We weren’t even two weeks into the pandemic. I wasn’t yet annoyed by the word “unprecedented”. Everyone I knew was making bread of some sort (I chose both the banana and Amish friendship varieties). Clorox wipes were harder to find than Waldo himself.
We had just sent our students off for spring break, and suddenly we were canceling our spring retreat and preparing to finish the semester online. We didn’t know those last quick hugs would be the last for a long while. We weren’t going to get to look our seniors in the eyes as we blessed them and sent them. The end of a school year is always bittersweet, but it seemed like the sweet was getting ripped out from under us with each passing day. As the cases of Covid increased, my hope of a quick return to “normalcy” decreased.
One afternoon during that beginning phase, I found myself sitting in the sunshine on the back porch reading the book of John, specifically chapter 21 – a story that takes place after Christ’s resurrection.
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas(also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee,and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered,
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
I love the book of John. Even in just these fourteen verses I can find multiple nuggets of wisdom. Usually when I read a passage like this, I try to imagine myself as one of the characters in order to find the lesson. Would I be a disciple, sad and returning to their fishing boat, the only thing they knew for certain? Would I be Peter, wildly jumping out of the boat in hopes of forgiveness and reconciliation? Both good lessons, but neither of which were sticking with me on that day. You know what I couldn’t get out of my head that day? The net.
It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
Full, but not torn. Heavy, but not torn.
And then there were the fish. 153 fish. Why scripture is that specific, I’m not sure. I AM sure you could go down quite the Internet rabbit hole chasing many different ideas about that number. But again, my interest was not in theories, just in the existence of the number. 153. One hundred and fifty three. One. Five. Three. The number rolled around in my head and my heart for days – I couldn’t seem to shake it. Since March 15th was the first Sunday that our church was closed, and the first weekend of spring break, that is the date I had marked as the beginning of our pandemic season as a family. I remember typing into google “when is 153 days from March 15th?” The answer: Saturday, August 15th. I remember thinking “there is NO way this is going to drag on THAT long…” . And now here we sit, on August 15th – 153 days from the start of it all. And just like why the number of fish is noted in John, I desperately want to find meaning and purpose in it all. But honestly, I don’t know what that is, and may never know.
But here is what I DO know after 153 days. My heart has felt full in the best ways, but hasn’t torn. My heart has felt heavy in the worst ways, but hasn’t torn. And through each day, I can lift my eyes and see Jesus, standing in the shore waiting to give me all the right things at all the right times. And sometimes, that even looks like breakfast.