Luke 8:22-25 (RSV)
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?”
Today’s Gospel Lesson for a variety of reasons is a favorite of mine for meditation. There is the imagery of the ship as being the Church. The Church is the ship of salvation carrying us across the sea of life surging with the storms of temptation. On the ship are the apostles and all believers, and Christ Himself.
During daily Matins in our parish we read the scriptural lessons prescribed for the day followed by a few minutes of silent meditation. What came to my mind today as I reflected on the Gospel lesson, maybe because the OCA faces stormy seas, is the sense in which we believe we are in God’s hands always. We look to Christ, and trust Christ, to get us through the storms of life. And yet when things go badly for us, we are put to the test as to whether we trust Christ to be our Savior. We worry whether God will act to save us or not. His promised presence with us – “I’m with you always even to the end of the world” – is not enough for us. We don’t want just His presence, we want Him to do everything so we can passively ride as passengers on the Love Boat to eternity, doing nothing but enjoying the voyage while we overeat and indulge ourselves as people do on cruise ships. But the Church is a cargo ship, not a cruise ship, and we all are onboard to do the work to which God has called us.
The Apostles were in that position as the boat in which they were riding is suddenly caught in a violent windstorm which threatens to capsize their boat and drown them all. Some of them were fishermen and they knew that travel by ship meant work, and that dangers at sea do suddenly and unexpectedly arise.
But before that storm blew in, all was calm. Everyone, not only Jesus, has fallen asleep in Luke’s version of the story. Everyone is at rest, completely trusting one another. No one even appears to be at the helm as all are sleeping, dreamily floating along the sea of life.
It is the sleeping Jesus which caught my attention today. I’m certainly like the fearful apostles trying to waken Christ because we are perishing.
But Christ for His part, trusts in the apostles to get them all safely “to the other side of the lake.” Despite the risks of traveling on the lake – storms and drowning – Christ actually trusts in and is at peace with His disciples’ skills. He trusts them so much that He falls asleep, leaving all situation to their skills and abilities. He is not manning the ship. And their faith in Him is pretty complete too, for they all have fallen asleep.
Christ has trust in those He calls to lead His Church. If Christ is up front shouting directions and ordering everyone what to do, it means He has no trust in us. But Christ asleep in the Church is the image of His belief that we are capable of dealing with the storms and crises which beset us. “Where is your faith?”, He asks His disciples.
We trust in Him, He trusts in us. His intervention in our affairs means we have lost faith in Him.
So if it seems that Christ is asleep oblivious to the danger we are in, unmoved by the perils we face, not concerned that we might perish, maybe as in this one Gospel lesson, we realize He has not abandoned us, but He trusts us and so stays quietly at rest in our midst. He doesn’t abandon ship. Nor does He take from us our responsibilities while on board. He does His part as Lord and Master, but we must do ours as crew members .
Like the apostles in today’s scripture lesson, when we suddenly realize we are in great danger – when we awaken to the storms of life and are aware of evil and sin and temptation, we panic and always want Christ to save us. We want Him to do all the work.
He trusts us to weather the storm and to bring ourselves and Him to that other shore. Otherwise, He would never have begun the journey with us. For it is He who has told us to undertaken this journey, even though the risks are many. But we must remember we are not on a cruise ship in which all of our needs will be taken care of. We are not the paying customers whose only purpose is to enjoy ourselves while others do all the work. We are the crew and we have the responsibility to do the work on board the ship of salvation which God has entrusted to us.