And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him.A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep.And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” Matthew 8:23-27, NRSV
It is Easter Monday morning (as I write this), and the weather is anything but Easter-ish. The winds are howling, roiling the waters of the lake, torrential rains are beating down, thunder crashes and lightening flashes, and - most impressive of all, from my viewpoint in the sunroom - the big trees are thrashing about wildly. It is amazing to me that they can remain standing in the face of such strong and gusty winds. Googling the topic proves to be less than fully satisfactory, so I call in counsel from Centenarian Michael Rikard, who, after decades in the National Park Service, ought to know. His answer echoes what I found on Google, but gives greater depth of understanding: “A number of factors would affect that (whether the big trees stand or fall). Those would be: the integrity of the root system, any weak spot in the trunk from an old wound or disease, and just the fact that winds are gusty and hit some trees more than others. Hardwoods have a tendency to fall over from the roots, and pine trees tend to snap.” Thank you, Michael! No sooner have I received his reply than the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning...things are getting interesting.
Stormy weather, to say the least, so (after retreating to the downstairs half bath), I begin to crosscheck Bible Gateway for scriptural references to storms. They are numerous, and varied: in some, God is the sender of the storm; though in a greater number, God is the calmer of the storm, or refuge in the midst of it, or both. Eventually, I make my way to the Gospels, and there find Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus and the disciples caught in a sudden storm on the lake. I’ve been in small boat (a 17 foot Boston Whaler) on the ICW in a pop-up storm that drove winds above 55mph - an experience I don’t ever want to repeat - so I can just about imagine the level of fear the disciples must have experienced. It makes me grateful to be land-locked today, in this storm, and helps me to understand why the distraught disciples were so quick to wake Jesus up, crying out, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” And Jesus does. He rebukes the wind and the waves, and all is perfectly calm again. Nonetheless, he also rebukes the disciples: “O you of little faith, why are you so afraid?” They marvel out loud at all that has happened, saying, “Who is this, that even the winds and the waves obey him?” No one has power over creation except the Creator! Clearly, they did not yet fully know Who Jesus Was. Nor would they, until after their encounters with the Risen Christ revealed to them, beyond the shadow of any doubt, the truth about the One who is not just the Creator, but who is also the Resurrection and the Life.
We have less excuse than they. We, who look back on the Resurrection from the far side, ought to know Who Jesus Is. In any storm, we ought to be able to sing “When the storms of life are raging/ Stand by me!” (UMH 512) But we are human; sometimes the spirit is willing, but the flesh is “of little faith.” Sometimes, like the tall trees, we sway wildly about in the storm of current events. Perhaps the integrity of our root system is less than it could be; spiritual rot may have set in due to lack of time devoted to studying the Scriptures, to meditating and praying. Perhaps an old wound has left a weak spot in our spirits, or a particularly high wind gust in the current COVID storm has caught us by surprise. The good news is, Jesus is still the One whom even the wind and the waves obey; he is still the Great Healer, still the One whose love is stronger even than death; he is still the Resurrection and the Life. All we have to do is call on the Risen Lord, and we can keep calm and carry on once again.
“Be still, my soul: your God will undertake
To guide the future, as in ages past.
Your hope, your confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the wind and waves still know
The Christ who ruled them while he dwelt below.”
(United Methodist Hymnal, # 534)
O Lord of love and power, your love is stronger than death, and your power mightier than the grave: grant us grace to trust you and to follow
you, in this and every storm, until your Peace reigns again, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood