This Week's Column: The Beach

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Of all the contextual stops we've made on this Lenten excursion, today's is perhaps the most appealing for those of us who have spent the last few months in the chilly north.

Today, we're following Jesus to the beach! Jesus visited shorelines on a number of occasions in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. So it's a fitting stop along the way for a series that has centered around the various holy spaces in which Jesus healed, preached, and ministered.

We are now thoroughly into the second half of the season of Lent, and this series has just three weeks left to go. So far, we've explored the wilderness, religious buildings, cities, homes, and mountains. Next week, we'll be out on the water, and at the end of Holy Week, our last stop of the series will lead us to a very important tomb.

But before we go to the tomb, we're heading out to the beach. Jesus frequently taught large groups of people beside the sea. Mark 4:1 states, "Again Jesus began to teach beside the sea. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the sea and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the sea on the land."

Jesus went on to tell many parables as the multitudes gathered on the shoreline to listen. We can imagine the sound of gentle waves in the background — the sight of a heron or cormorant flying up above — and fisherman casting nets in the distance. But for Jesus, beaches were more than classrooms. They were also a place of respite.

Do you enjoy sitting beside the sea? Jesus did, too. Matthew 13:1 states, "That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea." Shortly thereafter, crowds gather around him and he begins teaching. But I wonder if he caught a few moments of quiet first. There is something so soothing about being near the water and the waves. It's a peaceful thought to imagine Jesus similarly captivated by the tranquility of the sea.

One of my favorite beach stories happens at the end of the Gospel of John, chapter 21. Jesus has already risen from the dead at this point and appeared to Mary Magdalene and then the disciples. It's really early one morning and perhaps still a bit dark outside. John 21:4 states, "Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus." He asks them for some fish, but they don't have any. He tells them to go cast a net. It immediately becomes full of fish. They suddenly realize it's Jesus. They head to the shore, and Jesus already has a fire going. He's cooking up fish and fresh bread. He says in verse 12, "Come and have breakfast." It's a tender, revelatory moment, and it happens on a beach.

Next time you're near the shoreline of a lake, stream, river, or ocean, pause for a moment. Listen. Breathe deep. Pay attention. Hold close to your heart the many stories of Jesus in a similar spot along the water's edge — sharing love and light with the whole world.