A sermon by the Rev Linda Harrison
Easter 3; May 5, 2019
Acts 9:1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19
Last week I am sure there were a fair number of preachers who took Thomas to task for doubting. This week it’ll be Peter’s turn who somehow needs to redeem himself for denying Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest.
But wait! Did Peter deny Jesus?
From John 18: “The woman said to Peter, ‘You are not also one of this person’s disciples, are you?’ Peter said, ‘I am not.’”
A few verses later: “Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself [at the charcoal fire]. They asked him, ‘You are not also one of his disciples, are you?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Again, Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.”
* * *
I don’t know why, but for whatever reason, I was thinking about the animated film Coco this week. Let me remind you of the story … (spoiler alert!)
Miguel is the son, grandson, great grandson, and great-great grandson of shoe makers in a village in Mexico; the family had long abandoned their musical roots. Yet Miguel desperately wants to be a guitar player – but not just any guitar player. He wants to be the best in all of México. But music is forbidden in his home as an influence of no good; it is accursed as that which can only bring heartache and despair. The very crude guitar he had fashioned for himself is found and destroyed. Distraught and heartbroken, Miguel runs away and devises a plan to get a guitar, but not just any guitar. He wants the guitar of the late, great Ernesto de la Cruz – the most famous guitar player in all of México – the man Miguel has come to believe is his great-great grandfather. The only thing is, he must break into the mausoleum where it is kept over Ernesto’s crypt. On the night of the festival of Diá de Muertos, when every family in the village is out to honor their ancestors and the recently departed with picnics, music, laughter, and dancing – hidden by the noise amidst all the hub-bub and joyous chaos – Miguel breaks into the mausoleum. He carefully climbs up and takes the precious guitar down from the wall. With relish and gusto, he begins playing, taking his first strum on that coveted instrument.
At that moment, the revelers burst into the mausoleum having heard something suspicious. They find the guitar on the floor. Miguel tries to explain himself, but no one hears him, no one sees him. And thus, begins Miguel’s odyssey through the Land of the Dead. Like every journey of the hero myth, Miguel meets trials he must overcome and setbacks he must navigate, and, of course, there is a time limit to how long he can remain with the dead until becoming dead himself – for he has done the unthinkable and removed the photograph of Imelda, his great-great grandmother, from the family ofrenda. To remove her picture is to restrict her to the Land of the Dead on Día de Muertos; she cannot cross over and visit her family with no picture displayed. The only person who truly remembers Imelda is her daughter Coco, who’s memory is fading with old age. Miguel must get the blessing of a family member in the Land of the Dead in order to return to the living and restore the photo to the ofrenda or Imelda is forever trapped in the Land of the Dead.
Yet, Imelda refuses to bless Miguel unless he promises to give up music forever because music can only bring heartache. He seeks out Ernesto instead. Along the way, as every hero on her or his journey must, Miguel acquires a companion – the trickster-guide in Héctor who helps Miguel navigate the obstacles he encounters on his way to meet his great-great grandfather and receive the blessing he needs in order to return to the Land of the Living and be a musician. The twist? And there always is one in a journey myth – Ernesto does not want to share fame in perpetuity – not even with his own great-great grandson. Ernesto throws Miguel and Héctor into the pit.
It is there, with all hope lost, that Miguel slows down a bit and in a more soulful conversation with Héctor, finds out that this bumbling jester is actually his great-great grandfather and who is about to fade away because no one has his picture on an ofrenda. He is as good as forgotten forever. And, we learn, Ernesto is Héctor’s murderer.
In that moment the two are rescued. They thwart Ernesto, with Imelda’s and the rest of the family’s help, all while Miguel truly connects with his family, albeit dead, and is returned to the Land of the Living with the unconditional blessing of Imelda … just in time. Imelda’s picture is returned to the ofrenda and Coco hears Miguel sing the family song, the one her father had written for her when she was a little girl, the one so long ago banished from the home. She begins to remember a little, tell stories, and pulls out a picture of Héctor long since believed thrown away. Miguel embraces his family, who in turn embrace his love for music.
Many characters come to an understanding of who they are, and their place in the world. Imelda, who can once again love music that came so naturally to her, and to reunite with the man she thought abandoned her and Coco all those years ago. The rest of her living family who can reclaim their musical roots. And Miguel, who also comes to the realization that his true identity and place in the world is not merely as a famous guitar player, but also as a member of this large loving family. Everyone involved needed to interact and converse in and with community and along the way they are all reminded. They are reminded and they settle down into who they truly are – fully and wholly.
And here is Peter, standing on the lakeshore, the one who impetuously jumped into the sea when he saw his beloved Rabbi. The one accused of denying Jesus. But what Peter had done might be a little worse … but who denied who he was. “I am not a disciple of that person.” I am not.
The risen Christ appears to the disciples one more time, by the Sea of Galilee. Christ engages in conversation, “Didn’t catch anything, did you?” Christ invites the community to share a meal of broiled fish. A meal where I imagine more conversation took place. A meal reminiscent of feeding the 5,000 – and around a charcoal fire where Peter denied his true identity on that horrible night. Then Christ and Peter go for a walk where Jesus lovingly reminds Peter in another conversation – short but powerful, “Peter, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord.” For each time that Peter denied who he was, Jesus reminds Peter who Peter truly is. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes Lord, you know that I do!” “Good Peter, because know maybe you know it, too. Go and do the work I have prepared you to do and called you to do. Feed my sheep, tend my lambs. You are the Good Shepherd now, and never forget who you are. And if you doubt, you have community.”
Blessed be God forever.