From the Gospel heard today, Jesus speaks, saying:
“And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.”
First of all, this was no ordinary storm at sea. The word translated as storm actually is used everywhere else in Scripture as “earthquake”. But, I’m sure the translators thought, you can’t have an earthquake on land. What would you call it, a waterquake?
However, this is important for two reasons: first, with an underwater earthquake or the water acting like an earthquake, the water is all roiled up like tsunamis. Second, the other places in Scripture that use this word are important to give us the broader picture of what Jesus is really doing here.
On the second day of Creation, God separates the waters from the waters, or the heavens from the earth. Thus, the earth at this point appears to be nothing but deep water. Even before the first day, however, the Spirit is said to be hovering over the face of the deep waters. Then, on the fifth day, God fills the deep with all the sea creatures, even the sea monsters (Gen. 1:21).
“Thou hast broken us in the place of sea dragons, and covered us with the shadow of death.” (Ps.44:19) “You divided the sea by your might; you broke the heads of the sea monsters on the waters.” (Ps.74:13)
Finally from Isaiah we hear, “In that day the Lord with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea.” (27:1)
The point is that there is something in the depths of the sea and it is the dragon, the old evil foe. Down there, the eternal prison of hell awaits his final imprisonment. Down beneath the waves is death, so you can see why the disciples cry out in such drama. Even today, the deep places of the oceans lie beyond our reach and without special, rare equipment, death is still there; sometimes even with the equipment.
Thus, when the Son of God steps out onto the waters, the devil is roused. Like piranhas smelling the blood of their prey, the sea rears its ugly, rebellious head at the Lord and His followers, ready for the feast.
And God sleeps.
You don’t need to be on the seas though, for this same violence to be directed at the Church today. Oh no. You don’t even have to take this as a metaphor. Between natural disasters and personal disasters, life is as tumultuous as this great waterquake.
The great German theologian, Helmut Thielicke, described the Evangelical church of the 1950s as a ship on whose deck the Divine Service was being celebrated with the highest solemnity, while the clergy were blissfully oblivious that the ship had listed to the side and that the waves were already lapping at the deck.
Today, at both coasts of the
USA, the Lutheran church dwindles
to a very sparse minority and those that stay enact unionistic practices so
that you can’t tell they’re Lutheran at all.
On the 200th anniversary of the Reformation in 1817, there was a celebration in
Prussia. All the princes had given
up Lutheranism and were violently forcing the 7000 Lutheran congregations under
Calvinism. The magnificent sermon was about the great honor due both Luther and
Calvin while the Service denied the real presence of Jesus. So, they put up a
statue of Luther to mark this point in history.
Especially in this year of significant celebration for us, it appears to be more a time of remorse and repentance, than victory and celebration.
And Jesus sleeps.
Repent. The Lord predicts many earthquakes and shaking of the seas in our future, but He also has St. Matthew record two great earthquakes for us (27:51 and 28:2) and they occur at two key moments. This first is after Jesus has died on the cross. The
Temple veil was torn in two and the earth
shook and the rocks split, even opening graves.
The second earthquake comes when an angel descends to roll away the stone revealing an empty tomb on Easter. The reason this is important, is because we are not just hearing about the storms and strife of our lives. We are seeing Christ in action, revealing His death and resurrection.
Jesus sets out on the boat intentionally, just as He offers Himself up for suffering and persecution. He willingly places Himself square within the old dragon’s sights. This of course is to take his eyes off you. He joyfully sleeps the sleep of death on your behalf, but He raises Himself and quiets death, the devil, and sin forever.
We take comfort in the fact that God never sleeps. That He is always watching and guarding and protecting. But, Jesus sleeps. He sleeps the sleep of death. He rests in the tomb from His greatest labor: your salvation. He does not stay asleep, though, and raises Himself to new life.
Yet, even though He sleeps, His heart is awake, King Solomon says (Song of Songs 5:2). It is in this place where Christ comes to calm the storms. Outside of here, the waves lap at the windows, the winds buffet the roof, and fiery darts ricochet off the walls.
But here, Christ says, “Peace”. He says Peace to our hearts where sinful thoughts are raging. He says Peace to this world, its endless wars engaging. And at the Word of the Creator; at the Word of Jesus, the storm stops here. At the declaration of forgiveness, at the imputation of grace, and at the installation of salvation, a lull in the storm manifests.
“Peace be with you” and the world is still. “Peace be with you” and the storm is calmed. “Peace be with you” and peace is made with God and man that you hold in your hand.
Jesus stays in the boat, His Church. You say that world is going to hell in a hand-basket, but that’s where the Church is. No matter who you meet, we are all in the same hand-basket in need of Christ’s boat.
We are the new Noah. But where Noah couldn’t save anyone except his family, we have flotation devices galore, even for when that one wave hits you. There is forgiveness with the Lord and He gives it out free today. Christ is in the boat, giving peace, giving life, and giving it all free to you. He comes into your presence and manifests the glory of His salvation in Word and Sacrament.