They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in. – John 21
I recently needed to get groceries. It had been two weeks to the day, from our last trip. This was the first trip I would take since the recommendation for wearing masks and limiting the amount of people that can be in the store at a time. As soon as I got in the grocery store parking lot I felt the changes immediately. As I looked around, all I saw were people going in and out of the store wearing face masks. They were all on a mission to get to their food and then to their cars quickly. I got inside the store and it’s eerily quiet. I can hear the check out people and the employees but not much else. In fact there are no little voices of toddlers or preschoolers running around helping mom or dad with the shopping. There are absolutely no crying babies. The usual sounds that I’m used to are gone.
I’m in the produce section first. My family loves their fruits and vegetables so this section usually takes me the longest. However on this day, it seemed to take an abnormal amount of time. I wore my own disposable gloves that didn’t make it easy to get the small plastic bags opened. I also see how warm my homemade fabric mask is and think about all those essential workers that wear masks for hours at a time. Every person around me is did their best to stay clear of strangers and almost no one made eye contact.
I miss the personal connection I make with strangers every time I’m out. I make it a priority wherever I am to make eye contact, smile, and may be even say hello or make idle chit chat. I recently said to a close friend that I’m missing that connection with strangers of lightly touching their arm or hand in passing. I know it sounds silly, but I am learning some things about myself that I took for granted before this virus. I’m discovering things that are important to me that I never noticed before now. Connecting with strangers is definitely at the top of that list.
Just as I grabbed another bag to get my favorite red leaf lettuce, I glanced over at the checkout lines and suddenly am overcome with the realization that my personal connection with strangers is (at least for now) gone. I stopped in the middle of opening that bag and thought about how I may have to find new ways to receive that connection. That’s when I turned around to grab my lettuce and see an elderly couple with their carts waiting to get by me. They hadn’t said excuse me or any words at all. They didn’t try to push their carts a different way. They had just patiently waited for me to stop daydreaming and move out of their way. I told them I was sorry and they said it was okay, as they moved past me.
We’ve reached the last chapter of John. The story today is called Fishing and is such a great example of my chosen word HOPE. Jesus wanted to offer his disciples a final gathering to encourage them for the next journey without him. He offers them HOPE for that day, HOPE for the future, HOPE for the work yet to come.
…Simon Peter announced, “I’m going fishing.”
The rest of them replied, “We’re going with you.” They went out and got in the boat. They caught nothing that night. When the sun came up, Jesus was standing on the beach, but they didn’t recognize him.
Jesus spoke to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything for breakfast?”
They answered, “No.”
He said, “Throw the net off the right side of the boat and see what happens.”
They did what he said. All of a sudden there were so many fish in it, they weren’t strong enough to pull it in.
Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Master!”
…Jesus said, “Breakfast is ready.” Not one of the disciples dared ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master.
Jesus then took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus had shown himself alive to the disciples since being raised from the dead.
Jesus shared another miracle of an abundance of fish, of conversation, and of a shared meal with his disciples. This would give them the hope they would need to continue moving towards life without him. They would need that hope to make the start of their ministry – of sharing the word of God without Jesus present. Hope was essential for the disciples. Hope is essential for us too.
After that trip to my local grocery store, I sat in my car disinfecting my previously gloved hands, steering wheel, and door handles before making my way to my final stop. Costco. I hoped that I would make it through this final stop, as I was tired, hot, and overwhelmed. I wanted my old grocery trips back where I leisurely made my way through the aisles and took time to hand pick my goods. When I got there it felt different. More people made eye contact and I could tell by their eyes, they even offered a smile under their masks. Then in the spice aisle I ran into a close friend’s parents. They recognized me, even with the mask (as I did them) and it was nice to say hello. In passing, I offered them my hope for their continued health. While I checked out, the cashier casually made conversation with the lady that was putting my things into my cart. She even made some casual chit chat with me. Then I was told to have a nice day!
This virus has taken so much from us. It has changed the way we live and act. It has definitely taken away our connection to others. But as I’ve learned from our story in John today – I will not let it take away my HOPE. I cannot live in a world where there is no hope. Jesus wouldn’t want that. Let’s not let this virus strip everything from us. Let’s not let this virus strip away everything that makes us feel safe and well. I hope that you will take these words today as a nudge from Jesus. A nudge to offer a smile under your mask, a tiny conversation to the people you meet, or a helping hand to those that are struggling. We were created to live in community with others, not secluded in our homes alone.
This too will pass my friend. It is my genuine HOPE that this virus won’t change you to the point that you’ve lost yourself in fear, but instead that you discover those things that are the most important to you … like people, relationships, touch, and love. Especially in the importance of God’s unending love. God doesn’t social distance. God doesn’t need a mask. God is just there. Always there. Always loving. Always offering HOPE.