Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” ~ John 21:3
Jennifer and I watched as Ro (our son) stood up to take his place in line to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Morningside University. The hot Iowa sun beat down on us as we sat on the uncomfortable metal bleachers at Elwood Olson Field. I thought, “How many times have we sat in bleachers at track meets and basketball games over the years? This is it. The last time.”
The woman announcing the graduates by name said, “Ro R Paschal.” I chuckled inside when I heard his name. The “R” is not short for any name but instead a reference to his grandfathers as well as Harry “S” Truman whose middle initial is a reference to his grandfathers. (Note: I thought it was funny and clever when we named Ro.) Over the years, when folks have asked Ro his middle name, he smiles and says, “R”. Anyway, “R” sauntered across the makeshift stage.
The walk took five to six seconds, but it was the accumulation of a lifelong journey. For Ro and countless graduates like him, he was leaving the last bits and pieces of his childhood and entering a new unknown world. Aren’t we always moving from one stage of life to another? We lose a job or change jobs. We get married and sometimes divorced. Children are born and parents pass away. We move to different towns and cities. Our established beliefs change as we experience life. Aren’t we always walking across a makeshift stage to a new part of life?
Ro shook the president’s hand as he received his diploma. “It is done,” I thought, but as the “Hymn of Promise” says, “In our end is our beginning.” I wonder what the future holds for him, all our graduates, us, and our church and nation.
Graduation is a time of liminal space. “It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next,” writes Richard Rohr. We spiritually grow in liminal space, but generally try to avoid it because it is a time of uncertainty or chaos. “Liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty, receptive, and usually humble. It invites us to discover and live from broader perspectives and with much deeper seeing.”
The followers of Jesus know liminal space much like we do.
They walk with Jesus for three years. They see miracles and wonders. They feed over five thousand people with five loaves of bread and a couple of fish. The blind see again. Lepers become clean. Jesus raises the dead. They walk in peace and joy. Everything is possible.
Jesus dies and the disciples’ world turns upside down, liminal space. What should they do? How should they live? What’s next? Jesus appears to them twice, but they still cannot comprehend his way of life and a new world.
Peter says, “I’m going fishing.” And the other disciples say, “We will go with you,” (see John 21:3). Why do they go fishing? Peter wants to get on with life. He wants to go back to the world he knows, and that world is fishing for a living writes the Reverend Tom Wright. They have families who need help. They need to be practical and do something sensible. It is time to put the crazy dreams and ideas on a shelf.
Rohr says, “It would be difficult to exist in this time of global crisis and not feel caught between at least two worlds—the one we knew and the one to come. We cannot put the genie back in the bottle.” All of us are walking across a graduation stage. What are we going to do next?
As we move through this pandemic, our church is not the same as it was going into it. As we leave sanctuary our church is not the same as it was moving into sanctuary. We are leaving one part of life for a new life. A new world. Death and resurrection.
And like Peter, it is tempting to say, “Let’s go fishing.” Let’s go back to doing everything the way we used to do it. Even if it was not working, at least it’s familiar. Comfortable. What are we going to do?
The Living Christ shows up “just after daybreak” (John 21:4). It is a new day. A fresh start. To follow Christ is to be open to change. As our graduates move across their stages today and enter the next phase of their lives, may we take time to think about passages in our personal lives, our church, and our community. Do we just want to go back to fishing? The same old same old?
Paul says, “Everything old has passed away, everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Let us be still in liminal space and discern the movement of the spirit within us.
Blessings and peace,