Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Walking on Water


Praise the Lord: ye heavens, adore Him;

Praise Him, angels, in the height;

Sun and moon, rejoice before Him;

Praise Him, all ye stars and light.

Praise the Lord, for He hath spoken;

Worlds His mighty voice obeyed.

Laws which never shall be broken

For their guidance He hath made.
Author Unknown, ca. 1801

When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.
(John 6:16-21 ESV)

Clearly, someone forgot to tell the author of the hymn, which is a poetic meditation on Psalm 148, about this incident from Jesus’ life.  There are actually several laws of the physical universe that get broken here. 

Judging from the comment at the beginning of the passage, the multitude had been fed on the East side of the Sea of Galilee, which is no more than 4 miles across at any point.  For those of you who live in the Northeast US, that’s roughly the distance across Boston Harbor from Boston to Hingham.  This is a very small “sea” indeed.  It is also called the Lake of Gennesaret, probably a better name in general. 

The point is that the disciples had rowed 3 or 4 miles that night.  It was dark and stormy.   The reason they have lighthouses with huge mirrors reflecting high intensity light from towers is because prior to the 1800s when lighthouses became popular, great numbers of boats were shipwrecked on the New England coast.  Quite simply: they couldn’t see the approaching land until it was too late.   The First Century was a time when there were no lighthouses or even bright lights at night in towns.  How is it they clearly saw Jesus walking, on the water, at night, in a storm, while concentrating on rowing?

The second thing to note about the distance traveled is that it would have been quite impossible for Jesus to have come down off the mountain and to have scurried around the lake to meet them on the other side.  That’s why they went by boat in the first place.  It is 59 miles from Boston to Provincetown, as the crow flies, across Massachusetts Bay.  It is 120 miles if you drive it on dry land.   The suggestion that it was no more than a few moments after Jesus got into the boat that they arrived in Capernaum confirms that Jesus had, indeed, come to them across the water, perhaps at a speed that also would break physical laws.

Then there’s the problem of walking on water itself.  This isn’t a question of buoyancy.   They say it is impossible to sink in the Great Salt Lake in Utah, but this goes way beyond that.  Jesus was truly walking on the surface of the water. 

Laws which never shall be broken?  Laws of the limits of human sight?  Laws of the limits of human speed?  Laws of the limits of the human body?  Laws of the properties of water?   If Jesus and his disciples didn’t break these laws that night they certainly bent the heck out of them.  And let’s remember that the account is not only of Jesus breaking a physical law, it is also an account of the disciples being given extraordinary vision.   There is, however, not the slightest sense of self-congratulations among the disciples when the whole event is over.  Peter does not turn to Andrew and say, “Man, I had no idea you could see that well!”  No one even comments on Jesus having walked on water.  It is almost like it was expected.   The reason these things aren’t important to the story is back in the hymn we started with. 

Praise the Lord: ye heavens, adore Him;

Praise Him, angels, in the height;

Sun and moon, rejoice before Him;

Praise Him, all ye stars and light.


When I look up at the vast canopy of stars on a clear night in New Hampshire, I never think how far away they are.  I never think how sharp my vision is or about gravity or refraction or any of those things.  I always think, “God, you are awesome!”

The hymn itself also lets the question of physics take a back seat.  Sure, the anonymous writer of stanza one mentions physical laws, but then he is taken up into the ecstasy of seeing clearly God walking across the universe:

Praise the Lord, for He is glorious;

Never shall His promise fail.

God hath made His saints victorious;

Sin and death shall not prevail.

Praise the God of our salvation;

Hosts on high, His power proclaim.

Heaven and earth and all creation,

Laud and magnify His Name.

Jon

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