Seldom had I seen it so still on the sea. Even the stars blazing in the heavens were reflected on the smooth waters of Kinneret.
Quiet nights have always made me a bit uneasy, though. I had seen these still moments shattered too many times as one of our sudden Galilean storms swept in from the hills. And that night, I had the feeling that heaven and earth together were hushed with anticipation.
It was strange to be out on the water again. Sure, I had been working in the family fishing business since I was old enough to see over the side of the boat. But ever since the Master first came walking down our shoreline and we left our nets behind, chasing sardines and such just wasn’t on my mind.
The Master had simply said, “Follow me!” and that was it. There was just something about Him. There was no other place to be than following His footsteps.
But things are different now. You know about all that’s happened these past few weeks. How could you not? The Master — mighty in deed and word, followed by masses from Jerusalem to Bethsaida and beyond — was betrayed by one of His own. He was arrested, He was condemned, He was crucified by the Romans. You’ve heard about all that, right?
I was there. I saw it all. I saw the soldier jab a spear in His side. He was dead. I was there.
I understand why the others fled — I was afraid, too! — and I don’t hold that against them. But for me — well, there was nowhere else to be but with Him, as long as I could.
But then — the first day of the week, right after the Passover — Mary Magdalene came running up, and told Cephas (you Greek-speakers know him as Peter) and me that the body of the Master wasn’t in the tomb!
Mary — I see now she was a better follower than us twelve. She was already at the tomb, ready to minister to our Master, while we were hunkered down, worrying about ourselves. Her eyes pleaded with us for answers, but we had none.
But, something impelled us to get on our feet and make tracks for the garden where the tomb was. I got there first — Cephas is a bit older than me, you know? When he did come up a half a minute later, breathing hard, he didn’t stop outside like me. He burst right in. Cephas isn’t one to do things halfway!
Finally, I crouched through the narrow door myself to get a better look at what I’d seen from outside. The body — gone. But the grave clothes — all still lying there.
So many moments with the Master went flooding through my mind at that moment. And suddenly — I believed. But what did I believe? I couldn’t tell you then, and I’m not sure I can now. But I believe in Him. And I have hope that I’ll get to keep following Him all my days.
I suppose it’s no surprise the women saw the Master first. They have such faith — and great faithfulness. Then us twelve — well, eleven now — finally saw Him, too. But it’s been different, you know? He hasn’t been with us all the time like before. Or has He? Sometimes, though I don’t see Him, it’s like He’s as close as we were at the Passover meal — when I could just lean over and talk to Him.
The Master told the women to tell us all to go to Galilee, and that He would be along to meet us. There was nothing else to do! We’ve been following Him for three years — that’s what disciples do! — So we came back from Jerusalem. And since then, we’ve been waiting.
Now Cephas doesn’t like to sit around! So, before long he couldn’t take it anymore, and, he said, “I’m going fishing!”
There were seven of us there, and we said we’d go with him. It only made sense. For most of us, fishing was the only life we’d known before the Master came.
At one point during the second watch of the night, we were out on the sea, and I thought I saw someone on the shore. But other than that, not even a fish disturbed the stillness of that night. We didn’t catch a thing! As the first gray of dawn began to extinguish the stars over the eastern hills, Cephas finally sighed and said, “OK, let’s head in.”
As we dug in the oars and headed for land, I realized I had been right. There was someone standing on the beach. And he was watching us!
As I was pondering who this might be, I felt my heart thumping, and not just from the work of rowing. After all, some folks were suspiciously eyeing us after that lie told by the leaders — our own leaders! — that we had stolen the Master’s body. Perhaps they didn’t care so much here in Galilee as in Jerusalem. Still, one had to be cautious.
My thoughts were interrupted as the stranger on the beach spoke to us.
“You kids haven’t caught any fish, have you!”
By now I could see his smile, and it was clear his voice was tinged with laughter. Who was this who was mocking us, taunting us? “Kids!” he called us. “Little children!”
That really lit a torch to my temper — and I could see James, my brother, was also directing his hostile gaze toward the stranger.
But the man spoke again: “Cast your net on the right-hand side of the boat. That’s where the fish are!” Again, there was amusement in his voice.
This was over the top. You don’t tell a fisherman how to do his job! Unless …
James and Cephas and I exchanged glances. There had been that one time, more than three years ago now. It had been another long night with no fish to show for it. And someone had the audacity to tell us to head out and try again, and we’d be sure to succeed! But that wasn’t just anyone. That was the Master …
I saw a faraway look in Cephas’s eyes as he hesitated, then motioned to cast the nets on the other side.
The boat suddenly lurched to the right. A catch! So big, could our boat handle it? James, ever the practical one, started yelling out orders as water sloshed into the boat. But Cephas and I were fixed on the character on shore. And there was no doubt.
“It is the Lord!” I cried.
Splash! The words had hardly left my tongue before Cephas grabbed his cloak, dove in, and was swimming toward the Master.
I thought of doing the same, but heeded my brother’s pleas to help haul in the net and our massive catch.
The Master already had a fire glowing, and breakfast was nearly cooked. Where had He gotten the fish? The teeming net was still in the water. But then, a lack of fish hadn’t stopped Him from serving fish for lunch in the past!
Someday maybe I’ll tell you more about that breakfast on the beach, as the sun rose above the eastern hills, and light flooded our hearts. But that morning, even as that unforgettable conversation unfolded, I was worried about Cephas.
Cephas. Always quick with a witty line on his tongue. But that morning, as the fish was eaten, he fell silent. He finally walked a few paces from the fire, and was idly tossing stones into the sea. I could tell the Master’s eyes were on him, even while He was still focused on talking with the rest of us.
Soon the Master got up from the fire and walked over to Cephas. Their eyes briefly met before Cephas’s gaze fell, and without a word the Master invited him to walk along the shore.
How I wanted to know what they were talking about! But I dared not intrude. Yet, I kept finding myself staring in their direction. I idly helped take care of the fish we had caught, but my mind was far from the tilapia on the beach.
Now the Master and Cephas were walking back in our direction! Cephas’s countenance was changed, and if he didn’t look quite like “the Rock” yet he was a bit more his old self. And he and the Master were obviously having a serious talk.
At one point, it seemed like Cephas gestured toward me and asked something. I could just hear the Master’s response as they drew closer:
“If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!”
“You follow me!” It was spoken to Cephas, but the Master was looking right at me as He said it. At least, it felt like He was.
And that’s exactly what I want to do. Follow Him.