The St. Paul’s Pulpit
Come and Dine
Delivered on April 22, 2018, by
Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph.D. at
St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Baton Rouge, LA
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)
When I was a boy, we used to gather around the piano and sing gospel music. One of the favorites in my family was “Come and Dine,” which begins with the words,
Jesus has a table spread
Where the saints of God are fed,
He invites His chosen people, “Come and dine”;
With His manna He doth feed
And supplies our every need:
Oh, ’tis sweet to sup with Jesus all the time.
The words to this song are based on this scene from the 21st chapter of the gospel according to St. John. In John 21 we have an account of another appearance of Jesus to his disciples after his resurrection. In verse 14, John tells us that this is the third appearance of our Lord to his disciples. In this series of sermons, we have studied two post-resurrection appearances of Jesus—his appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and the appearance to the disciples later that day when they had gathered together and were talking about how the Lord had been raised from the dead. We saw that in both of those post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, he shared a meal with them. Now, we come to the third appearance of Jesus to the disciples, and what does he do? By now it should come as no surprise that he shares yet another meal with them.
In this account, Peter and the other disciples have decided to go fishing. They have been fishing all night, but they haven’t caught anything. Suddenly, someone appears on shore and asks them if they have caught anything. When they reply that they have caught nothing, Jesus tells them to cast the net on the other side of the boat, and all of a sudden, they have so many fish in the net, they aren’t able to pull it into the boat. When that happens, Peter remembers another occasion when they had been fishing all night, and Jesus told them to put the net in the water one more time. They catch so many fish that the weight of the load begins to break the net. When Peter has this flashback, he says, “It is the Lord,” and he jumps into the sea and goes to shore. The rest of the disciples finally make it to the shore dragging a net of 153 fish behind them, but this time the net doesn’t break. When they get to the shore, they see that Jesus has made a meal for them. He has bread and some fish that he has cooked for them over a charcoal fire. Then, he invites them, “Come and dine.” Jesus is about to teach them some very important truths, and, once again, he does it in the context of a meal.
After they have dined, it is time for some intimate conversation, and Jesus holds the most piercing and convicting dialogue with the Apostle Peter. The Lord asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my lambs.” Then Jesus asks him the second time, “Do you love me?” Again, Peter replies, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus asks him the third time, “Do you love me?” At this point, Peter gets upset that Jesus asks him this question the third time. Finally, Peter says, “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.” Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” We all know this story, but today, I want to explain this account in the context of the Sacrament of Holy Communion, because what we have here is a perfect picture of what happens during the Eucharist.
As I have pointed out, there is an invitation to come and dine, just as at every Eucharistic meal there is an invitation to come: “Come and let us feed upon him in our hearts by faith.” I offer you the opportunity to come and dine with Jesus, just as he invited his disciples here. The old gospel song, “Come and Dine” says,
The disciples came to land,
Thus obeying Christ’s command,
For the Master called unto them, “Come and dine”;
There they found their heart’s desire,
Bread and fish upon the fire;
Thus He satisfies the hungry every time.
Here in the sacrament of Holy Communion, the minister of gospel invites the Lord’s people to come and have the greatest needs and desires of their hearts to be satisfied in table fellowship with Jesus.
Then we see that there is a time for some serious soul-searching and reflection. John tells us explicitly that Jesus is cooking the fish on a charcoal fire. There is only one other place in John’s gospel where he mentions a fire of coals. Do you recall where that is? It is in John 18 when Peter denies Jesus three times. John 18:18 says, “And the servants and officers stood there, who had made a fire of coals; for it was cold: and they warmed themselves: and Peter stood with them, and warmed himself.” As Peter is warming himself by this fire of coals, that people start walking up to Peter and saying, “You are one of his disciples,” and Peter denies that he even knows Jesus. There is an old legend that every time Peter heard a rooster crow, he wept, because he remembered how Jesus had said, before the cock crows you will deny me three times. I wonder if he had the same sort of feelings every time he saw a charcoal fire. Perhaps when Peter came to shore, he remember what had recently happened when he had warmed himself by a fire of coals.
If he didn’t remember, Jesus about to remind him in the most convicting way. Three times he asks Peter, “Do you love me?” I don’t think that there is any doubt that Jesus asks him this question three times as a reminder to Peter that he had denied three times that he even knew Jesus, much less loved him. As you well know, one of the things that we reflect upon as we have table fellowship with Jesus is all the ways in which we have failed him and sinned against him. In the words of our confession of sin: “We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.” I am sure that when Peter thought of how he had denied the Lord, the remembrance of that sin was grievous, a burden that was intolerable. We know that we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs from under his table, but here is the wonderful truth of the gospel. Even though we are unworthy of table fellowship with Jesus, though we have denied Christ in our thoughts, words, and actions, though we continue to sin, day after day, Jesus still invites us to come and dine. If we will come to him with repentant hearts, truly acknowledging and bewailing our sins, we can come to his table.
But there is another truth here that is so amazing. In spite of what Peter has done, he can still affirm that he loves Jesus. Three times he insists that he loves Jesus. Even when he says it the third time, he says, “Lord, you know all things.” Peter knows that Jesus is God. He knows that Jesus is omniscient and knows the deepest secrets of our minds and hearts, just as the prayer at the beginning of our service says, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” The one from whom no secrets are hid, still comes to us in the Sacrament of Communion and says, “Lovest thou me.” It is so tempting to say, “Well, based on how I have been living lately, I guess I don’t.” But the comfort that the gospel gives us is that even a man who denied the Lord, can say, “Lord, you know that I love you.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “How can you say you love me when you just denied that you even knew me.” The Lord doesn’t correct him. If Peter could say that he loved Jesus, and mean it, in spite of all his sin, so can we. Though we are Christians, we fail our Lord. Though we are Christians, the flesh lusts against the spirit and the spirit against, so that we do things that we don’t want to do. We know that we have sinned against our Lord, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t love him. I’m not saying this to excuse our sins or to make light of them. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments,” and the Christian life is characterized mainly by keeping the commandments of Christ, but there are times when we fall. But we hate it when we fall, and we come to our Lord pleading for forgiveness. We wouldn’t plead for forgiveness and ask to be restored to fellowship if we didn’t really love him. So, come to the table of the Lord, knowing that you have sinned, pleading for his mercy, but still able to say, “Lord, I am so sorry for what I have done, but you know all things. You know that I love you.”
Then our Lord does something truly wonderful for Peter. Peter might have expected the Lord to say something like, “I am glad that you love me, but based on the fact that you denied me, I will never allow you to serve me in any sort of public way again.” No, Jesus takes this man, Peter, the man who didn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, the man who could brag about how he would never deny the Lord, the man that did deny his Lord three times, the Lord takes that man, puts him back in his service, and gives him the greatest of all responsibilities: “Feed my sheep.” How was Peter to feed the sheep? Once again, we will see that the ministers of the gospel feed the sheep with Word and Sacrament.
It is interesting when we look at the subtle nuances in the commands that Jesus gives to Peter. If you compare the various Greek manuscripts, we get a very illuminating picture of what Jesus was commanding Peter to do. Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my lambs.” The word “feed” means simply “to give food to.” Jesus will use that same word when he gives Peter the command the third time to feed his sheep. The duty of Peter, and of all the ministers of the gospel is to feed the sheep. When the apostle Paul is giving his parting words of instruction to the elder at Ephesus, he says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). This is the duty of the minister—to feed the flock of God. The Apostle Peter, no doubt recalling the words of Jesus that we have been studying this morning, writes in his first epistle, “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind” (I Peter 5:1-2). What do ministers have in their possession to feed the flock? You’re saying, “I know, I know. Word and Sacrament”. You are right. That is all I have to feed you with, but this is the teaching of Scripture. The word of God is our food, and it is the word that I feed to you. God promised his people through the prophet Jeremiah, “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15). What do pastors do? They feed the flock. What do they feed them? Jeremiah says that pastors feed their people with knowledge and understanding. This is the mission of the pastor—to be constantly increasing your knowledge and understanding of the word of God. The word of God is our milk, as Peter puts it in I Peter 2:1: “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby. The word of God is our meat. The writer to the Hebrews said, “ For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” As you can see, the teaching of the word of God, the first principles of the word of God are described in terms of milk and meat. It is the duty of the minister of the gospel to be always feeding you with the word of God. Why do you think that I spend time preparing sermons and Sunday school lessons? Why do you think I write the devotionals, record the devotionals, and post them on the website? Why will I get up tomorrow morning and start preparing the next sermon and the next Sunday School lesson? Because you would starve if I didn’t. You cannot grow in knowledge and understanding without a shepherd to feed you the word of God.
And, of course, I feed you with the Holy Sacrament. Ladies, heads up, because I’m giving you one of the answers to your questions for this week’s Bible study. Have you ever noticed in our liturgy for Holy Communion how often the words “feed,” “fed,” and “eat” come up? When I give you the bread, I say, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith, with thanksgiving.” In the post-communion prayer we give thanks to God in this way: “Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee, for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us who have duly received these holy mysteries with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.” In the Prayer of Humble Access we pray, “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body.” Why am I here as your minister? As you know, in our church, the sacrament can only be administered by a priest or a bishop. A deacon can’t do it. A layman can’t do it. You can’t gather some bread and wine at your home and take the sacrament. You need me, you need a priest in order to eat the body of Jesus and drink the blood of Jesus. As St. Paul says, “We are the stewards of the mysteries of God.” Why do we give you the body and blood of Jesus? Because you would starve if we didn’t. His flesh is meat indeed and his blood is drink indeed.
By the way, just as an aside, this won’t cost you anything. In verse 15 of John 21, Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” But the word for lamb there is even a diminutive form of the word lamb. It means, “little lambs.” In verse 16, Jesus says, “Tend my sheep,” but even that word for sheep is a diminutive word for sheep. It means “little sheep.” And finally, in verse 17, the word for “sheep” may be simply “sheep.” By comparing Greek manuscripts, we may see a gradual progression of the level of maturity in the sheep. Feed my little lambs, tend my little sheep, and feed my sheep. This progression means that we have to feed and take care of all the sheep, no matter their level of maturity. Now, this is the part that won’t cost you anything. Why do we practice paedocommunion in our church? Why do we give the sacrament to little children? Because, they are little lambs. Don’t little lambs need to be fed? If we don’t, they will starve. Based on the teaching of our church, our baptized children are regenerate, they are members of Christ, they are children of God, they are inheritors of the kingdom of heaven, and they have received the Holy Spirit. If that is true, then we must bring up our little lambs, feeding them the word of God and the Holy Sacrament.
Now, you may have noticed in my explanation about the lambs and the sheep, that Jesus said, “Feed my little lambs, tend my little sheep, and feed my sheep.” In the first and third times Jesus gives this command to Peter he says, “Feed,” but in the second instance he says, “tend.” That is, they are to take care of, guard, and protect the sheep. At our last synod meeting, one of our bishops said that archeological evidence shows that sheep were domesticated somewhere between 9,000 and 11,000 B. C. He said that when he was growing up, his family raised sheep, and he wondered how sheep survived before they were domesticated; that is, before they had human beings to take care of them. Sheep have no natural defenses against predators. When they eat, they just follow their noses, paying no attention to their surroundings, thus making them very prone to get lost. Sheep need a shepherd. Christian people need shepherds to protect them from false teachers, to protect them from sin and its deadly consequences. But how can the minister protect you? Once again, the only weapons that the shepherd has at his disposal is the Word and Sacrament. I can’t always be with you when you are in the car, listening to a heretic on the radio, to turn off the radio. I can be there to turn off the television when you’ve got on some televangelist who is teaching things contrary to the word of God and contrary to the teachings of our church. I can’t lock you up in a dungeon and restrain you from falling into the clutches of the world, the flesh, and the devil. All I have is word and sacrament. All I can do is feed you the word of God, feed you the body and blood of Christ, and pray that God will make them effectual in your life. But if you will participate in the word and sacrament as practiced in our liturgy, these weapons will be sufficient to guard and protect you. One of the exhortations before the sacrament in our liturgy says:
I bid you in the Name of God, I call you in Christ’s behalf, I exhort you, as ye love your own salvation, that ye will be partakers of this holy Communion. And as the Son of God did vouchsafe to yield up his soul by death upon the Cross for your salvation; so it is your duty to receive the Communion in remembrance of the sacrifice of his death, as he himself hath commanded: which if ye shall neglect to do, consider with yourselves how great is your ingratitude to God, and how sore punishment hangeth over your heads for the same; when ye wilfully abstain from the Lord’s Table, and separate from your brethren, who come to feed on the banquet of that most heavenly food.” If we do not earnestly receive the word of God, and if we do not receive his holy sacrament, we put ourselves in grave spiritual danger. (BCP 89)
So, come and dine. Jesus invites you. You will be fed, nourished, strengthened, and protected. The word and sacrament are the means that God has instituted to bring us to heaven at last. Then, at the end of this life, we will hear the Savior once again say to us, “Come and dine.” Inheaven we will feast forever. In the words of the gospel song, “Come and Dine,”
Soon the Lamb will take His bride
To be ever at His side,
All the host of heaven will assembled be;
Oh, ’twill be a glorious sight,
All the saints in spotless white;
And with Jesus they will feast eternally.
Come now and participate in a foretaste of that heavenly banquet. How, wonderful that we can hear his voice even now, saying, “Come and dine.” Amen.