Holy Everything: Even on stormy seas, 'do not be afraid'
Time spent on the water can be calm and peaceful. It can also be exhilarating and unpredictable. It all depends on the intensity of the waves and the current.
Last weekend, I had the chance to canoe on the Cedar River. Thankfully the waters were smooth, and the experience was beautiful. From my spot in the bow of the boat, I noticed two bald eagles, a fox, and loads of turkey and deer. The sights and sounds of spring were all around.
Water is a significant theme in the story of Jesus, and it makes a fitting spot for our next stop in this Lenten series highlighting the contexts of Jesus' ministry. Last week we followed Jesus to the beach. This week, we're leaving the more predictable comforts of the shoreline and heading out to the open sea.
The gospels highlight a variety of water stories. Jesus' baptism happens in the Jordan River. Matthew's telling of the story is in chapter 3, verses 13-17. After John baptizes him, Jesus comes up out of the water and sees the "Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him." God says, "This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased."
John tells a story about water in his gospel, too. In chapter 6, verses 16-21, John recounts an occasion in which Jesus walks on water. The story goes like this: One evening, the disciples get in a boat and head across the Sea of Galilee to get to a town called Capernaum. Jesus isn't with them. He's out on a mountain having quiet time (see 6:15).
While the disciples are out on the boat, the sea becomes rough and the strong winds blow. It's dark and scary. Then things get even scarier. The disciples row about four miles out from the shore, and then they see Jesus walking on the sea and "coming near the boat." As you can imagine, John states that they're "terrified." The disciples are extremely caught off-guard because they think Jesus is praying on a mountain. They don't expect to see him walking on water four miles from shore. And then in a flash, Jesus steps into the boat and immediately the boat reaches their intended destination.
There are also gospel stories written about Jesus calming the sea and a story about the disciple Peter walking out on the water to meet Jesus.
Jesus' water experiences are full of mystery. They reveal his power and might. They also relay hints of unpredictability. They are a reminder that while there are many things we do know and understand about Jesus, we don't know everything. He was very, thoroughly human, and he was also very, thoroughly beyond-human. The presence of water in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John represents layers of holy mystery.
Yet for all the mysteries, Jesus' general message is quite consistent. When he surprises the disciples with his four mile water-walk, he greets them with the words, "Do not be afraid." He says the same thing in all four gospels on multiple occasions.
Jesus' words are good guidance to savor whether we're out on the literal choppy seas or managing the realities of the choppy seas of our daily lives: Do not be afraid.