The Story to be Written (An Easter Meditation on John 21:15-25)

I tag-team preached with Jeff this Easter morning in 2019. Dawn Harrell had died that morning.

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’

A second time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’

He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fashion your own belt and to go wherever you wished but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God. After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. He was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remained until I come, what does that to you? Follow me.’

So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, ‘But if it is my will, that he remain until I come. What is that to you?’ This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them. And we know that his testimony is true, but there are also many other things that Jesus did. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written well.”

-John 21:15-25

Well, I’m really excited that I get to bat clean up, though I’m not sure exactly how that works when there’s only one person who was up and they already hit a home run, but nevertheless, we’ll stick with the baseball analogy for a minute.

In fact, I’d like to continue that analogy…for those of you who watch or listen to sports, you know what a commentator is, right? Yes, probably? Now, my grandma was a huge Minnesota Vikings fan to go to another sport and she would get so upset at the T.V. commentators every time the Vikes were losing that shewould turn on K-FAN. 

Well, the same thing kind of happens with folks who write about the Bible. There are people called commentators who narrate the story for people like us and sometimes you read them and you think, “That’s a nice call.” Or, “I don’t really agree with that particular one.” It might come as no surprise then that the commentators on this passage for John, who are disproportionately male, do not usually choose to include the story about Mary as the one of four times that Jesus appears to his followers. We typically only count the three where Jesus appears to the actual, male disciples. 

Now if I’m being generous, there may be another reason why they also don’t count Mary. Perhaps it’s because of the role that the number three plays in the book of John? Earlier in John, before this passage in chapter 21, Peter denied Jesus three times. Here now, in our text for this morning, Jesus comes to John and three times ask him if John if he loves Jesus.

Some of you may have heard this passage talked about before, referencing the ways that in Greek, there are many different words for love, unlike in our English language. Sometimes when people talk about this, we talk about how agape love is the most true, the highest of all loves. But interestingly, here in this passage, when Jesus and Peter are talking back and forth, the first two times, Jesus says, “Do you love me?” He utilizes the word agape. And both times Peter respond with the word that becomes Philadelphia, philos, which is brotherly, sisterly, kind of this deep friendship, kinship sort of love. So Jesus says, “Do you love me (agape)?” Peter responds, “You know that I love you (philos).”

“Do you love me (agape)?” “You know that I love you (philos).”

And the third time Jesus himself says to Peter, “Peter, do you love me (philos)?” And Peter says, “You know that I do (philos).”

I bring this up just to highlight the fact that the intimacy of the relationship between Peter and Jesus is real. Sometimes we think that only love that super altruistic counts. But the kind of love that Jesus embodied was both a global love, but also a love of friendship and of family and of invitation back into connection even to those of us who, like Peter, forget our first love, have turned away, or maybe never knew that the love was ours. Jesus shows up and says precisely to him, and to us, “I don’t care what the story’s been. Do you love me? Then follow me. Follow me with your life.”

The beauty of this is that no matter what kind of love it is, that love is both an invitation and it’s also an expectation that we do something with our love. Love shows up, love is with, love is being present, and we see this here at the end of this text.

Meda Stamper’s doctoral dissertation is “Performing Love: Entering the Future Through the Ending of John: A Narrative Theological Reading of John 21:15-25.” Meda and I agree about a couple things about the very last verses in John.1

That last verse, verse 25, I think it’s one of the funniest verses in the Bible. Maybe you don’t read the Bible and laugh a lot, but I have these moments where I’m like, “That’s really funny!” You know, John writes the book and was like, “Oh, by the way, we could have written a whole ton of books and all the world couldn’t contain all the books and you know …” Jeff has argued that the reason for this is because John was arrogant and he was like, “I’ve got the gospel right,” and then he realized he couldn’t. That makes this ending rather comedic!

Another reason for this ending is that it names an important truth, for how does one pen a story that captures every aspect of anyone’s life? As you know, Dawn Harrell, the spouse of our senior minister, died this morning. Just last week she was writing notes for Violet, her 11 year old daughter, to have and to read at the milestones along her journey when her mother won’t be able to be present. But those notes can’t begin to capture everything I know that Dawn has already lived with Violet and Daniel and us. No book can ever fully pen those moments that you can’t even find words for, let alone, how are you supposed to pen a story about Emmanuel, God with us? I mean, that seems easy, right? 21 chapters. Ready? Go. Good luck. I feel for John there.

But there’s a third reason that I want to suggest for why the book ends here, and it resonates with Jeff’s invitation: that we don’t want to be a people who go home. It’s this that John knew and affirmed: that the story of resurrection didn’t end in John chapter 21:24. The story of God’s resurrection is something that God has continued, and continues even to this day. We are invited to be a people who participate in writing resurrection stories. This is the story still to be written. It’s a story that can hold space for the Good Fridays of our lives, the Holy Saturdays of darkness, and the resurrection moments where we know life at its sweetest.

We are invited to follow after John and pick up the pens, or the iPads, or however you write and write the story of resurrection in our lives. To answer when Jesus says, “Do you love me?” “You know I love you.” 

“So then follow me and write the resurrection story.”

It’s not just the stories in our own lives, but it’s the resurrection stories that we are invited to participate in the world with God. Christine M. Smith in her book, Risking the Terror: Resurrection in This Life pens, 

Resurrection as process, not moment. Resurrection as neighborhood and community transformation, resurrection as bodily integrity. Resurrection as refusing to play cards with the jailer. Resurrection as coming out, resurrection as remembrance and presence, and resurrection as that which we practice and we live with one another. May these images lead to claim and name every conceivable expression of resurrection life among us.2

The invitation of Easter is to not just go home, but to be a people who remain at this place and bear witness to the new life and the promise of resurrection in Christ. Then within our own lives, whatever it is we carry, whatever residual of pain or brokenness or human reality, we bear witness to resurrection together…in the relationships between us. In the ways we live in the world. 

This is the story still to be written. 

And every day we have a choice: Are you going to live the resurrection story? Will we live the resurrection story together?

There’s not enough books in the whole world that could contain this story,. but we have this promise: God is not done writing yet. So, let’s pick up our pens even as our hands shake, even as the tears fall, believing in the promise of Easter morn, that resurrection is indeed the end of the story. 

Let’s write resurrection stories together, my friends.


  1.  See: “Meda Stamper,” Working Preacher:
  2.  Christine M. Smith, Risking the Terror: Resurrection in This Life (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2001), 113.

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