They haven’t gone off half-cocked on some impetuous path of their own. No, they’re in the boat where Jesus put them, making their way across the sea as He commanded them. They’re doing what they’ve been given to do, in the place where the Lord Jesus has called them to be. And yet, the way is difficult, exhausting, and stressful. They’ve been out there and at it for most of the night already, and now, in the early pre-dawn hours of the morning, they’ve still got a long ways to go.
So, then, do not be dismayed that you find it to be so in your own life, too. Not that you’re always where you ought to be and doing what you ought to do! But even when you’re hitting your stride in doing what you’re given to do, living in the vocations to which the Lord has called you, it is still the case that life is hard, sometimes all the more so. Your hand on the tiller, your shoulder to the plow, your nose to the grindstone, and yet, you seem to be doing no good and getting nowhere.
Does it not seem to you and all the world that you are on your own, that Jesus is not with you, though you are following the path on which the Lord Himself has set you? Your own little boat on the water, and even the Great Boat of the Church, the Holy Ark of Christendom, are tormented by the waves and tossed about by strong, persistent headwinds. Your progress is slow and hard, your destination remains distant and elusive. You are tired and worn out, maybe ready to give up.
What’s the point in trying when it doesn’t seem to be working? How is it even worth the effort? Why is this life the Lord has given you so difficult? And where is He, anyway, at this point?
In truth, the Lord has not forgotten you, not once, not ever, not even for a little while. Nor has He left you on your own. His Word itself attends you, for one thing, and it remains sure and certain, come hell or high water against you. He has provided the boat, and He preserves it for you, even as the waves that trouble you uphold the boat, with you in it, through the long dark night.
But there is more than all of this. It is not that the Lord has left you with supplies for the journey while He Himself has gone away and left you. I understand that it feels like that, but it is not so. He has gone up to the Father, whence He came, by the way of His Cross, on which He is lifted up, and in His Resurrection from the dead and His Ascension to the Right Hand of God. But in this He does not leave you or forsake you. He fills all things and upholds them with His own flesh and blood, even as He contains all things and preserves them by His Word and Holy Spirit.
He has gone to the Father by His Cross and Resurrection, not to abandon you, but to open the way for you, and to bring you to His God and Father in Himself, in His own Body, crucified and risen.
He has gone up the mountain to pray, as the beloved Son who relies upon His Father in all things; and as the true Man, yes, who lives by faith and calls on the Name of the Lord; but also as your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God, to make intercession for you, and to prepare a place for you as a beloved son or daughter in the household and family of His Father.
As He thus bring you to the Father in His Body and His Blood, He is also with you all the way. He comes in the flesh and draws near to you in the midst of the chaos and deep darkness of sin and death in this fallen and perishing world. As the Father spoke His Word to bring forth Light out of the darkness, to bring forth Life in His own Image, and to create all things out of nothing, so does the same Word of the Father come to you in the Ministry of the Gospel, in order to save you.
He comes by ways and means that are in some respects surprising and perhaps even suspicious, unexpected on the basis of your prior knowledge and past experience, and so incomprehensible. He plants His footsteps on the sea and comes to you upon the water; and not by the water only, but by the water with His Word and Spirit, and with His holy and precious blood, poured out for you.
How is this supposed to help? And how does this even work? Yet, He is the Author and Lord of creation, by whom all things are made. So it is really not surprising or suspicious, after all, that He should take His own creation in hand in order to serve His purposes, to save you and to give you the Life for which He has also created you. Has He not, Himself, become the fulfillment of His good creation by His Incarnation, by His conception and birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary? Has He not redeemed and rescued His creation in and with His Body, by His innocent suffering and death, by the shedding of His blood? And has God not raised this same Jesus from the dead?
He is not a ghost, a disembodied spirit, a lost soul wandering the depths in search of peace. No, He is the Lord, the incarnate God, your Savior, who was crucified for all your sins, who is risen from the dead and lives and reigns forever as your righteousness and holiness and everlasting life. He is the Lord your God, but He is also true Man, your Brother of real flesh and blood like yours.
Take courage, and do not be afraid. He Himself is here with you, a very present help in every kind of trouble. He is not here to haunt you, but to deliver you from every evil of body and soul. He can and will do it. He is the One who has already passed through the gates of death on your behalf, whose bodily Resurrection is the dawning of the beautiful New Morning of the eternal Eighth Day.
Proceed, then, at His Word. Continue on the way that He has given you to go. Trust and do what He says, even though your reason and all your senses defy and contradict the Truth of His Word.
Easier said than done. I know that it is hard. If you’re like the disciples, your life in this world is a mixed bag of mixed emotions; you’re pushed and pulled this way and that, and torn between doubt and faith, between the fear of death, on the one hand, and the fear of the Lord on the other. You want to believe, and by God’s grace you do, but God help your unbelief!
Do you not find an example of your own perils and predicaments in Peter? He tries and tests the Lord, and he begins with such boldness and confidence when he climbs out of the boat onto the wild water, only to sink into doubt and descend into fear. It’s not the last time, either, that Peter will rush forward only to fail miserably. Peter the Rock seems more like a tossing wave himself!
But, honestly, are you really any better? Different, perhaps, in personality and temperament, but no better: Proud when you ought to fear the Lord, and afraid when you ought to be courageous.
The fact remains that you simply will not make it to Jesus on your own, no matter how sincere and well-intentioned you may be, and no matter how hard you try. Take your eyes off Him, to look to yourself or look elsewhere, and you’re going to sink. You cannot save yourself. To whatever extent your faith in Christ falls short and fails, so will you. But why do you doubt His Word?
Maybe it doesn’t seem fair! You’ve all heard that before, and you’ve all said it, or thought it. Why does this life have to be so difficult, especially when you’re trying so hard to do the right thing?
It is the Way of the Cross. That is both the problem and the solution. It brings you to repentance and to faith, through death and the grave into the Resurrection of Christ and His Life everlasting.
It is not a game that God is playing with you. It’s not a sadistic maze that you must navigate and run through. It is the Cross of Christ, which puts you to death in order to save you. That is why the relentless wind assaults you, and why the wild waves surround you and overwhelm you. You drown and you die in the depths of the sea, in order to arise and emerge, a new creature in Christ.
Thus are you returned, by the Way of the Cross, to the watery grave of your Baptism into Christ. It is not comfortable or pleasant to be confronted by your sins, to realize your shortcomings and failures, to be out on the waves with the wind whipping your face and shoving you back into the chaos of your past and present mistakes, too numerous to count, too embarrassing to name. Then and there, you know that you must die entirely to yourself, and to your own self-reliance. If you are going to be saved, then you must have a Savior, and there is only One of those, Christ Jesus.
Do not suppose that you will ascend into the heavens to bring Him down, nor that you will descend into the depths to raise Him up. You cannot, but neither do you need to do either one. For this Word of God is near you. He has drawn near in the flesh. He stands upon the waves before you.
So it is, that, by the Word and Spirit of Christ Jesus, you cry out for mercy, and you call upon the Name of the Lord. Kyrie, eleison! O Lord, save me!
In this, St. Peter is a beautiful example. He is brought to the point of doing what Jesus has already and always been doing for us all, that is, to prayer and petition. And as he prays to the One who ever lives to pray and intercede for him, to his merciful and great High Priest, so does the same Lord, Jesus Christ, immediately act. Peter’s prayer is heard and answered, and so is yours.
Jesus stretches out His hands (!) to save you. He takes hold of you and gathers you to Himself in both body and soul. He preaches repentance and faith, that you not doubt but trust in Him, and He restores you to the Boat of His Church, in which the wind stops. The world around you rages, to be sure, but here you are at peace, and here you are safe, because here your sins are all forgiven.
Here, then, in the Boat, you worship Him, the Son of God, in His Word, and in His Body and His Blood. You hear and you receive His Word; you believe and you confess what He has spoken; you eat and drink His Body and His Blood; you worship and bow down before the Lord, your Maker. And you are saved. In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.