I have a very positive association with bodies of water. I love being on boats, on the open sea, on rivers and creeks, lakes, and even sitting by the shoreline. Recently I was on a boat tour of the Schuylkill River and the tour guide said, human beings are drawn to water. It is so true! When we vacation where do we go? Down the shore, or up to a lake? Where do we build our cities? Or even where do we put our run trails? Human beings love water.
Last weekend I achieved a personal goal, although it wasn't honestly that hard to achieve. I kayaked on the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden. I took kayaking with the express goal of taking that little trip. Thankfully, the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia organizes very safe trips out on the Delaware, which otherwise is a shipping lane with large ships and can be fairly dangerous. But my trip was beautiful, fun, and safe.
Water is also one of our central symbols when we gather as followers of Jesus. We baptize new members into water, and we remember our baptisms by sprinkling or touching water. But the New Testament presents other views of water we don't use very frequently.
This week's lectionary text from John's Gospel actually contains both of the two central symbols of Christianity: bread and water. But it presents them both in a very interesting way. I can't really relate to this presentation of water we see in the New Testament. Water in the ancient world was a dangerous place! The disciples go out on the sea and they encounter dangerous storms, wind, rain, and waves. On the one hand, these seas are a source of life, with fishing being their employment and source of food. On the other hand the seas could take their lives and provoke intense fear.
In this story though you might notice it is not the sea itself, though perhaps dangerous, that causes terror in Jesus' students. It is seeing Jesus walking on these violent waters, coming toward them. He announces himself, and though the fear perhaps passes, they want to take him into the boat. But Jesus has other plans, as they all immediately reach the shore.
What can we take from this? Well, perhaps one reading of this for us today is that when we are out in the dangerous waters and storms of life, Jesus is already out there, exactly where we did not expect, walking on those waters and in that storm, unafraid of them. Notice that here he doesn't calm the wind and waves, he simply walks through it. However, when the disciples want to bring him into their boat - whether for his safety or theirs I don't know - he continues on. This is not the time for calming the wind and waves. This is not the time for coming into the boat to be close to them. This is the time to continue on the mission, to Capernaum.
After all, the disciples and the crowds had just been fed by him when he multiplied the loaves. And unlike the Synoptic Gospels, here Jesus hands out the bread himself, feeding the crowds directly by hand. The one who is both the broken bread and the host, the sacrifice and the priest, has fed his followers for this mission they are on. Now is not the time to stop, no matter how late into the dark of night.
What does that say for us now? We've had many violent waves and winds over the last few years. But this is not the time to stop, lick our wounds, comfort each other only, when there is so much mission to be done. It reminds me of a line from one of our Eucharistic Prayers:
Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal. Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.
Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the Bread.
"Solace only and not for strength" - it is an easy mistake to make. But we are called to so much more.
May the Risen Lord be known to us in the breaking of the Bread, and may we find him and see him in the stormy waves of life.