There was an intense, seemingly overwhelming ache in my heart. Separated by 2,500 kilometres for our third school year apart, I longed for my sweetheart. I read her letters over and over, and again once more. They offered a delightful glimpse into her mind and heart, but they just didn’t cut it. I wanted nothing more than to be “with” her. I wanted nothing more than to hold her hand or embrace her in a hug.
The good news is that we made it through the sorrow and beauty of a long-distance relationship. Today, Brittany is my wife. However, I will never forget the intensity of desire to be with my love. For me, this experience also provides a window into the desire of our Lord to be with us.
“Come, and have breakfast,” Jesus called out to his disciples. He sat at the lakeside in the glow of the sunrise. Fish cooked on the burning coals. Bread was at hand. Breakfast was ready. The disciples dragged themselves across the shore toward him, filled with a mixture of exhaustion and delighted satisfaction. They had fished all night. And then Jesus showed up, blessing their sandals off with a surprising bounty of fish. And now, as Jesus invited them to join him for breakfast, it was time to be “with” his beloved followers.
Initially, this account strikes me as a little odd. At first glance, it doesn’t appear to accomplish anything of significance in John’s Gospel. Jesus has already defeated the power of evil through the cross and resurrection. By this point, the disciples have seen and believed. He will yet impart a few more words of teaching and then return to his Father in heaven. But in the midst of this, he pauses to enjoy breakfast around a fire with his disciples. Why? What purpose does this serve, that John would spill ink on his precious papyrus to record this detail?
This beautiful lakeside story gives us a glimpse into the heart of our Heavenly Father. He is a God who desires to be “with” his people. Shortly before, he had miraculously filled the fishing nets of his friends. Moments later, he would restore Peter to his apostolic mission. In the midst of this, Jesus simply wanted to be with his disciples. I can imagine the laughter echoing off the lake. The crackling of the fire. The succulent smell of the prepared fish. The encouraging words. The joy of time with friends. Surely, this is a glimpse of God’s heart for his people.
It’s this heart of God that we see throughout the biblical story. From the agonizing departure out of Eden to the gift of the tabernacle. From Solomon’s temple to the incarnation. From the Pentecost-filling to the promise of God with his people in the New Heavens and New Earth. This is a story of a God who desires more than anything else to be “with” his beloved creatures. This has been his No. 1 aim throughout the whole narrative. And here we see it tangibly and beautifully at a lakeside breakfast.
Will you receive this reality? Will you allow this passionate, pursuing love to carry you and shape you? Will you avail yourself to God’s desire to be with you? What a profound, mysterious and surprising truth. Like a campfire breakfast enjoyed with friends at the lake, like a young man aching for his bride-to-be, God wants to be “with” you.
Ryan Jantzi pastors Kingsfield-Zurich Mennonite Church, Ont., where he’s fascinated with exploring the interplay between traditional church and new expressions of mission.