Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” John 21:16
Today, May 1, 2022, the 3rd Sunday of Easter, has been designated Episcopal Community Services Sunday in the Diocese of New Jersey. It’s the second ECS Sunday in the diocese since ECS–NJ began. The last one was in December, during Advent. There seemed to be a consensus to move it out of that season and into spring, so here it is and here it will stay for the foreseeable future.
ECS-NJ Sunday is a day for us to lift up and celebrate this ministry we have created together in response to a very real challenge and question: The challenge? The question? How might 137 congregations scattered across the lower two-thirds of the State of New Jersey work in concert to address desperate human need in the communities served by our congregations? Beyond this, how can the people who constitute the Diocese of New Jersey meaningfully address the injustices and inequities that are all too often the root cause behind those desperate needs?
Episcopal Community Services of the Diocese of New Jersey was created to serve precisely at that intersection of human need and injustice. It is a chief means by which we join together as a diocesan community, support the phenomenal human needs work being done through our congregations, and advocate with one voice for love, justice and equality for all people. ECS-NJ is a means by which we live into our baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons loving our neighbor as ourselves, and to strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being (See Book of Common Prayer p. 305).
Since its inception in the fall of 2020, ECS-NJ has given or committed to more than $200,000 in grants to congregations of the Diocese of New Jersey engaged in impactful ministry in their communities.
Among the $96,000 in grants just announced in this cycle are included $15,000 to St. Peter’s, Freehold to support their work with the Emergency Housing and Advocacy Program (EHAP) in Freehold, an initiative begun nearly 20 years ago to obtain housing for homeless men during the winter months.
$8,000 to St. Mark’s, Plainfield, which is partnering with the Plainfield Grassroots Community Development Corporation (PGCDC) to offer The Out of the Box Club—a math and science program for the children in Plainfield and other underserved communities in Central New Jersey.
$15,000 has been granted to St. Paul’s, Camden for their “Feed My Sheep” program. For 30 years St. Paul’s has operated a significant feeding program in downtown Camden. The church currently provides breakfast and dinner every Sunday for approximately one hundred poor and/or un-homed community members. They also provide approximately twenty-five lunches every Friday afternoon. St. Paul’s works with a multitude of churches and non-religious organizations in the Camden area for supplies and assistance in this ministry. The grant provided by Episcopal Community Services of New Jersey – that is, by all of us – will provide construction funds to pay for expansion needed for storage of non-perishable food items canned goods and other non-perishables.
“Feed my sheep,” Jesus instructs Peter in the Gospel reading appointed for today from chapter 21 of John’s Gospel. The Gospel reading is a resurrection appearance that takes place after Easter morning. It starts out as a “fish story” but quickly becomes an account of the rehabilitation of Peter, his restoration following his three denials of Christ, and his commissioning to do the Lord’s work.
It is a breakfast scene with loaves and fishes served, reminding us both of the feeding of the 5,000, but also of the Eucharist. It includes a powerful, poignant exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus asks him three times if he loves him…and after each response commands Peter to feed or tend his flock (See John 21:15 ff.).
Jesus’ three questions are an echo of the three denials. Imagine Peter’s hurt. He is aware that when the moment of decision had come, his courage failed him, he lost his faith and fled. In this breakfast exchange, Jesus convicts Peter. Jesus doesn’t leave it there, however, he restores Peter to his fellowship, to his love, showing, showering, tenderness and mercy upon him, and again, calling him into his service to follow him, as he had done by the Sea of Galilee three years earlier.
Jesus makes Peter aware that the call has not gotten any easier, just the opposite, there is only one outcome. It will cost Peter his life. This is foreshadowed in today’s reading:
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21:18 ff.).
Peter did follow. He went out preaching the Gospel and serving in Christ’s name and love until he was himself martyred, sometimes in the mid-60s A.D. during the reign of Nero. Tradition holds that he was crucified in Rome. He asked to be crucified upside down, because he did not feel himself worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.
Peter and the other disciples inherited Jesus’ own mission and ministry and have passed it on down through the centuries. Today we are heirs of this. The ministry and mission to which we are called is Jesus’ own ministry, to his own mission. It is the mission and ministry he declared in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 4 when he read from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor….to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
“Do you love me?” Jesus asked Peter and asks us. “Feed my sheep.”
Episcopal Community Services of the Diocese of New Jersey is a significant means by which we all can show our love for Jesus by tending to the sheep he has entrusted to us, and especially those who hurt most, who are most fragile and vulnerable. This third Sunday in Easter, as we proclaim the risen Lord, I pray you will join me in giving thanks for the work we are doing together through Episcopal Community Services of the Diocese of New Jersey. More important, I pray you will support the work of the Lord, our feeding the sheep and tending the flock entrusted to our care by generous with your donations and your prayers.
Let me conclude with a prayer for ECS Sunday written by Fr. Andy Kruger of Trinity Church, Cranford.
Let us pray:
Compassionate God, you called us to establish Episcopal Community Services of the Diocese of New Jersey: endow us with the vision to balance charitable giving with advocating justice, so that both the source and symptoms of oppression will be overcome; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 See Luke 4:16 – 21