Mysterious doesn’t have to mean “spooky.”  For us it means deep, so deep we can’t really take it all in.

Homily by Frank Krebs
Saturday, April 13, 2013
Third Sunday of Easter
Acts 5:27-32, 40-41
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19 (focus text)